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Progreso, located on the northwest coast of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, is a regular port of call on Western Caribbean itineraries, particularly those leaving from New Orleans and Texas ports. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Progreso serves as an access point for visiting the rich Mayan historical sites found in this part of the world. (There are 2,040 sites in the state of Yucatan, of which only a tiny fraction have been excavated and restored.) The main attraction is the famed Chichen Itza, a new world wonder (be prepared for a long day), along with other less-crowded archeological sites that include Uxmal, Mayapan and Dzibilchaltun.
Those who have previously been to the ruins might opt to visit the beach on the mile-long malecon in Progreso, equipped with an abundance of water sports activities, chair rentals and food and drink. Other attractions include cooling off in a cenote (a natural sinkhole) or just sampling a shot of the licorice-flavored native drink, Xtabentun.
Cruise visitors can also take advantage of the port's proximity to the charming colonial city of Merida, a 30-minute bus ride away. Merida offers historic ambience, shopping that ranges from boutiques to bazaars, and plenty of restaurants and cafes. It's often called "The White City" for its light buildings and the white clothing originally worn by locals. Named for Merida, Spain, the city was built in 1542 on the Mayan site of Ti'ho and designed around the Plaza Grande, flanked on all sides by some of the city's most important buildings.
Merida boomed because of the region's haciendas, originally dedicated to cattle or maize. They later became sisal plantations, and serve to remind visitors of the economic boom of the region during the late 19th century and into the last. Sisal is a fleshy plant native to the area and yields a stiff fiber used for cordage and rope. At its peak, Yucatan produced practically all of the rope for the world's shipping industry, resulting in the highest concentration of millionaires anywhere at that time. Some of these magnificent haciendas have been turned into inns and/or luxury hotels. Their ornate colonial architecture has held up well in most cases, and some -- for example, Hacienda Teya, just one mile from Merida -- are regional showpieces.
The climate is typically Caribbean or "tropical" with high temps and high humidity. Temperatures range between 80 and 95 degrees. Hats, bottled water and sunscreen are musts when sightseeing in the region, while mosquito repellant and good walking shoes will make the trip more pleasant.
Both Progreso and Merida have been attracting expats from Canada and other countries, so amenities for English-speakers are growing.

Where You're Docked
Progreso has the longest cruise ship pier in the world at about 4 miles in length. Free shuttle buses run on a regular basis from the pier to downtown Progreso. From the drop-off area where the market is located, it’s a few-minute walk to the beach. Rest rooms are available in the marketplace building and a number of restaurants are located nearby
Progreso Pier juts nearly five miles straight out into the Gulf of Mexico and is touted as the longest pier in the world. The terminal houses several bright and loud cantinas, a few fairly priced souvenir shops and a taxi stand. Telephones and Internet connections are available.

One of the most prominent features in Progreso is its immense pier -- one of the longest on the planet -- which stretches out over the Caribbean for nearly four miles. The pier, finished in 1942, is right next to Progreso's Malecon Beach, which offers pristine white sands and a cool ocean breeze. If you get hot while lazing about on the beach, jump into the clear green water for a quick swim.
The malecon in Progreso is a short shuttle bus ride from the terminal. Pack your beach bag and be ready to get wet or wander through shops and cafes before heading back to the ship. On the beach, you can capture postcard-worthy snapshots, relax with an al fresco massage or take a long, leisurely stroll along the sea wall. Musicians will play you a song and expect a tip, usually $1-$2.
Getting Around
On Foot: The pier operates a free shuttle from the ships to Progreso. It runs continuously throughout the day. A tip to the driver is optional. Once in town, the center is easily explored on foot.
By Taxi: Taxis are readily available at the pier or in town, though there's no real need for one unless you are going to Merida or one of the nearby ruins for independent exploration. To find a metered taxi, look for the "taximetro" sign on the roof; if there's no sign, make sure you agree on the price of the trip before getting in. The cost of a taxi into Merida is about $40 one way, $50 if you're in a van.
By Bus: A double-decker bus can give you a quick tour of Progreso for $3; you catch it about a block from where the pier shuttle bus drops you off. For those who want to experience Merida, Autoprogreso runs a local bus from Progreso to its terminal a few blocks from the Plaza Grande every 15 minutes. The fare is cheap, and the trip takes about 45 minutes.
Renting a Car: To get to more secluded beaches, Merida or archaeological sites independently, Yucatan Vacations Car Rentals will bring a car to you at the pier. If you want more choice, Merida has all the major car rentals, including Avis and Budget.
If you have time, a drive east on the coastal road toward Telchac Puerto will reveal the other side of the Yucatán's coast. The shoreline along Hwy. 27 from Chuburna to the village of Dzilam de Bravo is dubbed La Costa Esmeralda (the Emerald Coast), after the clear, green Gulf waters. First up: the sleepy beach town of Chicxulub, about 8km (5 miles) east of Progreso. To winter-phobic northerners, it's a bit of paradise. To scientists, it's the site of a buried impact crater, about 161km (100 miles) in diameter, left by a meteor that smashed into Earth 65 million years ago; it is blamed for extinguishing the dinosaurs and probably created the Yucatán's cenotes. Less than 10km (6 1/4 miles) farther, in Uaymitun, a large wooden tower looming on the right is an observation post for viewing a new colony of flamingos that migrated from Celestún. Binoculars are provided free of charge. You might also spot some of the rosy birds about 20 minutes down near the turnoff for the road to Dzemul.
The road to Dzemul also leads to the small but intriguing Maya site of Xcambó, which was (and still is) a salt production center. Archaeologists have reconstructed the small ceremonial center, including several platforms and temples. A rough-hewn Catholic church, complete with altar, flowers, and statues, rises from some of the ruins. Admission is free.
You can continue on the same road through the small town of Dzemul to Baca, where you can pick up Hwy. 176 back to Mérida or Progreso, or you can return to the coast road and continue east until it ends in Dzilam de Bravo, final resting place of "gentleman pirate" Jean Lafitte. On the way, you'll pass through Telchac Puerto, which holds little interest unless you're hungry for some decent seafood, and the appealing village of San Crisanto, where a group of fishermen will paddle you through shallow canals in the mangroves to an array of newly accessible cenotes (40 pesos).
Watch Out For
Like many of Mexico's colonial cities, Merida's sidewalks are very uneven and occasionally have steep drop-offs. Watch where you step, or a sprained ankle could be in your future. Otherwise, Merida's historic center is very safe, and you should have no problem walking around.

The Malecon in Progreso: While the Gulf of Mexico is generally not the same turquoise blue you see in the Caribbean, Progreso's beach is fairly clean, with clear water. You'll find plentiful water sports options and stands set up for beach massages. The shuttle bus lets off passengers right by a fairly extensive crafts market, and souvenir shops can be found along the town's few streets. Several nice restaurants line the beach road; they also serve drinks at tables and chairs right on the beach.
Explore Historic Merida: The lovely city of Merida was christened in 1542 and its Mayan and Spanish colonial roots are still in evidence. From colonial to cosmopolitan, Merida is a study in contrasts. Here, you’ll view the French-inspired Montejo’s Boulevard, the country’s National Monument, the 19th century Government Palace, as well as the Cathedral, built in 1774 from stones that were once part of the pyramid of Xbacluum-Chan. Opportunities to shop in stores surrounding Merida’s main plaza and other areas are also included.
Merida is a major attraction for many visitors. It's about a 30- to 45-minute drive from Progreso by shore excursion bus, local bus, taxi or rental car. Don't miss a chance to people watch and soak in local color in the Plaza Grande. See the Cathedral of San Ildefonso, which was finished in 1598, the City Museum and on the other side of the plaza, the Pasaje de la Revolucion (Revolution Alley), where sculpture exhibitions are set. Other buildings on or near the Plaza include the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACAY), which houses permanent modern art exhibits. Casa Montejo (House of Montejo),with its famed statues of Spanish conquerors, the Government House offering murals illustrating the history of the region, and the clock tower atop City Hall are all within walking distance of the Plaza.
Tour Chichen Itza: This important archeological site is listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Once the home of the great Mayan Empire, this legendary city’s grounds and structures are both visually and historically impressive. Chichen Itza is more than a two-hour bus ride from Progreso, but it’s well worth the trip. Here you can view the gigantic pyramid of Kulkulcan, see the well-preserved Mayan ball court, as well as the temple of the warriors and the observatory, where Mayan priests accurately calculated celestial events. On the occasional itineraries that include an overnight stay in Progreso, an afternoon and evening tour of Chichen Itza – complete with a nighttime light and sound show – may be available.
Discover Lesser-Known Mayan Sites: Cruisers with a strong interest in the Mayan civilization will appreciate Progreso’s proximity to a wide variety of Mayan cities and ceremonial centers. Those who have already visited Chichen Itza should check out tours to Uxmal and Dzibilchaltun. Uxmal is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the Mayan world. The site is famous for its beautifully carved facades, terraces, plazas and pyramids originating between 200 and 900 AD. Dzibilchaltun is one of the more important ceremonial centers of the Mayan world and is closer to the port of Progreso, making it a perfect option for those who want to see a Mayan site, but don’t want to take a full day tour.
Kayak Through the Mangroves: Cruisers looking for a peaceful activity can take a kayak tour through the mangrove lagoons around Progreso. These natural settings are a nesting place for local birds and the natural tunnels in the mangroves are fun to explore. Tours to view the native flamingos in an area near Progreso are also typically offered through the cruise ship and by private vendors in town.
Hit Some Balls: Play the 18-hole championship El Jaguar course at the Yucatan Country Club. This Jack Nicklaus Signature Course features lakes and natural cenotes in a tropical jungle setting. This course works well for a range of golfers, as five sets of tees provide play of anywhere between 5,000 to 7,253 yards.
Learn Something New: Those seeking a Mexican cultural experience can take a cooking class in Merida and learn how to make authentic Mexican salsas and guacamole using local fresh ingredients. Complimentary margaritas and Mexican beers complete the tasting experience. Then, perfect your dancing skills by learning the Salsa, one of the most popular Latin dances. The many Mayan site tours also teach guests a great deal about the Mayan culture and the history of the Yucatan peninsula.
Hop in a Dune Buggy: Load three of your friends into your stick-shift dune buggy and drive about 45 minutes to the Xcambo ruins, built over 2,000 years ago. Then drive for an hour to a beach where you can relax and take a refreshing swim in the ocean.
Cool Off in a Cenote: Cenotes, large natural pools located in the open or inside limestone caves, are quite common on the Yucatan peninsula. During your visit to Progreso, you may have the opportunity to take a dip in one. Sometimes cenote swims are combined with other activities, such as biking. Purification ceremonies presided over by a Mayan Shaman may be held as part of selected tours.
Uxmal: Uxmal is a bit closer to Progreso and Merida, about 90 minutes one way, making for a more manageable tour of an archaeological site. Highlights include the Pyramid of the Magician, the Palace of the Governor and the House of the Turtles. Some excursions combine a visit here with a stop at a hacienda.
Dzibilchltun: Though much less popular than Chichen Itza or Uxmal, the Mayan site of Dzibilchltun is just 15 minutes from Progreso. Dzibilchltun was an important ceremonial center in the Mayan world and is ideal for Progreso passengers who want to visit a Yucatan archaeological site without spending an entire day, as it is closest to the port. There's also a cenote on site where you can swim.
Closest to the Ship: Progreso's Malecon Beach is really the only game in town, and it's a nice one with all the standard offerings: lounge chairs, umbrellas, banana-boat rides, fishing excursions, volleyball, kayaks, changing rooms, showers, and tables and chairs situated right on the sand for drinks or food.
Best for All-Inclusive Beach Breaks: The Technotel, located in San Benito to the east of Progreso, serves as the base for the all-inclusive beach break packages run by independent operators. The all-inclusive hotel Reef Yucatan also offers day passes (and this is where the cruise lines such as Carnival have their beach breaks).
There are plenty of seaside beach clubs in Progreso offering chairs, food and drinks. Many cruise passengers also enjoy getting an inexpensive massage on the beach while they’re here. Massages range in price from $10 to $35 for an hour-long treatment. Those looking for something more exclusive may opt to take one of the many beach tours offered by the ship. These include trips to all-inclusive beach resorts, Corona Beach parties, and other options.
Outside of Town: If you're willing to rent a vehicle, the beaches get much quieter heading out of Progreso to the east. Chicxulub is particularly nice and attracts a significant expat population, as well as Mexicans who flock here in the summer; it's also home to a large crater. Other beaches popular with expats include Uaymitun (also to the east), home to a wildlife and flamingo sanctuary, and Sisal, a small fishing village west of Progreso.
Eating Out
Because the Yucatan Peninsula remained isolated from Mexico's mainland for many years, the area's cooking style took its cues from Cuba, the Caribbean and important 18th-century ports like New Orleans, which were influenced by European cooking styles. Traditional dishes are more elaborate, in some cases taking days to prepare. Try cochinita pibil -- pork marinated in citrus, slow-cooked in banana leaves and served with handmade tortillas -- or queso relleno, gouda-style cheese stuffed with beef and pork. Adventurous palates can try empanadas de cazon -- shark -- or Michelada, a beer spiked with Worcestershire sauce and served in a glass rimmed with salt and chili pepper. (Think of it as a Mexican Bloody Mary.)
In Progreso
Located within view of the pier, Eladio's, a Mexican-owned chain right on the beach, serves typical Yucatan food, as well as the standards found elsewhere in the country. Outdoor seating and large tables, plus access to prime people watching, make this a perfect hangout for a group (Av. Malecon at Calle 80; + 52 999 927 2126)
Popular with expats and Cruise Critic members, Buddy's on the Malecon specializes in seafood such as ceviche and fish tacos (and tequila, of course). Beach loungers are available with food and drink purchase; deflect the ubiquitous vendors with a simple "no, gracias." (Calle 19 No. 150-H between streets 76 and 78; +52 999 233 3171; open daily 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
In Merida
After sightseeing, take a taco break at Los Trompos, a Mexican-owned chain with a prime location on Calle 60, a prime historic street. The restaurant is popular with tourists and locals alike and can get crowded at prime dining hours. (Calle 59/60; + 52 999 926 4654)
If you want to experience what Yucatan food is all about, make a reservation at La Tradicion, an upscale restaurant on Calle 60. Start with sopa de lima -- a soup made from "lime," which is more like a sour lemon in this part of the world -- before moving on to poc chuc (pork marinated in achiote paste) or pollo pibil. (Calle 60, between streets 55 and 53; +52 999 923 0100; open daily noon to 6 p.m.)
Cool off like the locals do with a sorbet at Dulceria y Sorbeteria Colon. An institution since 1907, Colon serves up sweet treats in flavors unusual for Americans, such as coconut, guanabana and elote. (Calle 61, on the park; +52 999 928 1497)
Shore Excursions
Best for Active Travelers: The Jaguar Truck Mayan Adventure Expedition gives you access to the Yucatan's outdoors, with an excursion that combines a bike ride along the salt marshes with a visit to the ruins at Xcambo. An hour of stand-up paddleboarding in a nearby lagoon and time at a local beach completes this daylong tour, during which you are shepherded around by a red bus adorned with the elusive jungle cat.
Best for History Lovers: While Chichen Itza receives much of the publicity, Yucatan is full of other significant Mayan sites that don't receive as much attention. Consider a tour that encompasses Uxmal -- a less-crowded site that boasts elaborate carvings -- and Hacienda Ochill, a plantation that provides a glimpse of the region's wealthy past.
Best for Independent-Minded Travelers: Take the cruise line's bus into Merida, where you can soak up the colonial city's ambiance at your own pace. Besides strolling the Plaza Grande, take the time to browse the shops along Calle 60 (Artesanaria, on Calle 60 at 55, has a particularly good collection of Mexican and Mayan folk art) and grab a drink in the gorgeous Parque Santa Lucia. 
Downtown Progreso is home to a small colorful market where cruisers can buy casual jewelry, t-shirts, and inexpensive souvenirs. There are stores on the way to the beach in Progresso.The shops down there were actually cheaper and not pushy.  More are located in the main pier area where the cruise ships dock. Based on our experience, prices in Progreso are lower than those in Merida and Cozumel for similar merchandise. Selection, Local arts and crafts, wood carvings, blankets, onyx carvings and collectibles, Mayan artifacts (almost all replicas) clothing, and much much more.however, You can haggle. Don't accept the prices at their stated values. Here, you don't question the sticker price. There, you'd be a fool not to.

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