By Bob Schulman
PUNTA DIAMANTE, Mexico -- It’s 1976, and eccentric (to put it mildly) billionaire Howard Hughes is on the move again. This time – after a decade of penthouse hopping between the likes of Hollywood, Las Vegas, London and Nicaragua -- his private jet is whisking him off from a ritzy hotel in the Bahamas to the pyramid-shaped Princess Hotel in the then-boonies outside Acapulco. He moves into a penthouse atop the hotel and isn’t seen again for two months – until he’s wheeled out of the Princess to a hospital jet for a hop to Houston. During the flight, the 70-year-old recluse dies of a plethora of real and imagined illnesses. Hughes, who stood over 6 feet, reportedly weighed 93 pounds at the time.
At one time the owner of companies such as TWA, the RKO news and entertainment empire, Hollywood studios, aerospace giants and a number of hotels in Las Vegas, Hughes created a global media circus when he moved into the Princess. The resultant publicity put the hotel on the map along with its next-door sister resort, the Pierre Marques, both now part of the luxury Fairmont Hotels & Resorts chain.
Fast-forward to today, and the two Fairmont hotels are still poking out of the jungle on this five-mile-long point shaped much like a diamond (hence its name, Punta Diamante). So are three more upscale hotels along with 50 condo towers – that’s right, 50, standing like a picket fence stretching as far as you can see. Remarkably, most of the condos were built over the past five or so years, as were Diamante’s shopping centers, restaurants, bars and service businesses. Toss in a few championship golf courses, a Walmart, some discos, a Carlos’n Charlie’s and a couple of McDonald’s, and there’s a thriving new city just a dozen miles down the beach from the traditional Acapulco resort areas.
Sparking the rapid growth of Diamante – or “New Acapulco,” as it’s often called – is the city’s new, 730,000-square-foot convention center featuring state-of-the-art meeting facilities and exhibit space the size of four football fields.
Conventioneers most recently moseyed around hundreds of booths at the 40th annual “Tianguis” travel trade show in which Mexico’s states, resort areas, hotels and other travel suppliers showed off their latest attractions. Headling the show’s opening gala was Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto, Secretary of Tourism Claudia Ruiz Massieu and the rest of the country’s top tourism brass.
Visiting the booths were close to 700 “buyers” (mostly travel wholesalers) from 65 countries who came to cut deals for bulk quantities of Mexico’s travel products.
Meanwhile, up in Acapulco’s main tourism zone, the Zona Rosa, and beyond that in Old Acapulco – the original playland of the likes of Johnny Weissmuller, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner and John Wayne – officials are pouring tens of millions of dollars into tourism improvements. Projects range from a total facelift of the resort areas lining the horseshoe-shaped bay to the debut of ACABus service between the traditional zones and Diamante.
Acapulco’s international airport anchors the southern end of the Diamante strip. It’s just a 15-minute drive to the hotels and condos there -- in stark contrast to as long as an hour (depending on the traffic) over winding mountain roads to the hotels around Acapulco Bay. And even longer to get to the cliffside hangouts of the old-time movie stars in Old Acapulco.
But the long drives to the latter spots are set to be dramatically shortened, thanks to a two-mile-long tunnel from Diamante being cut through the mountains. When will it open? That depends on who you talk to. Some say later this year, others predict next year and even later. Workmen are said to be toiling around the clock on the tunnel, the upper end of which can be seen at the lower edge of the Zona Rosa.
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