Category Archives: City Profiles

Loreto

Loreto, Baja California Sur

Population: 11,000

Time Zone: Mountain Standard Time

Airport: Loreto International Airport (LTO)

Elevation: Sea Level

It’s hard to believe that this tiny, laid-back town was the first capital of Spanish California, and the site of the first mission established by the Jesuits in 1697. When a hurricane nearly destroyed the town in 1829, the capital was moved to La Paz and Loreto languished in obscurity until the mid-19th century, when immigrants started to arrive from mainland Mexico and abroad. In fact, it’s not uncommon to encounter blond-haired Mexicans with European surnames.

Today’s visitors will find one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets: a town with a rich history surrounded by a perfect mix of desert, mountains, and a protected marine park in the Sea of Cortez. Although it was designated to be major development project by the Mexican government in the 1970’s, it never really took off as did Cancun and Los Cabos. The result is a town little-changed, where the local fishermen still motor out into the sea every day in their pangas, and the tourists that find their way here spend their days strolling the streets, enjoying a siesta, and fishing or kayaking in the sea.

A development project may change the scenery somewhat over the coming years five miles south of town at the Loreto Bay Company. The ambitious 8,000 acre seaside project is designed to eventually contain 6,000 homes with a focus on sustainable development. FONATUR, Mexico’s tourism development agency, is a partner in the project.

Ixtapa-Zihuatenejo

Ixtapa-Zihuatenejo, Guerrero

Poplulation: 75,000

Time Zone: Central Standard Time

Airport: Ixtapa-Zihuatenejo International Airport (ZIH)

Elevation: Sea level

The two separate towns of Ixtapa and Zihuatenejo are the yin and yang of Mexico. Ixtapa, created in 1972 by the Mexican government on what was once a coconut plantation, is modern and planned. Five miles down the coast lies Zihua, once a very sleepy fishing village where few tourists went; now a sleepy fishing village where many tourists go. The contrast has created a destination that has tremendous appeal to a variety of tastes and desires.

Ixtapa has a two-mile-long beach lined with several full-service resorts, a number of restaurants, support services, a boat marina, and two championship golf courses. It is a town of 7,000 people, but doesn’t really have a town. Travelers are attracted by the remote, tropical beauty, the empty beaches, nearly-perfect weather (barring the summer’s rainy season), and great sports-fishing and golf.

Zihuatenejo is the flip-side to an interesting coin, an old town awash in traditional Mexican culture with small inns and chic boutique hotels. Prior to the 1960’s, when the coastal highway was built, virtually no tourists visited. But now, with the road, an airport, and the fact that it’s become a cruise-ship stop, Zihuatenejo is well-known amongst Mexicophiles seeking a beach town with a slower pulse than the more-traveled resorts.

Cancun

Cancun, Quintana Roo

Poplulation: 600,000

Time Zone: Central Standard Time

Airport: Cancun International Airport (CUN)

Elevation: Sea level

Prior to 1970 Cancun was an empty strip of beach where few people went. Then the Mexican government identified the sand-strip as the next tourist destination, providing money and infrastructure to make it a reality. The results have been a huge success for that purpose, with plush mega-resorts lining the seven-mile long beach, along with fine restaurants, nightclubs, and all of the attendant services that are required. The town of Cancun, where the locals live, sits just off of the developed sand-spit on the mainland, where you can find all of the businesses you would find in any Mexican city.

Of the 19 million visitors to Mexico each year, roughly 4 million land in Cancun on nearly 200 flights per day, making it the country’s most popular tourist town. Many people come for the sun, the water, and the partying—with 400 restaurants and bars to choose from, there’s plenty to do. Although located in the land of the ancient and present-day Maya, a more liberal attitude has developed than in most of Mexico, where European-style sunbathing is practiced at most of the beaches and pool-side. The crystal-clear Caribbean Sea is a draw for scuba and skin-divers, and the nearby pre-Columbian ruins provide an interesting cultural experience. Just offshore is Isla Mujeres, a slow-paced island-town with smaller, more modest, hotels, further enhancing Cancun as a destination to meet a variety of travelers’ desires.

Campeche

Campeche, Campeche

Population: 230,000

Time Zone: Central Standard Time

Airport: Campeche International (CPR)

Elevation: Sea Level

Founded in 1540 by the Spanish conquistadores, the area was home to an indigenous people for 2,000 years. The Spaniards turned Campeche, their first settlement on the Yucatan peninsula, into a major port, shipping gold and silver to Europe. This attracted rampaging pirates who destroyed the city repeatedly for over 200 years. In 1686 construction began on a protective wall, four feet thick with four massive gates, placed around the town perimeter. The wall was a success, leading to a long period of peace and prosperity. Today about one-half of the wall still stands, marking Campeche as one of Mexico’s most interesting cities, although not well-known by foreign travelers. The 40 square blocks within the historic center are filled with 18th century, restored buildings and some that have yet to be restored.

Campeche was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, showcasing a colonial historic center adorned with pastel-colored buildings and cobble-stoned streets. The beaches in town are not on par with many in Mexico due to being a major port for goods and the oil-related businesses, but they do improve as you leave town along the Gulf of Mexico. Tourist services, including hotels and restaurants, are fairly inexpensive, catering largely to domestic tourists and to savvy foreigners who have ventured from the more well-known cities. This is a town that should be experienced before the word gets out.

Acapulco

Acapulco, Guerrero

Population: 1.5 million

Time Zone: Central Standard

Airport: Juan Alvarez International Airport (ACA)

Elevation: Sea Level

Acapulco is the true queen of Mexican tourism. Spurred by Hollywood icons making it their favorite destination, lured by the natural beauty of Acapulco Bay and the “anything goes” reputation that Mexico had gained at that time, it all began here. Long before Cancun was a blip on the radar screen, oil billionaire J. Paul Getty bought beachfront property just east of town (now the Pierre Marques Fairmont Resort), Elvis made a movie here, and John Wayne fished and drank tequila with the locals…Acapulco was the definitive party town in the 1950’s and 60’s.

By the mid-70’s things began to change as developers started lining the stunning bay with high-rise hotels that still operate today. Known for much more affordable accommodations than the more popular towns of Cancun, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta., Acapulco is still a very “Mexican” destination. It’s unique for a beach town with a interesting combination of big-city sophistication along with a history that dates back nearly 500 years to when the area was a major port for the trade route from the Philippines to Spain from 1565 to 1815.

Today Acapulco is the most popular beach retreat for inhabitants from Mexico City, some four hours due north by car. And, you will encounter many Europeans, who find the accessible location and pricing to be convenient incentives. In recent years, spring break college kids have been arriving in big numbers for the same reasons, with the Costera (the beachfront strip in town) hotels catering to their needs. In addition, a state-of-the-art well located Convention Center designed for large groups is a mainstay of revenue for the local economy. With an abundance of residences near the ocean, Acapulco has also become a popular expat haven, with condo and apartment prices very competitively priced. The many restaurants offer an outstanding array of cuisines in all price-ranges, with seafood the obvious favorite.

The more upscale hotels begin just east of the Costera in Punta Diamante, continuing to Bahia de Puerto Marques and on to Playa Revolcadero, outside the bay. A few properties represented along here include Las Brisas (the famous pink jeeps), Fairmont Resorts, Mayan Palace, the elegant Quinta Real, and Camino Real.

Note: Acapulco has recently been a bit of a battleground between the drug cartels, with some violence being reported. The local and federal governments have increased security and, in general, tourists aren’t affected. However, caution should always be taken.