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In Photos: Acapulco, Devoted to Fun and Pursued by Horror

Tourists still flock to the Mexican Pacific resort despite long-standing cartel violence that continues despite a heavy army and police presence.

by Hans-Maximo Musielik
Oct 12 2015, 7:45pm

Photo par Hans-Maximo Musielik/VICE News

Acapulco's hotels, bars, and golden sand beaches stretch out along the entire length of the resort's spectacular crescent-shaped bay, but their promise of unbridled fun struggles to shake off the shadow of the cartel turf war violence that is never far away.

Miguel Alemán, the city's coastal road that connects the main tourist hotspots along the beach, seeks to separate the two worlds. The street is patrolled 24/7 by the army, navy, and police seeking to prevent the gruesome conflicts between drug gangs from reaching the tourist areas.  But Acapulco resists that invisible line.

Roger Castro owned a well-known restaurant located a block from the coastal road. When one of the criminal groups that operate in the resort demanded money in exchange for allowing him to operate, Castro went to the authorities. Two days later, on August 21, he was shot dead inside his restaurant.

Related: Violent Uptick in Opposite Parts of Mexico: 22 Dead in Nuevo Leon, 21 Dead in Guerrero

Executions became commonplace in Acapulco in 2009 during the administration of President Felipe Calderón. Though the names of the criminal groups involved have changed over the years, the violence continues unabated today during the term of President Enrique Peña Nieto. In between a string of major offensives by federal forces have failed to fulfill promises to stop the killing.

Acapulco is the third most violent city in the world, behind San Pedro Sula in Honduras and Caracas in Venezuela, according to the Mexico-based Citizens' Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice. Figures released by the security ministry in Guerrero state show there were 336 homicides in the resort in the first five months of this year, a 63 percent increase on the same period of 2014. A count of executions carried out by local newspaper El Sur puts the figure at 665 until the end of September.

And yet Acapulco continues to attract tourists. The glamorous days when Elizabeth Taylor roamed the bay are long over, but the resort still boasts luxurious gated communities filled with Mexico's elites. At high season, the population swells with busloads of working class vacationers from Mexico City.

Even after Guerrero's image suffered a particularly severe beating with the September 2014 disappearance of 43 student teachers — who were attacked by police in the city of Iguala, further north in the state — the tourists keep coming, enticed by discounts and reassured by increased patrols.

I took the photographs for this gallery over a three-week period of roaming the coastal area beginning in the second half of August. It was the end of the summer vacation season, which Acapulco's authorities boasted had kept the city's hotels four-fifths full.

The people who live beneath the bridges, crossing rainwater channels heading for the sea, made the biggest personal impression on me.

Here, the least fortunate take shelter from the sun and rain, surrounded by the smell of solvent, mold, stagnant water and sea salt, and shaken by the vibrations of the traffic along the coastal road up above.

One of those I met is a cook who called himself Antonio, though that is not his real name. Antonio moved to Acapulco from the capital a year ago, and worked in a tourist restaurant during the day. He carried his uniform in his backpack, used a broken water pipe near the bridge as a shower and sink, and cooked for his roommates under the bridge at night with whatever food they had scavenged.

José Alfredo, who goes by the nickname "El Security," had left behind a relatively privileged background because of family conflicts and was working as a security guard at a beach restaurant at night.

"Take a picture of me like the last one my mother took, when I was a little boy," he told me.  El Security did a somersault on the beach with the sunset as a backdrop. He smiled when he saw the result on the camera's screen.

Warning: Graphic photos below.

(All Photos by Hans-Maximo Musielik/VICE News)

Tourists sit on rocks just off Papagayo beach. This part of Acapulco's bay marks the border between between the old city and the more modern Zona Dorada. In 1959 Presidents Alfonso López Mateos and Dwight D. Eisenhower watched a water ski display from a yacht anchored off the beach. From 1974 the beach has hosted an annual sand sculpture competition.


Busses on the Miguel Alemán coastal road are decorated with popular figures designed to appeal to young residents. One of Acapulco's most famous bus graffiti artists is called Antwan.


Federal police officers watch two local boys fishing near the old part of town. Police patrols are constant along the coastal road in an effort to deter violence invading tourists areas, or at least provide the illusion of security.


A body lies on the streets of the El Hueso neighborhood, a few blocks from the city center. The victim was killed outside his home, while he fixed a motorcycle. The detective called to the scene checks the corpse's pockets and finds a couple of coins, a picture of Saint Death, and one bullet. A few years ago El Hueso was one of the most conflictive areas in Acapulco. The situation is now much better than it was.


Fishermen in Acapulco used a method similar to trawling. Two groups of six fishermen position themselves on the beach and use their body weight to pull in nets cast by boats about 150 yards off shore. Pulling the nets in takes about two hours. 


Pelicans take advantage of the fishermen's work to grab fish every time the nets get out of the water. 


Street vendors offer tourists all kinds of merchandise and services. They sell everything from swimsuits and temporary tattoos, and from food to serenades. 


The bridges over channels that carry rainwater to the sea serve as shelter for homeless people from a large variety of backgrounds. One of them, who goes by the nickname "El Largo," mimics being shot for the camera.


Tidiness under the bridge is very important. The people who live here wash their clothes and shower everyday under the stream of water from a broken pipe. 


Some find solace from inhaling solvents. A man who goes by the nickname "El largo" is among the most addicted.

José Alfredo lives under the bridge.  Known as "El Security" he likes to show off his acrobatic skills.  

Tourists can rent a yacht to go sport fishing from the old port's pier. This type of fishing is only allowed if the fish is not sold. The tourists tend to give their catch to the boat captain to cook and eat with his family.


This severed head was dumped in the wealthy Diamante area of the city. Police code for a dead body is "an eleven."


The cliff divers of Acapulco became famous in the 1950s and continue to entertain the crowds at La Quebrada, a little beyond the bay. The diving tradition is passed down through the generations. Younger divers include several women.


A fisherman still working after sunset


Musicians rest at an abandoned mini golf center near the coastal road. They say they are suffering because very few international tourists now come to Acapulco, and Mexican tourists don't pay as well.


The Zona Dorada seen from a dilapidated old center of the city.


A couple kisses on the beach. 

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