Acapulco (officially known as Acapulco de Juárez) is a city, municipality and major sea port in the state of Guerrero on the Pacific coast of Mexico, southwest from Mexico City. Acapulco is located on a deep, semi-circular bay and has been a port since the early colonial period of Mexico's history. It is a port of call for shipping and cruising lines running between Panama and San Francisco, California, United States. The city of Acapulco is the largest in the state, far larger than the state capital Chilpancingo. Acapulco is also Mexico's largest beach and balneario resorted city.
The city is best known as one of Mexico's oldest and most well-known beach resorts, which came into prominence in the 1950s as a getaway for Hollywood stars and millionaires. Acapulco is still famous for its nightlife and still attracts many vacationers, although most are now from Mexico itself. The resort area is divided into two: The north end of the bay is the "traditional" area, where the famous in the mid-20th century vacationed and the south end is dominated by newer luxury high rise hotels.
The name "Acapulco" comes from Nahuatl language Aca-pōl-co, and means "where were destroyed or washed away the reeds". The "de Juárez" was added to the official name in 1885 to honor Benito Juárez, the former president of Mexico. The seal for the city shows broken reeds or cane.
By the eighth century, there was a small culture in the Acapulco area, which would first be dominated by the Olmecs, then by a number of others during the pre-Hispanic period. In Acapulco bay itself, there were two Olmec sites, one by Playa Larga and the other on a hill known as El Guitarrón. Olmec influence caused the small spread-out villages here to coalesce into larger entities and build ceremonial centers. Later, Teotihuacan influence made its way here via Cuernavaca and Chilpancingo. Then Mayan influence arrived from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and through what is now Oaxaca. This history is known through the archeological artifacts that have been found here, especially at Playa Hornos, Pie de la Cuesta and Tambuco. In the 11th century, new waves of migration of Nahuas and Coixas came through here. These people were the antecedents of the Aztecs. Acapulco formally became part of the Aztec Empire in 1486 during the reign of Ahuizotl. It was part of a tributary province called Tepecuacuilco, but control here was relatively unorganized.
There are two stories about how Acapulco bay was discovered by Europeans. The first states that two years after the Conquest, Hernán Cortés sent explorers west to find gold. The explorers had subdued this area after 1523, and Captain Saavedra Cerón was authorized by Cortés to found a settlement here. The other states that the bay was discovered on 13 December 1526 by a small ship named the El Tepache Santiago captained by Santiago Guevara. The first encomendero was established in 1525 at Cacahuatepec, which is part of the modern Acapulco municipality. In 1531, a number of Spaniards, most notably Juan Rodriguez de Villafuerte, left the Oaxaca coast and founded the village of Villafuerte where the city of Acapulco now stands. Villafuerte was unable to subdue the local native peoples, and this eventually resulted in the Yopa Rebellion in the region of Cuautepec. Hernán Cortés was obligated to send Vasco Porcayo to negotiate with the indigenous people giving concessions. The province of Acapulco became the encomendero of Rodriguez de Villafuerte who received taxes in the form of cocoa, cotton and corn.
Spanish trade in the Far East would give Acapulco a prominent position in the economy of New Spain. Galleons started arriving here from Asia by 1550, and in that year thirty Spanish families were sent to live here from Mexico City to have a permanent base of European residents. Acapulco would become the second most important port, after Veracruz, due to its direct trade with the Philippines. This trade would focus on the yearly Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade, which was the nexus of all kinds on communications between New Spain, Europe and Asia. In 1573, the port was granted the monopoly of the Manila trade.
The galleon trade would make its yearly run from the mid-16th century until the early 19th. The luxury items it brought to New Spain attracted the attention of English and Dutch pirates, such as Francis Drake, Henry Morgan and Thomas Cavendish, who called it "The Black Ship." To protect the port and the cargo of ships coming here the San Diego Fort was built. Despite the fort's existence, a Dutch fleet invaded Acapulco in 1615, destroying much of the town and fort before being driven off. The fort was destroyed by an earthquake in 1776 and was rebuilt in 1783. At the beginning of the 19th century, King Charles IV declared Acapulco a Ciudad Official and it became an essential part of the Spanish Crown. However, soon after the Mexican War of Independence began. In 1810, José María Morelos y Pavón attacked and burnt down the city, after he defeated royalist commander Francisco Parés at the Battle of Tres Palos. The independence of Mexico in 1821 ended the run of the Manila Galleon. Acapulco's importance as a port recovered during the California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century, with ships going to and coming from Panama stopping here.
In the mid-1940s, the first commercial wharf and warehouses has been built. In the early 1950s President Miguel Alemán Valdés upgraded the port's infrastructure, installing electrical lines, drainage systems, roads and the first highway to connect the port with Mexico City.
During the 1960s and 1970s, new hotel resorts were built, and accommodation and transport were made cheaper. Entertainment was dances such as the ballad It was no longer necessary to be a millionaire to spend a holiday in Acapulco, the foreign and Mexican middle class could now afford to travel here. However, as more hotels were built in the south part of the bay, the old hotels of the 1950s lost their grandeur.
In the 70s there was a significant expansion of the port.
During the 1990s, the road known as the Ruta del Sol was built, crossing the mountains between Mexico City and Acapulco. The journey only takes about three and a half hours, making Acapulco a favorite weekend destination for Mexico City inhabitants. The port continued to grow and in 1996, a new private company, API Acapulco, was created to manage operations. This consolidated operations and now Acapulco is the major port for car exports to the Pacific.
The city was devastated by Hurricane Pauline in 1997. The storm stranded tourists and left more than 100 dead in the city. Most of the victims were from the shantytowns that surround the city, built on steep hillsides. Other victims were swept away by thirty foot waves and winds. The main road, Avenida Costera became a fast-moving three foot river of sludge.
In the 2000s, the drug war in Mexico has had a negative effect on tourism in Acapulco as rival drug traffickers fight each other for the Guerrero coast route that brings drugs from South America as well as soldiers that have been fighting the cartels since 2006. A major gun battle between 18 gunmen and soldiers took place in the summer of 2009 in the Old Acapulco seaside area, lasting hours and killing 16 of the gunmen and two soldiers. This came after the swine flu outbreak earlier in the year nearly paralyzed the Mexican economy, forcing hotels to give discounts to bring tourists back. However, hotel occupancy for 2009 was down five percent from the year before. The death of Arturo Beltran Leyva in December 2009 resulted in infighting among different groups within the Beltran Leyva cartel. Gang violence continued to plague Acapulco through 2010 and into 2011, most notably with at least 15 dying in drug-related violence on March 13, 2010 and another 15 deaths on January 8, 2011. Among the first incident's dead were six members of the city police and the brother of an ex-mayor. In the second incident the headless bodies of 15 young men were found dumped near the Plaza Senderos shopping center. On August 20, 2011, Mexican authorities reported that five headless bodies were found in Acapulco, three of which were placed in the city's main tourist area and two of which were cut into multiple pieces.