Here's a rundown on the beaches, going from west to east around the bay. Playa la Angosta is a small, sheltered, often-deserted cove just around the bend from La Quebrada (where the cliff divers perform).

South of downtown on the Peninsula de las Playas lie the beaches Caleta and Caletilla. Separating them is a small outcropping of land that contains the aquarium and water park Mágico Mundo Marino, which is open daily from 9am to 6pm (tel. 744/483-1215) and costs $6 for adults and $3 for children to enter. You'll find thatched-roofed restaurants, watersports equipment for rent, and brightly painted boats that ferry passengers to Isla Roqueta. You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas for the day. Mexican families favor these beaches because they're close to several good-value hotels and residential neighborhoods. In the early morning and late afternoon, fishermen pull their colorful boats up on the sand; you can buy the fresh catch of the day and, occasionally, oysters on the half shell.

Pleasure boats dock at Playa Manzanillo, south of the zócalo. Charter fishing trips sail from here. In the old days, the downtown beaches -- Manzanillo, Honda, Caleta, and Caletilla -- were the focal point of Acapulco. Today beaches and resort developments stretch along the 6.5km (4-mile) length of the shore.

East of the zócalo, the major beaches are Hornos (near Papagayo Park), Hornitos, Paraíso, Condesa, and Icacos, followed by the naval base (La Base) and Punta del Guitarrón. After Punta del Guitarrón, the road climbs to the legendary Las Brisas hotel. Past Las Brisas, the road continues to the small, clean bay of Puerto Marqués, followed by Punta Diamante, about 20km (12 miles) from the zócalo. The fabulous Acapulco Princess, the Quinta Real, and the Pierre Marqués hotels dominate the landscape, which fronts the open Pacific.

Playa Puerto Marqués, in the bay of Puerto Marqués, is an attractive area for swimming. The Camino Real and a large residential development are located near here. The water is calm and the bay sheltered. Water-skiing and WaveRunner rentals can also be arranged. Past the bay lies Revolcadero Beach, a magnificent wide stretch of beach on the open ocean, where the Fairmont Princess and Pierre Marqués resorts, along with several large timeshare compounds, are found. Past the Hotel Zone, Playa Diamante is lined with fancy villas and condos on the water side and shacks selling groceries and souvenirs on the inland side. This area has become a popular neighborhood for vacation homes.

Other beaches lie farther north and are best reached by car, though buses also make the trip. Pie de la Cuesta is 13km (8 miles) west of town. Buses along the Costera leave every 5 or 10 minutes; a taxi costs about 200 pesos. The water is too rough for swimming, but it's great for sunset-watching, especially over coco locos (drinks served in fresh coconuts with the tops whacked off) at a rustic beachside restaurant. The area is known for excellent birding and surrounding coconut plantations.

If you're driving, continue west along the peninsula, passing Coyuca Lagoon on your right, until almost to the small air base at the tip. Along the way, various private entrepreneurs, mostly young boys, will invite you to park near different sections of beach. You'll also find colectivo boat tours of the lagoon offered for about 100 pesos.

To Swim or Not to Swim in the Bay? -- In the past decade, the city has gone to great lengths (and great expense) to clean up the waters off Acapulco. Nevertheless, this is an industrial port that was once heavily polluted, so many choose to stick to their hotel pool. The bay beaches that remain most popular are Caleta and Caletilla, as well as Playa Puerto Marqués.

Warning: Riptides -- Each year, at least one or two unwary swimmers drown in Acapulco because of deadly riptides and undertow. Check for warning flags posted by the lifeguards and be careful of the undertow no matter where you go. If you find yourself caught in the undertow, head back to shore at an angle instead of trying to swim straight back.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.