Mexican Riviera Port Cities

Acapulco, Mexico

The energy in Acapulco is nonstop, 24 hours a day. Acapulco Bay is an adult playground filled with water-skiers in tanga swimsuits and darkly tanned, mirror-shaded studs on Waverunners. Golf and tennis are also played with intensity, but the real participant sport is the nightlife that has made this city famous for decades. When there was a definitive jet set, they came to Acapulco--filmed it, sang about it, wrote about it, and lived it. It is not hard to understand why: The view of Acapulco Bay, framed by mountains and beaches, is breathtaking day or night.

Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, Mexico

IIxtapa and Zihuatanejo are side-by-side beach resorts that share a common geography, but in character, they could not be more different. Ixtapa is a model of modern infrastructure, services, and luxury hotels, while Zihuatanejo--or Zihua, to the locals--is the quintessential Mexican beach village. For travelers, this offers an ideal contrast and the best of both worlds. Those looking for luxury should opt for Ixtapa and take advantage of well-appointed rooms in a pristine setting of great natural beauty. You can easily and quickly make the four-mile trip into Zihuatanejo for a sampling of the simple life of this pueblo by the sea. Those who prefer a more rustic retreat with real personality, however, tend to settle in Zihuatanejo. It is noted for its long-standing community of Swiss and Italian immigrants, and its legendary beach playboys. Those who enjoy Zihua seem to return year after year.

The area, with a backdrop of the Sierra Madre Mountains and a foreground of Pacific waters, provides a full range of activities and diversions. Scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, bay cruises to remote beaches, and golf are among the favorites. Nightlife in both towns borders on the subdued, but Ixtapa is the livelier.

This dual destination is the choice for the traveler looking for a little of everything, from resort-styled indulgence to unpretentious simplicity. These resorts are more welcoming to couples and adults than families, with a number of places off-limits to children under 16 - something of a rarity in Mexico.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta's seductive innocence captivates visitors, beckoning them to return - and to bring friends. Beyond the cobblestone streets, graceful cathedral, and welcoming atmosphere, Puerto Vallarta offers a wealth of natural beauty and manmade pleasures.

Ecotourism activities are gaining ground--from mountain biking the Sierra foothills to whale watching, ocean kayaking, or diving with giant mantas in Banderas Bay. Twenty-six miles of beaches extend from the center of town around the bay, many tucked in pristine coves and accessible only by boat. High in the Sierra Madre Mountains, the mystical Huichol Indians still live in relative isolation in an effort to protect their centuries-old culture from outside influences.

Its natural appeal aside, the town also offers sophisticated services, hotels of all classes and prices, over 250 restaurants, a sizzling nightlife, and enough shops and galleries to tempt even jaded consumers. Luxury hotels and shopping centers have sprung up to the north and south of the original town, allowing Vallarta to grow to a sizable city of 250,000 without sacrificing its considerable charms. Today, it boasts the services and infrastructure of a modern city as well as the authenticity of a colonial Mexican village.

Cool breezes flow down from the mountains along the Río Cuale, which runs through the center of town. The main waterfront street, or malecón, is graced with fanciful public sculptures and bordered by lively restaurants, shops, and bars. The malecón is a magnet for both residents and visitors, who stroll the broad walkway to take in an ocean breeze, a multihued sunset, or a moonlit, perfect wave. The surrounding mountains offer the equivalent of a continual, comforting embrace, adding to that sense of welcome that so many visitors feel as well.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

The hundreds of luxury hotel rooms along the Corridor north of Cabo San Lucas have transformed this formerly rustic and rowdy outpost. Although it retains boisterous nightlife, Cabo San Lucas is no longer the simple town Steinbeck wrote about. Once legendary for big-game fish, Cabo San Lucas now draws more people for its nearby world-class fairways and greens. This has become Mexico's most elite resort destination.

Travelers enjoy a growing roster of adventure-oriented activities, and the nightlife is as hot as the desert in July. A collection of popular restaurants and bars along Cabo's main street stay open and active until the morning's first fishing charters head out to sea. Despite the growth in diversions, Cabo remains more or less a one-stoplight town, with most everything located along the main strip.

Aside from fishing, sports available in Cabo San Lucas include surfing, whale-watching, kayaking and boat trips to Los Arcos or uninhabited beaches. All-inclusive daytime or sunset cruises are available on a variety of boats, including a restored pirate ship. Many of these trips include snorkeling; serious divers have great underwater venues to explore.

Sports and partying are Cabo's main attractions, but there are also a few cultural and historical points of interest. The stone Iglesia de San Lucas (Church of San Lucas) on Calle Cabo San Lucas (close to the main plaza) was established in 1730 by the Spanish missionary Nicolás Tamaral; a large bell in a stone archway commemorates the completion of the church in 1746. Buildings on the streets facing the main plaza are gradually being renovated to house restaurants and shops, and the picturesque neighborhood has the most Mexican ambiance in town.

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