ACAPULCO, MEXICO - People of a certain age might recall a 1962 Timex watch commercial which featured one of this city’s legendary divers jumping off the 40-metre-high La Quebrada cliffs into the choppy surf with the company’s timepiece attached to his wrist.
The diver emerges to show the watch is still working as the voice of veteran broadcaster John Cameron Swayze says the famous line: “Timex: It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
Raoul Garcia was the cliff diver who jumped into the foamy sea in that commercial and he apparently did it on 37,348 other occasions, as well. Now, a whole new generation of Acapulco cliff divers entertain tourists with their death-defying leaps. We even pay $10 (U.S.) to watch the spectacle from the safety of a hotel balcony and gasp as the divers, some as young as 12 years old, take the plunge.
Viewing the cliff divers is all part of the Acapulco experience, which began in the 1930s when young men would dare each other to jump into the sea from lofty heights. Word spread and soon visitors started paying locals to bring them to the cliffs to watch.
Before taking their leap, the divers pray at a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. On Dec. 12, (the Virgin’s annual feast day), the show concludes with the sea being lit with gasoline and the divers aiming at a target known as the “Ocean of Fire.”
Left: Made famous by a watch commercial, the cliff divers of Acapulco are world famous. Middle: A whole new generation of cliff divers is ready to keep the tradition alive. Right: The flamingos set a striking pose in Acapulco.
The legendary cliff divers have been featured in a number of Hollywood films, including Fun in Acapulco starring Elvis Presley and Ursula Andress. It was in that film that Elvis sang his hit “You Can’t Say No In Acapulco.”
Now, people are finding it hard to say “no” again to this romantic hideaway which was first launched onto the tourist stage in the 1950s when Hollywood legends like John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, Brigitte Bardot and Johnny Weissmuller bought property here.
Weissmuller, who was the world’s fastest swimmer in the 1920s and won five Olympic gold medals, is best remembered for playing Tarzan in 12 movies that were filmed here during the 1940s and ’50s. The round-shaped house with the gorgeous ocean view he once owned, is now a hotel and available for public tours. A sign in the lobby reads: “Welcome to the Hollywood Gang Hideaway 1950-1984: John Wayne, Johnny Weissmuller, Cary Grant, Fred MacMurray, Red Skelton, Rex Allen, Bo Roos, Errol Flynn, Richard Widmark and friends from Hollywood.”
Acapulco has gone through a lot since its “Hollywood Hideaway” days. It was shunned for many years by tourists because of the drug and gang violence which occurred here during the 1990s. But peace has been restored to this resort community which is just 300 kilometres from Mexico City and features one of Mexico’s most glorious stretches of beaches.
Acapulco is undergoing a construction boom; many new hotels have sprung up and many iconic properties, like the Fairmont Acapulco Princess, have been restored to their former glory thanks to multi-million-dollar makeovers.
Designed in 1971 as an ancient Aztec pyramid, the Fairmont Acapulco Princess was built just a few metres away from the original Fairmont Pierre Marques (in 1982 a third tower was added).
Above: The Fairmont Acapulco has been home to many famous Hollywood types.
The regal Princess occupies 161 acres of pristine property dominated by gardens which feature more than 750 plant species and ponds filled with aquatic life. And, oh, did we mention the flamingos that parade around like they own the place?
With more than 1,000 rooms, the massive Fairmont resort features four freshwater pools with waterfalls and one saltwater pool, all offering spectacular views of Revolcadero Beach. The resort also boasts a golf course and eight outdoor and two indoor tennis courts.
The Fairmont Acapulco Princess was the final residence of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. In April 1976, Hughes left his penthouse suite, boarded his private jet and died en route to Houston. At least that’s the official story.
But I also hear rumours around the resort that Hughes actually died in his suite and his associates whisked his body onto the plane so he could “die” in the United States for legal purposes.
You think you’ve arrived in paradise when you check into the Princess — the open-air lobby flanked by two charming fountains puts you in a holiday mood before you even unpack.
Above: The beaches of Acapulco are for the young and the young at heart.
Pearl, an exclusive luxury beach enclave within the Fairmont Acapulco Princess resort, offers exquisite accommodations and the finest services and amenities, which include an iPod clock, 37-inch flat screen, in-room safety deposit box and more.
The hotel’s Turtle Dunes golf course is one of the best in Mexico — it’s exclusive to members and guests of the Fairmont Acapulco Princess and The Fairmont Pierre Marques. Set among ocean sand dunes and surrounded by a lush tropical sanctuary, Turtle Dunes, designed by architect Tripp Davis, features 7,200 yards of the most beautiful and challenging terrain imaginable.
The course showcases expansive water features, towering parota trees and colourful bougainvillea that frame many of the holes. At $195 a round, it’s a bit pricey but once you play it, you’ll agree it’s worth every penny.
The Princess, and the fabulous amenities it offers, is just another reason why it’s time to go back to Acapulco.
Air Canada flies direct to Mexico City with a connecting flight on Aeromexico to Acapulco. Go to www.aircanada.com for information / To get the best view of the cliff divers, watch it from the balcony of the Hotel El Mirador. There is also a public viewing area. / To see the original famous Timex commercial: tinyurl.com/74n45n / For information on the Fairmont Acapulco Princess, please go to www.fairmont.com/acapulco / For tourist information on Mexico, www.visitmexico.com/en/acapulco