ACAPULCO once embodied the glamour of the jet age – an easy-going paradise resort loved by Hollywood pin-ups and royalty.
But the “Pearl of the Pacific” is now plagued by sickening cartel violence and is so dangerous locals reportedly take guns to the beach.
Up to 20 criminal gangs including El Chapo’s Sinaloa mob are said to be fighting a bloody turf war for control of nearby poppy fields.
The once-thriving tourist town is now among the most violent places in the world, with the second-highest murder rate in Mexico – more than one per 1,000 people every year.
The US government warns its citizens should not go anywhere in the Guerrero region and has banned all government officials from visiting Acapulco.
It issued a fresh warning to Spring Break revellers this year following a spate of kidnappings and murders.
The UK’s Foreign Office also warns against all travel to Guerrero – with the exception of Acapulco – due to spiralling violence across the state.
And it says: “There have been several instances of armed crime, including shootings and executions, both within and outside the tourist areas in Acapulco.”
A series of recent horrors have thrown the spotlight back on the idyllic party town’s descent into hell.
Last weekend a well-known Mexican journalist was executed in his car outside a shop in broad daylight.
Nelson Matus, the boss of local site Lo Real de Guerrero, had already survived a previous assassination attempt.
Last week a cop was killed by a car bomb and 13 government officials were taken hostage by cartel members who staged a fake demo to block the main highway to Acapulco.
Hundreds of locals were allegedly forced to pose as protesters demanding the release of jailed gangsters, closing the road for two days in a standoff with the police and army.
In January, five dismembered bodies were found stuffed in plastic bags in a village just outside Acapulco.
Spiral of violence
And in November, horrifying pictures showed three corpses washed up close to sunbathers at Condesa, Acapulco’s most popular beach.
The victims showed signs of torture and one had his hand and foot tied to a cement anchor, police said.
Earlier images from 2018 show cars driving around bloody corpses on the street as shootings became commonplace.
Bloody cartel violence has plagued Acapulco for the past 15 years.
Since 2012 – when murders peaked at 100 a month – the city has had the unfortunate nickname “Guerrero’s Iraq”.
Locals are said to fear going outside at all, and many go armed for their own protection.
Experts says the violence erupted after dominant drugs cartels fragmented into a number of rival gangs.
Large parts of central and southwestern Mexico were once ruled by the Beltran Leyva Organisation (BLO), in partnership with El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel.
But in the late 2000s they began fighting each other, and then the BLO splintered into a number of vicious offshoot mobs.
More recently the remnants of the BLO reportedly teamed up with the Jalisco New Generation cartel – notorious as the most brutal and ruthless of all Mexico’s gangs.
It is a far cry from Acapulco’s Hollywood heyday when it became a playground for the rich and famous.
Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley had big hits singing about the resort – an international byword for relaxed glamour in the jet age.
Its fame spread after the Duke of Windsor visited in 1920 – followed by hoteliers and foreign investors.
By the 1940s it was the favoured resort of the biggest names of Hollywood’s golden age.
One photo shows screen siren Rita Hayworth’s 28th birthday party on board Errol Flynn’s yacht in 1946.
Hayworth’s husband Orson Welles – pictured beside her – filmed his movie The Lady From Shanghai in the resort.
John F Kennedy and his bride Jackie – the closest the US had to royalty – honeymooned in Acapulco in 1953.
And Elizabeth Taylor married her 3rd husband Mike Todd there in 1957, with Debbie Reynolds as matron of honour and Eddie Fisher as best man.
More than 10,000 flowers were flown in for the opulent ceremony held at the villa of Mexico’s former president.
“The resort is becoming the new sun spa for the international big rich and their attendant swingers,” Time magazine reported in 1966.
It added breathlessly: “Already, Baron and Baroness Guy de Rothschild have bought a house, the Loel Guinnesses have just built one, the Clint Murchisons are just finishing one, the Samuel Newhouses are renting one, and the Douglas Fairbankses Jr are looking for one.
“Mexican millionaire Melchior Perusquia Jr is spending $5,000,000 to build a private development for what he calls ‘the best people in the world’, including Walt Disney and Frank Sinatra, who last month bought another Acapulco house.”
Sinatra once flew his pals in for a secret birthday party and went back to visit dozens of times.
The tourist boom turned this sleepy town of 5,000 into a bustling city of two million in a few decades.
It was even the subject of the Four Tops 1988 novelty hit Going Loco Down In Acapulco which sang about how “the magic” in the town was “so strong”.
Although the glamour faded, Acapulco continued to be one into the world’s most famous holiday destinations, known for its beautiful people and party vibe late into the 20th century.
Its decline began when package holidays took millions of tourists to the new boom resorts such as Cancun on the east coast.
Now the “magic” has been replaced by hideous bloodshed, revenge and fear.
Local businesses that rely on tourism have tried to rebuild its reputation for carefree fun.
But they have been left in despair after spiralling crime forced foreign governments to issued stark warnings to visitors.
There a few international visitors these days, with most tourists coming from elsewhere in Mexico.
This month, local media reports a sorry scene on the once-glam seafront.
Newspapers lament the “deplorable conditions”, with old and broken chairs and umbrellas available for sunbathers and access steps to beaches in a state of disrepair.
The same problems have persisted for years but little effort is made to fix them because of the “anarchy”, reports The Sun of Acapulco.
And with the government’s war on cartels struggling to make progress, locals fear it will be a long time before they see a return to the glory years.