My local family stay in Acapulco, Mexico was ignited by my curiosity about the bad press in this notorious Mexican city. I realized that I will have a deeper understanding of the dangers of visiting Acapulco if I experienced it with locals. Here’s my story.
The moment my mom heard I was going to Acapulco, she did not say a thing. By now, she’s trusted my choices of travel destinations and did not want to engage in an argument.
She is, after all, an epitome of elegance. Even if she wants to scream at me in public or write a ferocious comment on my social media posts, she will keep her cool because she now understands that I am the child who she can’t stop from doing what she wants. After all, I was raised to trust my gut and go after what I want.
“Are you sure you are going? I mean…. why there?!?!” my Mexican neighbor commented.
Even Mexicans (who have not been to Acapulco) have this very little understanding of what the city’s like. If my neighbor have been, I’d probably take her advice about not going but the thing is she’s never been. She’s only relying on stories that she was told as a little girl – that it is dangerous and that it’s not worth visiting.
“I know people there, don’t worry.” I assured her.
Unlike my other local family stay adventures, I wasn’t going blindly to Acapulco. I already know a few people there and one of them, the family I am staying with, is actually a long-time friend of mine. Like super tight.
This ain’t one of my rodeos where I look for strangers online and ask to stay with them to learn how they cook, eat, sleep, and drink. I did that a lot in the past but only in countries where I felt ‘safe.’
Look, I am looked at as the rebellious one in my family and I’ve put the long-time readers of this blog through highs and lows. When I stayed with a family in Jordan, you all thought I was crazy and then after you read my story and actually saw stories on Snapchat (no Instagram stories back then), y’all understood that I really just want to see it for myself before jumping into crazy bat shit conclusions.
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Local family stay in Acapulco, Mexico: what’s it like to see this city through locals
To be honest, I won’t go to Acapulco if I don’t know anyone there. That’s probably the confirmation you needed to justify my sanity. There is a lot of bad press about Acapulco which I felt and saw when I was there but it was not scary at all.
From living in Mexico for years, I realized one thing about the drug wars: the cartel does not care about you. Unless you are directly involved with them and/or did shit they don’t like.
That’s it. That’s my rule of thumb. Just don’t cross them nor talk to them and you will be fine. I also understood that the cartel will not do anything to interrupt Mexico’s tourism. This department is untouchable because of the cash flow it brings to the country.
Arrival in Acapulco
Rafael and I have been friends for as long as I remember. We are both parts of the travel blogging community. We’ve done trips together I couldn’t even count in one hand. He’s one of the people I’ve made a pact to be friends with forever.
Born and raised in Acapulco with a single mother household (and an only child), he spent most of his life in this city so it was only right to visit his hometown. After all, he’s visited me in my home in Sayulita.
The moment I exited Acapulco International Airport, there he was, waiting with his mom’s driver. I politely greeted the driver as he loaded my stuff at the trunk of the car.
“Buenos dias!” I said gregariously. It was 8:30 AM.
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He seemed very preserved and I am honestly not used to Mexicans like this. All the drivers I made friends with are usually chatty and jolly. This one is quiet and was doing as he is told.
In Mexico, household personnel or helpers are considered part of the family, just like it is where I am from in the Philippines. They don’t treat them as servants. They eat the same food and the language used to communicate with them is loving and not authoritative.
I knew Rafael to be an only child but I never really knew what he’s like at home. Or what he’s like with his mom. I only know his mom is the typical Mexican mom who does everything for their sons, especially if it is your only child, good Lord.
I was so excited to see what he’s like at home and battle-ready to make fun of him because Rafael and I? That’s just what we do. Silly stupid shit that nobody gets. He is quite a character, I tell you.
Mexican moms and their sons
There is an unbreakable bond between Mexican moms and their sons. They’re like best friends. Actually, it’s all over Latin America. Think Gloria and Manny on Modern Family – the relationship is literally like that.
Before coming to Acapulco, Rafael asked me to pretend that I am from China because he told his mom that I am Chinese and that I spoke zero Spanish. This is the beginning of the stupid shit that he and I do.
Of course, I agreed to participate in the prank although I have no idea how to pretend I do not speak Spanish. If I speak Mandarin, it would have been way easier to pretend.
Rafael tells me he lives alone and I believe that. I just didn’t believe that he’d make his own food or clean his own house. He lives in a condo in Acapulco, just a few minutes away from the airport and a little bit farther from the center.
I guessed it right. The moment we entered his condo, his mom and his mom’s housekeeper were there with hands busy. I did not mean to laugh but I did – Rafael’s mom was there wearing a kimono dress while making us breakfast.
That had me thinking: Mexicans are exactly like us in the Philippines. We would go out of what is expected of us to offer 5-star hospitality.
I also saw a yukata (Japanese robe) hanging in the living room. It seems like she was ready for a costume change if corrected. I really couldn’t stop laughing but she was so sweet.
“Why are you laughing? Did I do something wrong?” she asked in Spanish. To be fair, I wasn’t LOL-ing. Her son was.
I was about to respond in Spanish when I remembered I had to pretend I don’t speak Spanish. What a dick Rafael is. What a prick I am for participating in this childish (and sort of racist) prank.
I couldn’t help it. I spoke Spanish. She was so surprised and started softly hitting Rafael. We all laughed and took pictures. I was also introduced to Martha, their housekeeper who was also very quiet because she thought I didn’t speak Spanish. She put her guard down when she realized I am a fake Chinese.
The kimono and the yukata were not purchased from Amazon just because I was visiting. Rafael and her mom did a month-long trip together in Asia and these were souvenirs from that trip. See? Manny and Gloria. Freaking best friends for life.
The 5-star hospitality of Mexican families
Apart from foreign visitors, Latin Americans are used to having 100 family members stay over without a deadline or without boundaries. Exactly like my family in the Philippines.
We really are the Latin American country that was washed away into the Asian lands. Our customs and cultures are so much like the Latinos.
I’ve unsubscribed myself to that long time ago so I know that my local family stay in Acapulco has a deadline. Rafael and I are going to Oaxaca after this anyway. Acapulco was just a pit stop for me.
Rufi (Rafael’s mom) showed me to my room while pinche Rafael sat down in the living room and started playing with his Switch. From then on, I knew that whatever I need in his home, I need to ask his mom.
See also: What’s it like to live with an Uruguayan family?
I really did not expect to have my own room but in most of the family stays in Latin America, they always give me my own room. It is very customary to go above and beyond for visitors when it comes to this culture.
In Uruguay, they did the same for me. The eldest sister vacated her room so I can stay there for a whole month. The rest of the children squeeze themselves in one bedroom to make it work for visitors.
Even if you say, “it’s okay, I am going to sleep on the couch,” they will not relent. You will not win. I learned this lesson years ago so I accepted the room that was given to me.
The good thing about this is that Rufi lives in a different house so it will just be me and Rafael in the condo. That room was meant for me. Nobody had to leave or live uncomfortably to give way for me, thank God.
Food, food, food on the table
It was 9 in the morning so I already expected there will be a feast. Mexicans love to eat with or without visitors so you can imagine the amount of food they will prepare if there’s a visitor.
“Trisha, do you like molletes?” Rufi asked and I nodded.
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It’s not something I’d purposedly order in a breakfast restaurant but it is traditional in Mexico. I was also curious what the state of Guerrero eats for breakfast so I was all for it.
Mollete is from Mexico City (which is sort of the state neighbor of Acapulco). It is typically served for breakfast made with bolillo (Mexican bread) sliced in the middle.
It’s topped with refried beans, cheese, jalapeño, or chile serrano. It’s super vegetarian because the meat is usually on the side (either bacon, chorizo, or carne asada).
Then it’s grilled using the microwave oven until the cheese melts. Mollete is served with pico de gallo and again, any meat is preferred on the side.
The thing I learned about Mexico’s eating culture – everything is unlimited. I thought I was only going to eat one mollete but as soon as I finish one, Rufi and Martha kept filling the plate one bollilo after the other.
If you only knew how heavy and carby bolillos are, you won’t imagine I was able to finish 4 molletes.
Getting to know the staple food of the state of Guerrero
Every Mexican is proud of their hometown. Oaxaqueños will argue that they have the best mole in the country. They would tenaciously go on a mole rivalry with the Poblanos.
If you are going to stay with a local Mexican family, they will insist that you try the food of their state even if you are already full from the previous meal they prepared for you.
As always, the highlight of my travels is food. Because of its close proximity with the state of Mexico, there isn’t a very clear distinction on the origins of food between these two states.
Guerrero can’t really say mollete is theirs because the state of Mexico will contest. Thursdays are for pozole in Acapulco however, Guerrero shares pozole with other states such as Jaslico, Nayarit, Sinaloa, Michoacan, Zacatecas, and Morelos. You can find this iconic Mexico dish all over the country easily.
Read: My family stay experience in Pouso Alegre, Brazil
My first ever pozole was vegetarian so that does not count. Technically, this is my first time eating the real Mexican pozole and this ‘Pozole Thursdays’ is the talk of the town among locals. It should be a good first time.
Pozole is a soup with the base of hominy and pork (or chicken) flavored with chili. It is garnished with lettuce, chicharron, and onion.
Seasoned with cloves, garlic, pepper, cumin, and oregano, pozole might be a hot dish but that doesn’t really stop the Mexicans from eating it during the day. We had this one at noon!
The restaurant where Pozole Thursdays was held was by the beach so we didn’t really mind having one at noon. There weren’t any foreigners in the restaurant so I knew I was in the right place.
I underestimated pozole. It was so filling we needed a long walk at the beach after eating! You can order it in smaller portions but the Mexican in me couldn’t help saying “grande” without even being asked. It just seemed to be the right size but it was for two!
Although pozole isn’t exclusive to Guerrero, I finally found something that I’ve never had in any other states. Let’s give a round of applause to barbacoa de chivo (goat barbecue).
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Every day, I had barbacoa de chivo (goat), a rich and spicy goat meat with noticeable taste of the earthen pot where it was slow-cooked.
My host mama ordered a kilo and together with the ‘banda’, we sat down and ate like it was somebody’s birthday. On the side was the hot consome which is said to be very healthy and used for meat broth diets.
Rufi also ordered freshly made tortilla and it kept coming. I usually don’t eat tortilla not because I don’t like it but it is really heavy when you’ve had 3 or more but this time, I couldn’t count how many tortillas I had with the barbacoa de chivo. It was so good I had to have more.
Read: Meet my host mom in Colombo, Sri Lanka
It also had very strong flavors it was impossible to have it on its own. A tortilla (or 10) was really necessary. After the kilo was over, Rufi ordered another half kilo. I wasn’t that full when the second half arrived and I knew it was necessary to have second round because Mexicans can eat a lot, especially if it’s a specialty like this.
Where I am from, goat is special meat only to be served when there are special occasions but in the state of Guerrero, you will find barbacoa de chivo everywhere.
My host mom says this is the best in Acapulco that’s why she brought me here. It’s in Mercado de la Progreso in downtown Acapulco.
I loved the mercado (market) vibe because everyone knew Rufi. She told me that Rafael went to school with some of the kids of the taqueros in the market so they really know where to get the good ones.
Beers and tacos at La Quebrada: Acapulco’s famous cliff diving site
On one of the nights I don’t remember, Rafael and I went out with one of his high school buddies. We started with a seafood lunch by the beach plus massages. Acapulco is also known for its seafood and after the daily barbacoa de chivo doses, I needed a little change of food.
When I was in Colombia, I did not get tired of having mojarra frita (fried fish) which is the staple of the Caribbean islands. For $12 USD, you can get a big plate in Acapulco and mind you, I did not share.
Rafael’s friend is involved with a lot of animal and wildlife work in Acapulco so he told me a lot about the unknown wildlife plus dog rescue centers in Acapulco.
We didn’t have time to visit because it was our last day in Acapulco so he promised to take me when I come back. After lunch, we sat in the same place and the next thing I knew, I was drowning in buckets of Coronas.
Mexicans are usually unpredictable, especially when they are tipsy. Everybody started standing up before sunset and the next thing I knew, we were in the taxi on the way to God knows where.
Look, I wouldn’t really get buzzed in a place where I don’t know anyone. I’ve been traveling solo as a woman for over 10 years and I vowed to myself (and my mom) that I will never do anything stupid or get drunk in a foreign country. But in this case, I knew who I was with. I was taken care of.
The taxi driver dropped us off at an Oxxo. It turns out, we were going to La Quebrada, the famous cliff diving site in Acapulco where Red Bull holds yearly events. But first….. more beers.
I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that you can walk around Mexico (any city/town) while drinking beers. We walked all the way up to La Quebrada to catch the sunset, drink our beers, and watch the cliff divers.
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We didn’t go to the proper view deck because you have to pay in order to get in. We didn’t have that much time since we were already late for sunset plus, they were all joking that it’s a tourist trap; that locals wouldn’t normally pay to go there. So we watched the show from afar which was also considered the best seat in the house.
The breeze was so strong it made me sober. I listened to all their stories and high school jokes. The whole time, I kept my mouth shut while watching the sunset. I told myself what a privilege I have in life with a little look back on the kind of life that I live. It really is true: life is what you made of it.
When it turned to pitch dark, we all decided to have dinner and what else will you have to make you sober? Tacos. We went to the nearby taqueria which was recommended by them locals. Of course, I was just following their lead.
This taqueria we went to was so popular that almost all of the things that I want were not available. It was just 7:00 PM and they said that they run out of a lot of things. I ordered 2 tacos de al pastor and 2 adobadas.
Rafael and his childhood friend went across the street to get more beers. Why I am not surprised?! Actually, I was surprised because there was a liquor ban because of COVID. How did these guys manage to buy freaking Victorias?! I forgot they lived there and they have their own ways so I leave it to them.
The food arrived as soon as they got back from buying the beers. I was so shocked that we received double what we ordered. It turns out that “one” doesn’t mean one taco but one order of 4. We ended up eating all of it anyway.
Our experiences about a place are dependent on our travel styles
We often argue with friends about what a place is like but we never think that each of us are different individuals with very unique experiences. We may have visited the same place by what you experienced doesn’t necessarily apply to me.
We keep debating who knows better about a certain place or whose experiences are greater like there’s a freaking contest – we forget that every experience, whatever it is, counts. We also tend to forget we have different travel styles so obviously, our experiences vary.
Often, we have a single story for every place and I am very happy that I have another story about Acapulco that isn’t about violent crimes and cartel wars.
Now tell me, what do you know about Acapulco? I’d love to hear from you!
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Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She’d like to believe she’s not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.
Monday 27th of December 2021
Your articles always give me the tickles to explore new places like a local, like you. Mexico is my hot fav place, but staying with the locals; I really have not thought about it. I would probably explore Mexico this way only. Thank you.
Monday 27th of December 2021
Thank you for sharing your insights and personal experience in Acapulco. I have heard stories about this place and this is why I never bothered to visit. Happy to know that they have many similarities with us Filipinos and that was a crazy prank. You guys are funny!
Friday 24th of December 2021
Very interesting blog post! It was great you got to stay with a familiar Mexican family in Acapulco and enjoy the hospitality. Looks like there was a lot of good food being cooked and enjoyed in the family. Looks yummy! In most countries, it is a good idea to stay with a local family (home-stays) to understand the local culture and get tips to see hidden gems in that destination. :-)
Friday 24th of December 2021
A family stay sounds like a memorable experience and one that really gives you insight into the local culture through family traditions and food. This post could almost be a food tour, as you had me getting hungry breading about all the dishes being prepared. I’ve been to Mexico many, many times but never Acapulco. You’re right it does have a reputation, hopefully it is changing that.
Friday 24th of December 2021
Mexicans sound a lot like Indians. They love food, family and fun. And to have those tables full of platters sounds so Indian. It was good to read about the lovely experience you had, as it showss people are basically loving and welcoming across the globe. Loved the prank played on your host!