Acapulco, also known as Acapulco de Juárez, is a city and major sea port in the state of Guerrero on the Pacific coast of Mexico, 190 miles S.S.W. of Mexico City, at 16.85°N, 99.92°W. Acapulco is located on a deep, semicircular bay, almost land-locked, easy of access, and with so secure an anchorage that vessels can safely lie alongside the rocks that fringe the shore. It is the best harbour on the Pacific coast of Mexico, and it is a port of call for shipping lines running between Panama and San Francisco, California. In 2003 the estimated population was 638,000 people.
The town is built on a narrow strip of low land, scarcely half a mile wide, between the shore line and the lofty mountains that encircle the bay. There is great natural beauty in the surroundings, but the mountains render the town difficult of access from the interior, and give it an exceptionally hot and unhealthy climate. The effort to admit the cooling sea breezes by cutting through the mountains a passage called the Abra de San Nicolas had some beneficial effect.
Acapulco has been well known as a traveler's crossroads for at least a millennium. Its name is Nahuatl, meaning "plane of dense reeds."
The earliest local remains, stone metates and pottery utensils, were left in the 3rd millennium BC. Much later, sophisticated artisans fashioned curvaceous female figurines. Some hypothesize that there was early Polynesian or Asian influences in Pacific Mexico as early as 1500 years before the arrival Christopher Columbus.
Other artifacts resemble those found in highland Mexico. Although influenced by Tarascan, Mixtec, Zapotec, and Aztec civilizations, sometimes paying tribute to them and frequented by their traders, Acapulco never came under their direct control, but instead remained subject to local caciques until the Spanish conquest.
After conquering the Aztecs, Hernan Fernando Cortes sent expeditions south to build ships and find a route to China. The first explorers sailed from Zacatula, near present-day Lazaro Cardenas on the coast 250 miles north-west of Acapulco. By a royal decree dated April 25, 1528, "Acapulco and her land ... where the ships of the south will be built...." passed directly into the hands of the Spanish Crown. Voyages of discovery set sail from Acapulco for Peru, the Sea of Cortez, and to Asia. None returned across the Pacific, however, until Father Andres de Urdaneta discovered the northern Pacific tradewinds, which propelled him and his ship, loaded with Chinese treasure, to Acapulco in 1565.
For more than 200 years after that, a special yearly trading ship, known to the English as the "Manila Galleon," set sail from Acapulco for the Manila and the Orient. Its return started an annual merchant fair in Acapulco where traders bargained for the Galleon's cargo of silks, porcelain, ivory, and lacquerware.
Acapulco's yearly treasure soon attracted marauders, too. In 1579, Francis Drake attacked but failed to capture the Galleon, but in 1587, off Cabo San Lucas, Thomas Cavendish seized the Santa Anna. The cash alone, 1.2 million gold pesos, severely depressed the London gold market.
After a Dutch fleet invaded Acapulco in 1615, the Spanish rebuilt their fort, which they christened Fort San Diego in 1617. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1776, the fort was rebuilt by 1783. Mexico's War of Independence (1820-21) stopped the Manila Galleon forever, sending Acapulco into a century-long slumber.
By the early 20th century, the town was chosen as the terminus for two railway lines seeking a Pacific port -- the Interoceanic and the Mexican Central. The port city grew greatly in the 20th century.
The town suffered considerably from earthquakes in July and August 1909.