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Beaches in and around Acapulco and Zihuatanejo's insider take:

Zihuatanejo's long Playa la Ropa has all the beach musts: sand, sunbathers, shacks renting everything from lounge chairs and umbrellas to dive gear, plus a cluster of informal seafood restaurants. To get away from it all, take a boat from the municipal pier in downtown to Playa las Gatas, where a breakwater keeps the sea fairly calm and clear. Hiking trails behind the beach lead to stunning views from El Faro (the lighthouse).

Acapulco's beaches are less rewarding. Most tourists stick with parasailing, jet skiing, and sunbathing on Playa Condesa along the Costera, but Playa Puerto Marqués, just south of town, is more fun. Local families gather here en masse on weekends, when the beach takes on a festive air, with vendors hawking silver and sombreros and grandparents playing with the kiddies in small waves. The scene is far more tranquil at Pie de la Cuesta, about six miles northwest of Old Acapulco on the other side of the bay. Set amid banana and mango groves, the small settlement sits between Laguna Coyuca, a large inland lagoon, and a long beach facing the open sea. The waves are rough here, so it's safer just to enjoy the sound of the surf. Evenings are spectacular; take a seat at the small, palapa-shaded café on the beach and watch the sun sink into the sea.—Maribeth Mellin

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