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Acapulco

366km (227 miles) S of Mexico City; 272km (169 miles) SW of Taxco; 979km (607 miles) SE of Guadalajara; 253km (157 miles) SE of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo; 752km (466 miles) NW of Huatulco

I like to think of Acapulco as a diva -- a little past her prime, perhaps overly made up, but still capable of captivating an audience. It's tempting to dismiss Acapulco as a passé resort: Drug-related violence, underinvestment, and poverty in some parts of this huge city have led many tourists to head for glitzier Mexican resorts such as Cancún and Cabo San Lucas. But Acapulco surprisingly retains its appeal, and its temptations are hard to resist. This is a place where beautiful bodies pack the sun-soaked beaches, daring men dive from cliffs into the sea, romantic couples dine alongside unforgettable views of the bay, and uninhibited revelers dance the rest of the night away. Acapulco has world-class resorts, yet they're often much less expensive than comparable hotels elsewhere. Though most beach resorts are made for relaxing, Acapulco offers nonstop, 24-hours-a-day energy. Its perfectly sculpted bay is an adult playground filled with water-skiers in sexy tanga swimsuits and darkly tanned, mirror-shaded guys on jet skis. Visitors play golf and tennis with intensity, but the real sport is the nightlife, which has made this city famous for decades. Back in the days when there was a jet set, they came to Acapulco -- filmed it, sang about it, wrote about it, and lived it.

It's not hard to understand why: The view of Acapulco Bay, framed by mountains and beaches, is breathtaking day or night. Playa Diamante (Diamond Beach), just south of the bay, is by far the best beach within driving distance of Mexico City. At night, a trendy set of upper-class Mexicans and international visitors fills the top restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, which are some of the hottest in the country.

Acapulco tries hard to hold on to its image as the ultimate party town, and remains a top weekend and vacation destination for affluent residents of Mexico City, who can reach the city in a few hours via a major highway. Don't expect small-town charm or undiscovered beaches, but do expect breathtaking bay views, wide-ranging tourist services, and good values. Acapulco's still the top choice for those who want to have dinner at midnight, dance until dawn, and sleep all day on a sun-soaked beach.

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