Cut adrift on the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Progreso offers a much-needed respite from the state’s tropical climate. The port town has much more to offer than sand and sea, however. Its fresh seafood, exotic nature and relaxed vibes make Progreso a great day trip destination.
The state of Yucatán is characterised by an abundance of natural beauty. The land is pockmarked by dramatic sinkholes, exotic fauna roam the forests, and idyllic beaches stretch along the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean coastlines. In the beach town of Progreso, much like the rest of the state, summer arrives early and never fully leaves, making day trips a popular choice all year round.
Initially, Progreso was a site of economic importance to the state as a key port for exporting henequen fibre to the world. Though not widely known outside of Mexico these days, henequen is of huge importance to the Yucatecan people. It is a fibre made from the henequen plant, which is part of the agave family, and was once used for manufacturing, clothing and industrial products worldwide.
Progreso’s port was founded in 1872 with the town’s proximity to Mérida making it a natural choice to connect Yucatán to the rest of the world. However, as global demand for henequen declined, Progreso subsisted on exporting a variety of other regionally-produced items, including wood products and dried coconut meat, known as copra.
Nowadays, it’s Progreso’s white-sand beaches and clear, calm waters that welcome residents and tourists to the town. Whilst the port maintains some economic importance, it has been radically transformed into a popular stop for cruise ships docking in Mexico.
From the land, Progreso is well connected to Yucatán’s biggest city and state capital: Mérida. This allows locals from the city and landlocked villages to escape north for a beachside retreat. Located just 30 minutes north of Mérida, navigating here is convenient by car or public transport. Locals often commute by collectivo, small minivans, to the capital or by using the frequent bus service, Auto Progreso. From Mérida to Progreso, buses regularly depart from the station located on Calle 62 between Calle 65 and 67.
From Progreso you can also reach lots of other places. If the relaxed beach vibe is more your thing, Progreso is a convenient place to base yourself, rather than the busy city streets of Mérida. From here you can make the most of the network of surrounding beaches, ruins and public transport that will take you a little further afield.
Events & Festivals
Mexico is known for its fiestas. Whilst Yucatán maintains a unique cultural identity within the country, its passion for putting on a party rivals the other states.
If you’re visiting the peninsula during carnival, which usually falls on the last week of February or early March, then head to Progreso to enjoy at least one of the days of celebrations. The carnival here kicks off earlier than most, before getting into full swing on the main Friday of carnival with the Paseo de Corso parade. Another key date is Carnival Tuesday, also known as La Batalla de las Flores, or the battle of the flowers, where processions make their way along the Malecón, and the day is filled with music and dancing.
During these dates, the town expands exponentially. Locals from Mérida travel north to enjoy the beachfront celebrations, making public transport very busy. However, the city puts on extra buses to travel this route during these days to make sure, despite the long queues for the buses, that people get out of the city within an hour or less.
Things to Do
Progreso itself is a good base from which to explore the surrounding areas, but there’s enough to do in town that you can enjoy a day there without leaving. The town has culture, history, and natural beauty, with plenty of places to explore and beaches to relax on too.
Progreso’s Malecon, or promenade, provides vast seascape views and is great for a tranquil stroll: whether it be to enjoy the cool breeze throughout the day or a sunset wander. Choose Progreso’s long boardwalk to watch local life pass by, as musicians start up and get people dancing, particularly on weekends. On days when cruise ships are in town, the Malecon can be a hub of activity as it fills with tourists and local vendors. Shops and restaurants line the seafront, thriving off the tourists and here you’ll find lots of food choices for all budgets (see below).
Progreso is first and foremost a beach retreat. As well as its main beach, those looking for a little more tranquillity can escape to the neighbouring shores of Chicxulub and Chelem. Progreso also offers great winds for kiteboarding, so if you’re a keen kiteboarder or want to learn you can head out on the waves or take a lesson with a local kiteboarding school, like Yuckite.
Fancy getting out on the water and exploring the mangroves? La Ria (Calle 86) is an eco-tourism park on the south side of Progreso, just off of the road that leads to Yucalpetén. The park offers rental of kayaks or paddleboards to explore the coastal ecosystem, as well as tours on motorboats. During a river adventure, look out for various species of aquatic fauna and flora, as well as migratory birds. There are also paths around the park and the onsite restaurant serves up a seafood-focused menu including different stews, fried or breaded fish, shrimp ceviche, crab and much more.
An unmissable flavour of the area is the marquesita, a traditional snack enjoying statewide popularity. This sweet bite came into existence in the 1930s, at a time when locals were consuming cheese imported from Holland, leading to its inclusion in the dish. The rolled crepe-wafer tastes sort of like a hybrid of a crispy ice-cream cone and crepe. It’s cooked on a hot pan, pressed and then filled with your choice of fillings and rolled. The classic filling is cheese and Nutella, which might come as a surprise to tourists but the sweet-savoury combination is delicious. Other toppings that are commonly on offer include toffee, called cajeta in Mexico, chocolate, honey, jam or fruit.
Progreso’s pier extends 6.5 km into the Gulf of Mexico. Its unusually long length is made possible by the sea’s shallowness along this part of the Yucatán coast. The pier, believed to be the longest in the world, is reserved for transport to and from the dock, so you’ll travel the length of it if you arrive by sea. If you arrive from the land you can marvel at the structure from almost any point on the shore, but it is not accessible on foot.
South of Progreso, on the way to Mérida, are the Dzibilchaltun ruins, which were once a major Maya city. Unlike many of the other sites around Yucatán, these ruins are relatively compact, making them easy to manage as a short excursion from Progreso. The complex is also home to a cenote, which was previously a sacred part of the Maya city as a source of fresh water.
Where to stay
With many tourists arriving in Progreso on cruise ships, the accommodation options are not as vast as you might think but there is something for all budgets.
Not far from the beach or the centre, Áabilo’ob Hostel (Calle 31) is an ideal option for those travelling on a budget and is particularly popular with solo travellers. As well as a shared kitchen, a continental breakfast is included in the room-rate here. Guests are also able to hire bikes, which is a great way to travel along the Malecon.
Centrally located, the Collection O Tecnohotel Casa Villamar (Calle 21) includes a swimming pool, terrace and onsite parking. The hotel is neighboured by several restaurants, bars and supermarkets making it a convenient and comfortable option.
On the beachfront of Progreso, Playa Arena (Calle 29) is on the quieter side of Progreso’s beach. This tranquil retreat is little further out of the centre, guests can take a short walk along the Malecon to reach shops, restaurants and busier beaches.
Restaurants & Cafés
After a day at the beach or exploring in the tropical heat, you’ll need to refuel on some fresh food and drink. As a port town, some of the best dishes here are seafood based. You don’t need to look far, just roll yourself off the beach and you’ll find restaurants spilling all along the promenade.
Stylish interiors and vibrant fuchsia seating furnish Crabster’s (Calle Malecon, Boulevard Turístico Malecón) indoor and outdoor dining areas, complete with clear views of the sea. The restaurant is regularly recommended and rightfully receives great reviews; its menu is full of seafood dishes with classic Yucatecan touches. From classic crispy shrimp tacos to a seafood take on the state’s Poc Chuc, replacing classic pork with octopus, as well as regularly sought after ceviches and aguachiles, seafood fans will be in heaven with this menu.
Occupying a convenient spot where the pier meets the beach, Eladio’s (Calle 80 & 19) is a fresh and local restaurant with a wide variety of Yucatecan dishes and seafood platters. A highlight here is the number of vegetarian and gluten-free options to choose from. If you’re just in the mood for a drink then Eladio’s also has a great range of cocktails and beers that are accompanied by complimentary snacks. Live music is often played here making for a fun and friendly atmosphere.
Looking for a relaxed breakfast or brunch? Milk Bar (Avenida Malecon Entre 72 y 74) serves sandwiches, burgers and salads, alongside your classic American and Canadian breakfast offerings. Diners can enjoy the cafe-style interior seating or opt for the outdoor deck with a view of the sea, and an ideal spot for people-watching.
Silcer Club de Playa (Calle 21, #136 x 54) is particularly popular with those arriving from cruise ships. Regional dishes and fresh seafood are on the menu for brunch, lunch and dinner, or hydrate with a cocktail, local beer or refreshing juice. The beach club has a private beach with loungers to relax on, as well as onsite pools that are ideal for the kids, making this a family-friendly choice.
Oven-fired pizzas, calzones and ravioli might not be the food you came to Mexico for, but it’s okay to mix it up a little. If you’re looking to take a break from the classic Yucatecan dishes, the menu at Maasai Maya Bistro (Calle 9, between 184 y 186) is filled with their take on Italian flavours.
For great value and friendly service, head to Los Henequenes (Calle 19 150, Boulevard Turístico Malecón). This beachfront restaurant serves guests both outside on the beach and inside the venue on the other side of the street. Its bustling atmosphere is attributed to the popularity amongst locals and tourists. All drinks come accompanied by a selection of local dishes, so it’s best to enjoy these tastes first before deciding on your main meal.
Venture into the downtown area of Progreso for a bite at PKory Cafe Restaurant (Calle 76 # 146). This relaxed cafe serves breakfasts, sandwiches, fruits, shakes and much more, at great prices. Open from 7:30 am to 11:30 pm, the menu covers any sort of craving you might have throughout the day, making it a great go-to spot when you’re in the beach town.