Esteban Matiz, the fashion designer and, not too long ago, the only fashion-designer-in-residence in Acapulco, has become a sort of cheerleader for the town, where his mother ran an art gallery for half a century. Esteban (he is known by only one name) can recall the days when most of the land between Las Brisas and the airport was owned by tycoons such as J. Paul Getty, Loel Guinness, Warren Avis, and Daniel Ludwig, who put up the distinctive Diamante hotel, the Fairmont Acapulco Princess, which is shaped like an Aztec pyramid, in 1971. Billionaire recluse Howard Hughes spent his last days in its penthouse. Getty’s nearby hideaway became the Fairmont Pierre Marqués. Now they’re just part of the crowd in this still-evolving district, which also includes Mundo Imperial, a $300 million complex complete with a forum-style theater, and, by 2012, a shopping plaza, a convention hall, and a luxury hotel. Add in the high-end La Isla shopping center next door, and Acapulco Diamante is basically a Mexican version of the South Beach lifestyle at a fraction of the price. By the quantity and caliber of today’s merchandise, Esteban seems a little surprised. “You could never get any of this before,” he says. “Five years ago, there was nothing here. It’s not faded glory anymore.”
In the past year, several equally ambitious hotels have joined the new Diamond Zone restaurants and shops, and like them, they demonstrate the international scope of the new Acapulco’s ambitions. Past two guarded gates and down a road that runs the length of Punta Diamante, the almost-empty peninsula on the south side of Puerto Marqués, sits the Banyan Tree Cabo Marqués. Like Zìbu, the resort is an Asian-style fantasy inspired by the seafaring story of Acapulco—it has a Thai restaurant, called Saffron—that takes guests out of time, out of place. With three restaurants, a world-class spa, infinity pools in every villa, and those ever-present infinite views, the Banyan Tree’s all-inclusiveness may be its chief drawback. You’ll never want to leave—and getting off the peninsula it occupies takes some effort. But anyone who wants to find himself a little lost will have his wish fulfilled there.
On the opposite shore of Acapulco’s smaller bay of Puerto Marqués you’ll find Hotel Encanto. Designed and built over the course of a decade by architect Miguel Ángel Aragonés, the 44-room property is an all-white, all-geometric ode to the sea, a symphony of planes, frames, portholes, and glass walls that offer both fleeting glimpses of and lingering looks at the hypnotic Pacific. Though the building and the rooms can be lit in different colors, which some may consider a touch too much, at night the pool deck and bar are illuminated by candles to emphasize the starry panorama. And here, everything is Mexican, from the marble walls and floors to the pillow covers from Chiapas. Encanto’s cool chic plays nicely against Acapulco’s sultry heat.
Banyan Tree and Encanto are a long way—both physically and psychically—from the Acapulco that Errol Flynn first encountered on a fishing trip with Teddy Stauffer in 1943, though the updated and refreshed Hotel Boca Chica, in old Acapulco, puts guests right in its center. In the Rat Pack era, Boca Chica and its beach club, which opened in 1953, was the place to be by day on the Peninsula de las Playas—an Acapulco version of St.-Tropez’s Club 55, with yachts moored off its waterfront restaurant at the entrance to Santa Lucía Bay. There, Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Curtis, and John and Jackie Kennedy drank and dined.
Off the radar for decades as Acapulco’s center of gravity moved southeast and its Traditional Zone decayed, the Boca Chica was bought in 2007 and refurbished by the Grupo Habita of ultrahip design hotels in partnership with a son-in-law of Mexican billionaire (and world’s richest man) Carlos Slim. Despite that provenance, it is inexpensive and comparatively bare-bones, but its 36 haute-motel rooms and suites are nonetheless chic and well-equipped. Carlos Couturier, one of Habita’s partners, along with architects Frida Escobedo and José Rojas, combined sixties furniture and Pop-tropical details with such flourishes as a shower with a circular curtain in the bedroom. Unlike Acapulco’s other new hotels, Boca Chica has a direct relationship with the water: it has its own swimming cove and dock, and a boat and captain are on call. Even when the sea is too choppy for a snorkeling expedition to nearby Roqueta Island, the Boca Chica skiff allows guests to indulge in coastal voyeurism, cruising from Acapulco’s huge yacht club to La Quebrada, where it’s hard not to wonder who owns the mansions high on the cliffs, many with their own funiculars running down to private docks.
Boca Chica’s new owners aim to evoke “the feeling of Mexico and Acapulco as it used to be,” Couturier says. He is sitting beneath the palapa at the hotel’s sushi restaurant, while steps away on the sundeck, chef Keisuke Harada is fishing. The old part of town, Couturier says, “all faded away when Acapulco became a small city,” but recently a young crowd has rediscovered it. “It’s no secret why it all started here,” he says, gesturing over the water. “The views, the cliffs, the sea. The Traditional Zone was the best part of Acapulco, and we’re going to take it back and make it happen again.”