NCL Star Mexican Riviera Itinerary – Acapulco
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The NCL Star does an eight-day tour of the Mexican Riviera. Ports include Acapulco, Zihuatenejo, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. The frist two days are at sea as is the last. Acapulco is the first and longest stop on the itinerary.
We arrived within viewing distance of Acapulco earlier than scheduled and watched the dolphins swimming alongside the ship. Some extra time to spend we thought, until the captain announced that there was a medical emergency onboard and the patient would be tendered into port. After that exercise was completed we docked and waited for immigration to clear us, and so didn’t go ashore until the regular time.
Having never been to Acapulco before, we were both excited and wary. We aren’t really beach types and usually try to avoid tourist meccas, so didn’t really know what to expect. We have done some extensive travel in Mexico, but usually in the southern states, so this was new territory for us to explore. We usually prefer to explore on our own and don’t always sign-on for the ship’s shore excursions. We are comfortable on our own and like to save a few bucks as well. We can dawdle where we want and focus on whatever appeals to us. In Acapulco, our goal was to go see the petroglyphs at Palma Sola, located somewhere north of town.
After leaving the ship we were immediately accosted by taxi drivers (actually this was immediately after being accosted by the ship photographer) who followed us far too long. $80 to do what we wanted to, plus they would take us to the cliff divers. (It probably wouldn’t cost that much for both of us to take the first-class bus to Mexico.) We kept walking and tried hard to ignore them. Weakened by all that avoidance, we gave in to a guy claiming to be a student of tourism. He would get points for taking us to the artisans market. We really wanted to go to the main market that the locals use and then go to the archaeological site. This guy could not understand that we really didn’t want to buy anything at his mercado. He told us that he could get a good deal on a taxi that would take us to Palma Sola, wait for us and drop us back at the ship. I admit that I am a wimp and that my Spanish isn’t good enough to tell somebody that I can arrange it myself. Actually, this guy spoke English, so I suppose my English isn’t good enough to get rid of the guy. Knowing what the minimum wage is in Mexico, I am also a sucker for these people who are trying to improve their financial status. I do usually draw the line at chiclets, but where else do you see 3-year old entrepreneurs plying their trade on the streets? Have we instilled such a work ethic in our toddlers? I don’t think so. Every time I see these kids working the streets I am reminded of a comment by somebody asking if you would feel safe traveling with your kids in Mexico. Doesn’t it say something about Mexican society in general that they feel comfortable allowing kids to wander the streets alone at the age of three? I guess that sometimes they are accompanied by a four- or five-year old, so there is a built in safety system. But I digress.
We reached the end of the market and the guy said that he would go get the taxi. Now was our chance to find our own taxi and make our escape. We disobeyed his orders to stay where he left us, but didn’t he find us. We were just a block away. We figured that his vendor friends on the street were keeping an eye on us and tracking our movement. He came back with a taxi just behind him. We paid him a tip and paid the taxi $20, which really wasn’t a bad deal.
I had read that it was possible to take the bus up to the Palma Sola Colonia and reach the site from there. When I saw how far and how steep the road was to the entrance of the site, I was thankful that we had taken the taxi.
Our taxi driver got out of the car and led us to the obvious entry to the site, which had a woman at the desk and a guestbook. Maintained by INAH, the site has free entry. Just beyond this office is a small visitor center with some information on the site itself, but only in Spanish as this is Mexico after all.
The woman in the office warned us that it was about a one-kilometer climb to the top of the trail, which immediately started to climb outside of the display area. Bugsy started counting the steps, quitting at 400. Our taxi driver was wearing jeans on this rather hot day and didn’t even break a sweat. After climbing without stopping for what seemed like 400 steps, we came to the first carved stone and immediately forgot the drudgery of climbing.
We had been to many archaeological sites in the Yucatan, Chiapas and Oaxaca, so rock carvings like this were quite new to us. The carvings literally looked like stick figures, definitely lacking the ornate details of a Maya glyph. Eventually we came across a small group of people with a guide. The official ship shore excursion. Two of the group sat on a rock and declined to continue the climb. We listened to the guide for a while, but moved on at our own pace and to get ahead of this group. We climbed up and then climbed down to reach some of the carvings. Going down means going back up, so we definitely got a good workout along with spectaculars views of Acapulco and the ship far below us. The best of the carvings is at the very top of the climb and certainly proved a nice reward for our efforts.
Those of us with less-than-perfect knees know that going down can be more difficult than climbing. The lungs don’t get quite the workout, but the knees take up the slack for the lungs. As we neared the last 20 or so steps, we encountered two guys huffing and puffing and dripping in sweat. They asked if they were close to the top. We informed them about the arduous climb ahead and recommended that they take it easy. Since the site closed at 4 and it was already after 3, they would not be able to dally on their way to the top. We met them later on the ship and asked how far they had gone. They had rested and turned around where we had met them.
At the bottom, we decided to ask the woman for some details about the site, including how many steps there were since we lost count. 517. That’s the most exercise we have done for some time. I constantly thought of that earlier medical emergency on board and thought that I would likely be in that situation.
On the way back down to the port, our taxi driver decided to take a short cut. Have you ever had an uneventful taxi ride in Mexico? Is there such a thing? He proceeded down a much perilously and perigroso-ly steep hill. Women on their stoops looked at him with contempt and disbelief. The road suddenly came to a point where we could see nothing beyond. Now, we had stopped at a tienda to get some refreshments – me a beer and the others water and soda, but that beer hadn’t taken effect yet. I envisioned the Bug and the Cruise Bug somersaulting down this “road” until it crashed into a Bimbo bread truck. The driver chuckled a nervous laugh and shifted into reverse. The tires spun not easily gripping the road surface. I pointed out the stoop that quickly approached and he did turn to avoid it. After several attempts, we backed up to the spot where we had turned off and proceeded down the way we had come. We avoided at least three collisions on the way down and eventually reached the main road near the pier. And all this for a mere $20. An amusement park entry would cost twice that for half the thrill.
We weren’t done with Acapulco yet, nor was Acapulco done with us. The ship didn’t leave until after midnight, so we had plenty of time to spend ashore. Since we wanted to see two more museums and it was already late, we worried that they would close before we got to them. We first headed to the Museum of Masks. This was shown on the map quite near the Fuerte San Diego(San Diego Fort), but we reached the fort before the museum, which shouldn’t have happened.
Keep in mind that if you venture out on your own, it is your responsibility to get back to the ship on time. Be sure that you are on ship’s time, which was the standard time on this cruise and was different than local time. If you have signed up with an official ship shore excursion and return late from that trip, the ship will wait for you. If you arrive back late from your own excursion, don’t count on the ship to wait for you. Getting to the next port might be neither easy nor necessarily cheap.
As we walked by the entry to the fort, the guard invited us to see the fort, but first we asked if he could tell us the location of the Mask Museum. We proceeded through the fort grounds and he lead us down a street that dead-ended into the fort from another direction. We thanked him and walked to the museum entry only to find the door locked. No signs with hours; no nothing. Our tour of this museum consisted of us window peeping into each of the accessible windows. We imagined where the masks originated as this is a collection of masks from around the world. After making our way around the building and hitting every window that we could, we walked back to the fort.
We weren’t expecting to see the Terra Cotta Soldiers in Acapulco.
We took a few shots and then turned right to explore the fort in a counter-clockwise direction. Shortly after we turned, we were met by a man who told us that there was a fee to enter. We had been looking at the gift shop in the entryway and didn’t notice that there was a ticket office on the other side of the entry. We hadn’t seen any sign that indicated that there was an entry fee, so walked right passed that office.
A model of the fort.
The fort also overlooks the harbor as many forts in general do. The displays focused on the trade with the east, including the Phillipines and China, which we were unaware of until visiting this fort. We spent a long time at the fort and eventually headed back down to the main street in search of internet. Venturing into some off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods, where we thought we might find internet, we found ourselves farther and farther away from the ship. We headed back toward the water and headed back past the fort and in the opposite direction of our search. Just a few blocks away from the ship, we found the internet cafe, but not before being approached by a man asking if we wanted to go see the cliff divers. I asked if it were possible to walk there and he responded positively. We said that we had to check email and he said that he had nothing to do and would wait for us outside. Sure enough, he was still waiting there when we left. We told him that we wouldn’t go see the cliff divers – that 517-step climb in the hit left me worse for the wear- and he said that was fine because he had nothing to do. We never really figured out what service he was offering.
Sunset comes early in Acapulco
Back on the ship, we had a leisurely dinner and went to bed before we left Acapulco.
Although we enjoyed our time there, we wouldn’t rush to get back there. Acapulco seemed like Mexico on the beach. Now, we aren’t really beach people and didn’t go to any beaches, so there must be some great places that we missed.