Things to Do & A Full Guide to Traveling the Popular Beach Town of Progreso and the Yucatan Peninsula
This blog requires a bit of a backstory, so hold on tight. Despite not loving this part of Mexico we combed the Progreso area and still discovered the best places to eat, things to do, and places to stay. Enjoy our full Progreso Yucatan Travel Guide below!
February was a bit of confusing time for us here at The Love and Adventure. Prior to leaving Colorado late last year, we'd heard rave reviews about Merida Mexico -- a mid-sized city on the Yucatan Peninsula. Daniel and I were both hopeful that Merida may become our somewhat temporary home. We researched, watched videos, and read blogs about the colorful city prior to arriving. A business magazine recently ranked the city as the second safest city in all of North America and the safest in Latin America. Low crime rates, close to the coast, shopping malls, museums, lots of restaurants, similar amenities to Mexico City....we were bound to love it, right?
I'm sure you already know the answer to that question. No, we didn't love Merida. After giving the city a full 24 hours to grow on us, we felt a bit empty. Where was the culture? Where were the charming streets everyone speaks about? Daniel and I both rely heavily on our intuition and we still can't logistically state what was missing for us about Merida. We'd pre-booked an Airbnb for one month in the city. Our Airbnb was a disaster (a story for another day), so we knew one thing: we had to get out. After staying only one night, we packed up and headed for the nearest beach town called Progreso. Progreso is primarily a port town known for having the longest pier (6.5 km, 4 mi) in the world.
In our urgent 'book something now' moment, we found a beautiful, modern place in what we thought was Progreso. However, after hopping off the bus and into an Uber, we quickly realized our place wasn't in Progreso. It was in a small fishing village 7 km east of Progreso called Chicxulub Puerto.
Perhaps you've heard of the famous Chicxulub Crater that is said to have ended the dinosaurs. The crater, 90 miles in diameter, is hidden underneath the surface and not visible to the human eye. The single impact over 66 million years ago decimated the dinosaurs. This crater seems to be the only reason tourists (mostly scientists) visit the small village. You'll notice a lot of businesses have dinosaurs as their logo around town.
It's important to note that cruise ships dock in Progreso three times per week. During these days, Progreso is overrun with tourists going on shore excursion trips. We heard that the cruises were threatening to stop docking in Progreso if the town didn't get their sh*t together. As a result, the town is under construction on nearly every street. They're building new restaurants, redoing all of the sidewalks, and recently finished building a massive boardwalk. It's sort of a mess at the moment, but I'm sure it will be greatly improved in a couple of years. We recommend avoiding the beach clubs and popular restaurants during cruise days.
It's also important to note that if you're under 60 years of age, you will stick out like a sore thumb here. We quickly realized that Progreso is a popular retirement village for elderly Canadians. One day, we walked into a restaurant and were greeted by 50+ elderly white folks. Another night, we decided to stop into a bar for live music, and it was the same story. A couple at the door grabbed us and said, "Welcome to retirement!" We proceeded to laugh hysterically at everyone dancing and getting rowdy. On the bus on the way home that night, a couple behind us recognized us from the bar. They said, "You're not going home! You're coming with us to another bar." We spent the next couple of hours telling our story over and over again to elderly Canadians. The owner of Restaurant David's, after we explained that we were bloggers, told us, "the internet is a cool place." Oy vey!
While much of the Yucatan Peninsula is famous for its turquoise water and white sand beaches, the beaches in Progreso/Chicxulub are quite different. The water remains shallow for quite a ways out (hence the ridiculously long pier). The shallow water, paired with the constant wind, makes for some choppy swimming water. The beach is best enjoyed at a beach club on a calm day. The beach clubs that we went to are 'free' to claim a lounge chair with the assumption that you'll purchase something from the restaurant or bar.
If you are planning on checking out the beach town of Progreso for yourself or if you find yourself docking here on your cruise ship looking for a shore excursion -- we do have some suggestions that you will be sure to enjoy. Enjoy our ProgresoYucatan Travel Guide.
Where to eat/drink
If you're strictly vegetarian or vegan, Progreso has very limited options for you. It is certainly a world away from the food scene of Playa Del Carmen. We eat fish, on occasion, but that was our only option while eating out. Due to this, we opted to cook at our apartment the majority of the time. Below are a few places that we enjoyed when we did go out.
This beach club (of sorts) is a great spot to spend an afternoon and evening. Located east of the main Progreso beach, this beach bar is quiet and much more affordable than food and drink in town. We loved hanging out here with a couple of beers and watching the sunset. Since we didn't eat a meal here, we can't tell you how the food is, but it gets pretty good reviews online. In addition to the beach chairs, there are also hammocks, traditional tables, and a swimming pool.
La Antigua Progreso Food Truck
This spot is located right next door to El HaGuay. There are two food trucks that are associated with the restaurant La Antigua. We had chips, guac, and a margarita. The vibe is cute here and it took us back to our Portland Oregon food truck days.
Restaurante Capitan Flores
This fish restaurant is Chicxulub's best-kept secret. Since tourists rarely travel to Chicxulub, you'll likely be the only foreigner in the restaurant. We ordered garlic fish that was to-die-for yummy. The fish is caught each morning and brought fresh to the restaurant. Daniel and I shared one dish and thought it was plenty of food. Capitan Flores is also incredibly affordable.
Things to do
When you're tired of the sleepy town vibe and ready for some adventure, there are a few day trip options. The best way to see these places is to hire a private driver. We saw the three sites below in one afternoon with a driver and paid only 450 pesos (23 USD). If you're in the area and looking for a driver, Memo is safe, reliable, and offers a lot of insight into the region. You can message Memo on WhatsApp here: +52 999 965 6562
A 30-minute drive east from Chicxulub will lead you to Telchac. Honestly, I'm not sure this town has much to offer besides a beautiful beach. The ocean here, for whatever reason, was calm and a beautiful shade of turquoise. We only visited for a few minutes, but we'd wished that we could've spent the whole day there. Off to the right of the pier is a local restaurant that Memo said serves delicious seafood.
Laguna Rosada & Charcas de Sal (aka the pink salt flats)
One of the most popular cruise ship shore excursion adventures is to see the flamingos at the famous pink lake called Laguna Rosada. It's important to note that there's another popular pink lake closer to Cancun called Las Coloradas. This is not that place. When we visited, unfortunately, the water was brown and not pink. We did, however, see quite a few flamingos out in the lake. Memo told us that the pink water can be seen from March through September (don't quote us on that). During the hotter months, the water evaporates, exposing the pink algae that shrimp and flamingos eat.
Near the Laguna Rosada is a series of pink salt flats called Charcas de Sal. This is the same story. The water turns pink during the summer months. We had high hopes of flying our drone above the pink flats, but the water was just on the edge of turning colors.
Photo credit: Jonathan Buenfil
Zona Arqueologica de Xcambo (Mayan Ruin)
Across the highway from Charcas de Sal is this small archaeological site or Mayan ruin. In 2001, archaeologists discovered over 600 skeletons on site! This Mayan community was business-driven and worked hard to distribute salt and fish to the Mayans. We paid 80 pesos/person to enter.
Nearby Cenote Adventures
Did someone say cenote? Yes! Wait... what is a cenote? Find out here on our full guide to our favorite cenote we visited near Valladolid.
There are many nearby cenotes to Progreso and Merida. The most famous cenote in the area is actually a group of cenotes called, Cuzama Cenotes. For an added experience you actually reach the cenotes by a horse-drawn carriage. The cenotes are about 1.5 hours by car from Merida and Progreso so you will definitely want a driver or to find an organized tour.
If you are going to visit a cenote in the area this one is the best bang for your buck. However, we have to warn you this is maybe the most visited cenote in the area and mostly by the cruise ship shore excursion crowd. If you are part of the cruise ship crowd, great, you will enjoy it! If you aren't part of the cruise ship crowd, you might try to pick a day when there is not a cruise ship docked in the area.
I know, I know. This sounds confusing. We left Merida because we didn't love it...but we still took some day trips to the city. After feeling isolated in Chicxulub and Progreso, we were craving some city activities. We spent a few days wandering the city, eating vegan food, going to see a movie, and meeting up with friends. The bus from Progreso to Merida, called Auto Progreso, is super simple to use. For 38 pesos/person ($1.96 USD), we had round-trip tickets to Merida for the day. Our favorite activity was going to the movie theater at Harbor Mall. For roughly $5 USD/person, we sat in the VIP theater where we ordered food and drinks with the push of a button on our chairs. The movie was in English with Spanish subtitles.
After staying in Chicxulub/Progreso for only 10 nights, we packed up and left early. Ultimately, we were a bit bored and ready to move on. Told you it was a confusing time for us.
If we ever decide to revisit Progreso in the future, we're confident that it will be a completely different place. It's currently in a transition period as tourism begins to grow and naturally force the port town to develop. However, at the moment, there are many other beautiful beach towns in Mexico that we'd recommend before Progreso. As always, this blog is a place for us to share our honest experiences and opinions... so please be respectful of our personal opinions and thoughts.
Let us know if you have any comments or questions. If you've been to Progreso, we'd love to hear what you thought of it.
We hope that everyone is staying safe and healthy wherever you're at in the world. We know we mentioned that February was a bit wishy-washy for us, but March/April are taking the cake for crazy, unimaginable times. Daniel and I are back in Colorado now in isolation with family riding out COVID-19. Stay tuned for a life update coming soon.
For the love and adventure,