Acapulco de Juaréz, a port city of over one million inhabitants (2005) has long been recognized as having the finest natural harbor on Mexico's Pacific coast. Its great harbor notwithstanding, Acapulco's role in the nation's economic geography has been defined more by its isolation from the central plateau by the rugged mountains of the state of Guerrero. The area was settled by the Spaniards in the 1530s as a site primarily for building ships to explore the Pacific coast. The first ships, built in 1532, traded and explored south to Peru and north to the Colorado River. Acapulco played an important role during the colonial period as New Spain's major Pacific port, and in 1565 the first Manila Galleon entered its protected bay. The annual galleons from the Philippines carried silks, jades, ivory, perfumes, and incense from the Orient, products that were traded for silver in Peru and Mexico, and ultimately reached to Spain.
Because of its hot and oppressive climate, however, Acapulco remained a small settlement despite its importance. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, it had only about 4,000 permanent inhabitants, a large proportion of whom were blacks or mulattoes. The city's population rose as high as 9,000 to 12,500, however, during the annual two-week feria, referred to by the nineteenth-century German explorer Alexander von Humboldt as "the most renowned fair of the world." The feria, associated with the arrival and departure of the galleon, drew large numbers of merchants southward along the "China Road" to the port.
Acapulco was described as a squalid place, but it was protected by Castle San Diego, built in 1616, and, after 1776, by Fort San Diego. With the end of the Manila galleon in 1815 and the subsequent independence of Mexico, Acapulco settled into relative obscurity as its mule trail fell into disuse. With no railroad across the mountains that separate Acapulco from the interior, the port lost its domination of commerce to Manzanillo, which was farther north along the coast and was the terminus of a rail line to Guadalajara and Mexico City.
Acapulco, however, was destined for a very different role. In 1927 an automobile road to the city was opened, and the first resort hotel was built on the beach in 1938. Miguel Alemán, as president of Mexico, promoted the further development of tourism in Acapulco with the completion of a paved four-lane highway in 1955. Acapulco rapidly developed into a major resort area. In the 1990s completion of the road known as the Ruta del Sol (Route of the Sun), connecting Mexico City to Acapulco, improved accessibility further still. The city's unchecked growth, however, has created problems with water and sewage, severe pollution of the bay, and a general deterioration of the ecology. Overcrowding has cau-sed a housing shortage and resulted in a sprawl of squatter settlements up the mountain slopes surrounding the bay. In 1997 Hurricane Pauline made landfall, destroying many of these homes and inundating the city with torrential rain and mudslides. Since this disaster, the government has invested money to rebuild infrastructure and improve city services. Municipal, state, and federal funding in 2003 went toward cleaning up the bay. New resorts continue to open along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Mexico, but Acapulco, with its dry winter and multiracial population, has remained a popular destination for both Mexican and foreign tourists.
See alsoTourism .
William L. Schurz, The Manila Galleon (1939), esp. pp. 371-384.
James Cerutti, "The Two Acapulcos," in National Geographic 126 (December 1964): 848-878.
Alvarez Ponce de León, Griselda. México, turismo y cultura. Mexico: Editorial Diana, 2001.
Berger, Dina. The Development of Mexico's Tourism Industry: Pyramids by Day, Martinis by Night. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Cárdenas, Alejandra. Hechicería, saber y trasgresión: Afromestizas ante la Inquisición: Acapulco, 1621–1622. Mexico: Candy, 1997.
Clancy, Michael. Exporting Paradise: Tourism and Development in Mexico. New York: Pergamon, 2001.
Sales Colín, Ostwald. El movimiento portuario de Acapulco: El protagonismo de Nueva España en la relación con Filipinas, 1587–1648. Mexico: Plaza y Valdés Editores, 2000.
John J. Winberry
Acapulco was the only true seaport on the western coast of Mexico throughout the colonial period. Situated only 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) from Mexico City and blessed with a good harbor, Acapulco was settled between 1530 and 1550 as a base for Pacific exploration. The small port's fortunes changed in 1564 when an Asian expedition sponsored by King Philip II (1527–1598) of Spain recommended the use of Acapulco as the American port for trade with the Philippines.
In 1573 the first galleon laden with Asian goods arrived in the harbor. This inaugurated the Manila trade, or "China fleet," which carried Asian wares across the ocean to Acapulco, where they were exchanged for American silver. The arrival of each fleet saw Mexico City merchants flood Acapulco to bargain for silk, spices, and other luxury goods, which traded at favorable prices as a result of chronic bullion shortages in Asia.
Increasingly after 1575, Asian merchandise arriving at Acapulco was shipped not only inland to Mexico City but to Peru, where Asian goods commanded higher prices than they did in New Spain. Indeed, by the early seventeenth century, the amount of Potosí silver flowing through Acapulco to Asia was a serious concern to the Spanish Crown, leading to the outright if ineffective banning of trade between Peru and New Spain in 1631.
A tempting target for pirates as the Manila trade grew, Acapulco was fortified in the early seventeenth century and thus escaped sacking, though the galleons themselves were vulnerable. Because the fleet arrived only once a year, Acapulco never grew to a size reflecting its importance as an entrepôt in such a valuable trade. Moreover, it went into a precipitous decline with the waning of the Manila trade in the eighteenth century, a manifestation of a generalized loss of Spanish dominance. In 1774 there were only eight Spanish vecinos (propertied residents) left in Acapulco. The last galleon from Manila arrived in Acapulco in 1815, signaling the end of Acapulco's prominence in transpacific trade.
Bakewell, Peter. A History of Latin America: Empires and Sequels, 1450–1930. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.
Gerhard, Peter. Pirates of the Pacific, 1575–1742. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.
Lynch, John. The Hispanic World in Crisis and Change, 1598–1700. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.
Founded in 1550, it was for 250 years an important port on the galleon route linking Spain and the Philippines. Now the country's most famous Pacific resort, it is noted for beautiful scenery, deep-sea fishing, and luxurious hotels. Exports: cotton, fruit, hides, tobacco. Pop. (2000) 722,499.