Acapulco – Where The History Of The Manila Galleons Comes To Life

Since the winter of 2013, I have continously spent a few weeks of holidays in Mexico every year…. and I like it there.

My first two were spent in the areas around the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan.

It was a great and enjoyable part of Mexico. The beaches are clean & the waters just right for swimming/snorkeling/diving. The peninsula also has large tracks of natural landscapes where wildlife and other natural wonders can be enjoyed by a trek-loving photo-enthusiast like me.

If you are into archeology, the Mayan ruins dotting it, will surely fascinate the archeologist in you. For colonial architecture lovers, the Yucatan peninsula is home to many of North America’s colonial cities. And so much more.

I thought that I will never go anywhere else in Mexico to explore because I am truly satisfied that I found my wintering destination.

……until I read more about the history of the Manila Galleons.

Cancun beach

Cancun Hotel Zone

You see, I started Galleon Tours right after my first visit to Mexico. I already knew about the Manila Galleons from history lessons back home, and because I thought that this mighty ships were part of the historical link between Mexico and the Philippines, I named my next travel business based on them.

But, when I came back from my second trip from Quintana Roo, I started researching and reading about the galleons more and more. The more I became absorbed in the research, the more I became interested in finding out if Mexico has memorial remnants of those ships – be it artifacts, markers, culture, plants or even people – that I do not find in the Yucatan/Riviera Maya area.

That is when I set my sights to a different destination in Mexico for my next visit. And in our history books, Acapulco was known to be where the galleons make their final stop.

Acapulco and the Manila Galleons

Otherwise known as the Nao de China, the Manila Galleons started its yearly sailings from Mexico to the Philippines in 1565 – after Andrés de Urdaneta discovered the return route from the Philippines to Mexico which previous explorers unsuccessfully tried to find year-after-year.

The Spanish rulers of that time have very deep desire to create a shipping route from Mexico to the Philippines that will shorten the travel time from East to West. Their objective: the riches of Asia (specially from China) and the spices of India & the Moluccas – which were highly desired commodities in Europe. How they will pay for it: with the gold & silver they found all over the Americas.

Originally, the expeditions leave from different ports along the Pacific side of Mexico, including in Acapulco but because of Acapulco’s proximity to Mexico City (which is the seat of power of Spain in the Americas) and of the bays’ more secured location against pirates, the port city eventually became the regular site of the galleon dockings. The yearly Manila Galleon sailings lasted until 1815.

Manila’s importance during the galleon days

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica site, Manila was one of the world’s most important trading post during the height of the Manila Galleons. Spain was able to corner the highly coveted products coming from China and trans-shipping them to Europe. The route taken by the merchandise goes like this: From Manila to Acapulco with the Manila Galleons, by land from Acapulco to Mexico City to Veracruz, and then Veracruz thru Havana to Spain with the Nueva España fleet.

Even before the galleon days, Manila was already a busy trading port where the Chinese, Japanese, Indians and other peoples of Asia Pacific do business with each other for centuries.

The start of the galleon sailings, though, significantly boosted Manila as a premier port due to the products coming from the Americas, specifically coins of gold & silver. They were highly sought by the Asian traders, most specially the Chinese, thus making Manila as the central trading depot between America & Asia that time. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Europeans are eagerly awaiting for the next shipment coming from Asia (thru America) and they are willing to pay top price for them.

Why still go to Acapulco if reading history already has the details?

I will admit that when I started my research on the Manila Galleons by reading about them, my interest on the subject made me feel like there is now a reason that will justify why I become so captivated to vacation in Mexico instead of the Philippines.

I can explain to myself or other kababayans when they ask, that it is now like I am on a mission to find out more about that part of Philippine history – in far away Mexico.

My visit to Acapulco, though, has put that thinking into a different perspective. I have seen with my own eyes the importance Mexico has put in place to commemorate the world’s first tri-continental global trade, and I came to realize the magnitude of the importance of Manila during that time, which excited me.

Although my research has handicapped me a bit, I still were able to find several memorials around Acapulco about the Manila Galleons or about Mexico-Filipinas friendship. The next set of photos will explain:

(Galleon San Pedro replica in an Acapulco park)
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In an Acapulco park above, there is this replica of a ship that was once a part of the Manila Galleon fleet.

(Plaza Mexico-Filipinas)
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mexico-philippines plaza in acapulco mexico-philippines park in acapulco

Close to the museum is a small park named “Plaza Mexico-Filipina” which houses a map of the Manila Galleon route and some busts of known Filipino national figures like Dr. Jose Rizal. The small park looks a bit neglected because of overgrown grass just in front but with a little bit of maintenance, I think, would be a nice place for visiting Filipinos for some photo time off and relaxation.

(Inside the Galleon Museum)
tour to manila galleon museum acapulco tour to manila galleon museum in acapulco
filipino guide in mexico filipino tour guide in mexico

The Galleon Museum showcases contents of the ships that ply the Pacific route and shows the richness of what were contained inside the sailing ships. Intricate weavings of cloth from China, the Philippines and some that look Arabic in design, plants of various kinds, several pieces of silver & gold coins, expensive Chinese jars, finely crafted wall decorations, lots and lots of different spices, and so much more. (More photos inside the Manila Galleon museum in Acapulco here.)

Those are just some that I were able to find in Acapulco and I was not even able to ask and investigate more.

manila galleon dock in acapulco

Acapulco bay where Manila Galleons dock

What made me a bit emotional and also proud was when I was taken to one of the highest points in Acapulco overlooking the whole bay. Our Mexican guide telling me while pointing to the place where the Manila Galleons dock — “There on that spot, your Filipino ancestors disembarked and decided to stay to contribute your culture and way of living to Mexico. They are probably the first Asians to live in the Americas and have made a significant mark to what we are today.”

Acapulco, in my opinion, made me realize that the history of my homeland was not all gloom & doom as I got to know it. There was once a time when she was a very important part of world business – connecting international traders of Asia, Europe & the Americas.

Will I be able to find memorials of the Manila Galleons in the Philippines as extensive as what I’ve seen in Mexico so far?

That question kept lingering in my mind after I have discovered what I’ve seen after my visit to Acapulco. In my opinion, Mexico has done a great job in commemorating the importance of the Manila Galleons’ part in world history with all the memorable plaques, markers and exhibits – and a whole museum to wit. Even in Mexico City, you will find some exhibits pertaining to the galleons in at least two museums there.

Will I find the same in the Philippines? That I got to find out for when I visit the homeland next time.

Meanwhile, I will keep searching and documenting other places in Mexico where there are traces of history commemorating the Manila Galleons. But, for now, in my search – Acapulco is where the galleons came alive! It is where the bulk of the galleon history can be found and the best city to visit in Mexico for Filipinos wanting to learn more about the homeland’s glorious past!

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