Progreso Beach, Attractions & Day Trips You Can’t Miss!

April 18, 2023

progreso beach

I took my first trip to Mexico in my early 20s – decades ago, and have been going back ever since. My most visited part of Mexico is the Yucatan peninsula and a favorite is the Progreso beach area and surrounding attractions.

Most travelers to Mexico have never heard of the town of Progreso. The small port city at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is a common stop for Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships, which dock at its landmark 4-mile-long pier – the longest in the world.

It’s not quite as developed as popular cruise stops like Cancun or Playa del Carmen, but it is more than just a cruise ship port town or a gateway to the rest of the Yucatán peninsula. It’s a destination in its own right and worthy of exploring for more than just one day.

My very first visit to Progreso Beach was onboard the cruise ship, though. I was surprised and a bit annoyed by the activity director’s negative comments about Progresso – at the time, a fairly new port destination for large cruise ships. “You don’t want to actually spend time in Progresso,” she said. “It’s not upscale, it’s ‘old Mexico,’ like Cancun and Cozumel were 30 years ago. The beaches are not the brilliant turquoise of Cozumel. And the shopping is horrible… you won’t find any diamonds, tanzanite, or gold. Just locally-made stuff that you have to bargain for.”

puerto telchalc

Those were exactly the reasons why I wanted to spend the day in Progresso!  Why travel to Mexico if not to pick up a bit of the local flavor? And it’s precisely why I returned to Progresso at least a half-dozen times, spending from a weekend to a week each time. It’s a great stop on a road trip through the Yucatan!

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Here are my favorite Progresso beach, attractions, and day trips.

Progreso at a Glance

  • Population: 54,000
  • Elevation: 0′
  • Area: 104.3 mi²
  • Currency: Peso

Weather in Progreso

  • Winter Average: 80°F, high season
  • Summer Average: 95°F, high humidity
  • Shoulder Season Average (November and March): 75°F, cheaper, fewer crowds
  • Rainy Season Average (September to November): some storms, high humidity

12 Admire the Street Art

progreso beach

You’ll find street art throughout the downtown area, but check out some of the alleys off the main thoroughfare for wall after wall of colorful and creative paintings.

11 Get a Shark Bite

progreso beach

On the road just east of Progreso (heading to Xcambo #3 or Salinas Rosa #4), you’ll pass a large shark sculpture right on the street. We had to do a quick U-turn and grab this irresistible photo op!

10 Find Flamingos

progreso beach

Progreso is home to a small flock of pretty, pink flamingos. The birds generally find nesting places in the mangroves in Progreso as well as the nearby Uaymitún Sanctuary. The mangroves have been a focus of protection, conservation, restoration, and reforestation since 2014 by the Ninth Naval Zone.

These gorgeous birds are exceptionally social and live in colonies appropriately called “flamboyance.” They look for places for nesting and the best food sources. Flamingos get their gorgeous pink color from eating bits of algae and shrimp.

The flamingoes can be elusive and if you are lucky enough to spot them, they will generally be quite far away. Ultimately, it is up to Mother Nature how many birds there will be and how close because they are out in their natural habitat.

9 Municipal Market

progreso beach

The Municipal Market is three blocks from the Malecón. Public markets are essential to Mexican culture. At the market, you’ll find fresh produce, clothes, sarongs, beach bags, hats, and authentic Mexican handicrafts such as colorful handmade hammocks, and handmade Mayan artifacts.

municipal market

Take note that there are no fine jewelry shops in sight. Yay for that!  Why anyone would travel to Mexico to buy jewelry they could find at their local mall is beyond me. What you’ll find is a more authentic Mexican experience – bustling cantinas, savory-smelling tapas drifting from outdoor cafes, and small shops filling the block.

progreso beach

To say the merchants were laid-back would be an understatement. While waiting for customers, one shop owner was content to sit swinging in the very hammock he was trying to sell!

I bought a gigantic multi-colored sombrero for $5, and a pair of shiny sea-green earrings with inlaid mother-of-pearl for $2. How can you beat that? I have to admit though, it was a bit difficult getting the sombrero home!

8 Discover Pig Beach

pig beach

In Yucalpetén, between Chelem and Progreso, there is a beautiful beach that is not only for recreation but also promotes animal protection awareness.

“Pig Beach” has housed eight Vietnamese pigs since the summer of 2021. They were found with their mother who subsequently died. The piglets were rescued and became the basis for raising awareness for animal protection.

The pigs leave their shelter to go out and enjoy the beach and the sea every day around noon for about an hour.

7 Margaritas on Beach

eladios

My favorite place to have a margarita or bite on the beach is Eladios. You can’t beat it – they go over and above to attract tourists and locals.

eladios

If you order a margarita, in addition to the killer view and ocean breeze, they will bring you a variety of appetizers for as long as you are there…FREE!

progreso beach

If you’re looking for more hearty food than appetizers, they have an extensive menu and the food is consistently good.

6  Stroll the Malecón

malecon

The Malecón, a paved boardwalk promenade, runs parallel to the Progreso beach from the corner of Calle 19 and Calle 80 through to Calle 60.

Along the seaside esplanade, you’ll find souvenir shops, bars, coffee shops, and restaurants selling Mexican cuisine and seafood. Views of the sunset, pier, beach, and cruise ships are spectacular, with high prices to match.

There’s a recently added portion of the malécon to the west of the pier. It’s really fun here, especially at sunset. In addition to some fun photo ops for tourists, you’ll also find more locals here, playing in the parks just off the beach.

5 Kayak the Mangroves

kayak mangrove

The best place for kayaking is at La Ria Progreso. Look for the dock which leads into the mangrove forest. Kayak rentals are hourly, but visitors can also rent paddleboards.

4 Salinas Rosa

salinas rosa

In the Xtampu area, you’ll find Laguna Rosada and Salinas Rosa. Their names are derived from the red hue of its waters which come from the algae that live in the lagoon.

salinas rosa

Pink salt is harvested from shallow pools fed from the lake. It’s a great photo spot, and visitors can also purchase a bag of locally harvested Mexican pink salt.

3 Xcambo Ruins

xcambo

Less than 30 minutes from Progreso beach and center, you can also immerse yourself in ancient Mayan culture by visiting the Zona Arqueológica X’Cambo, believed to have been a fish curing and salt-producing center, which makes sense given its location near the coast.

The recently discovered site isn’t very large and archaeologists are still working on uncovering and restoring the structures. It was an important town in its time, used as a trading city, mostly for salt, of which they had plenty. Within the complex, you’ll see several pyramid structures surrounding open space.

xcambo

When we visited, there was hardly another soul in sight, and it was another of the ancient ruins where I was able to climb up the structures to get great views and ham it up for photo ops.

2 Corchito Cenotes

corchito

About a mile east of Progreso Beach is a hidden gem called Reserva Ecológica El Corchito, accessible only by boat.

The highlight of El Corchito is the cool-temperature cenotes that are available for swimming. Cenotes are natural sinkholes in limestone bedrock that are filled with fresh water. During Mayan times, they were considered sacred and also believed to have healing powers.

corchito

There are three open-air cenotes in the ecological that exude a green glow due to the sun reflecting through the mangroves. The sinkholes range from less than 3 feet deep to over 6 feet deep. There is also a small shallow cenote, that you can dip your feet in to get a “fish pedicure.”

Corchito is home to a variety of wildlife, including the famous raccoons, flamingos, crocodiles, and various species of birds. Visitors can stroll or take a small boat through the mangroves.

1 Progreso Beach

progreso beach

Resting on the Gulf of Mexico, Progresso Beach boasts shimmering emerald green water and soft white sand as far as the eye can see. Progreso Beach is one of the most picture-perfect beaches in Yucatan but without the crowds of Riviera Maya.

When the cruise ships are in, the part of the beach nearest the pier can get crowded. However, if you just keep walking, eventually you may even find yourself alone with the entire beach to yourself.

progreso beach

Do take a dip in the clean, calm, crystal water…it’s like bath water. True, it was not the bright blue of the Caribbean, but it’s still lovely.  Rent a palapa – a traditional Mexican shelter roofed with palm leaves or branches or find a free beach lounger just a dozen feet from the water’s edge.

As with any public space in Mexico, you’ll find vendors hawking their wares along the beach, selling things like coconuts, fruit, magnets, and jewelry.

Also, you can get a full-body massage on the beach for about $20.

Be aware that the sun can get very hot and it’s easy to get burned so bring your sunscreen and a hat.

Day Trips

If you have more time and would like a change from the casual lifestyle of Progresso, there’s a lot to do within a short drive: the culture, the colonial architecture, and culinary cuisine of Merida; the spectacular Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, one of the seven new wonders of the world; the jungle ruins of Mayapan or Uxmal; strolling around Izamal, dubbed “the magical yellow city:” swimming in the chilly cenotes of Cuzama; and spotting the flamboyance of pink flamingos in the picturesque coastal village of Celestun.

Merida

merida

Mérida is one of Mexico’s greatest cultural cities with a rich Mayan heritage. Just a 30-minute drive from Progreso, Mérida has over 600,000 people and offers a large selection of restaurants, a charming city square with historic colonial buildings, gorgeous green spaces, museums, and a ton of shopping from local to high-end to experience traditional and modern Mexican culture. Not to be missed is the light show on the cathedral across from the city square.

Click here to read my guide: Best Things to Do in Merida

Chichen Itza

chichen itza

About two hours from Progreso, Chichén Itzá is probably the best-known Mayan ruins in Mexico, and it lives up to its reputation, e.g. it’s the largest pre-Columbian archaeological site in the Yucatan, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Highly excavated, I’ve been to the site twice and learned more each time.

Looking across the ground to the imposing main Castillo (Kukulcán) pyramid will take your breath away. On my first visit, when I was in my 20s, I climbed to the top –that is no longer allowed due to injuries that occurred from one or more tourists that fell.

It’s also popular for equinoxes when the Castillo (castle) temple forms a shadow of a serpent slithering down the pyramid’s steps. There’s also the Great Plaza, the Ball Court, and other fascinating structures to explore.

Chichén Itzá is considered one of the most important archaeological sites of pre-Hispanic culture, along with Palenque and Uxmal in Mexico and Tikal in Guatemala.

Because it is the most famous Mayan archaeological site in the Yucatan (easily accessible from nearly every corner), it gets very crowded. If you can get there right before it opens, you’ll be able to explore a bit before the masses invade.

Mayapán

mayapan

Mayapán (pronounced mī-ä-ˈpän) may be the most underrated of the Mayan cities, but it just might be my favorite.

A mere 25 miles from Mérida, the archaeological ruins sprawl out in tranquil splendor, with hardly anyone around, even during the afternoon. Mayapán is a jaw-dropping metropolis, with more than 4,000 individual structures spread over about 1.6 square miles.

In the Late Post-Classic Period of Mayan civilization (13th-15th century), Mayapán was home to up to 17,000 people and the political and cultural capital of the Maya in the Yucatán Peninsula. The grounds include shrines, temples, halls, and 12 gates.

Nothing beats climbing to the top of the Temple of Kukulcan for those Instagram shots. Even the escalation itself was photo-worthy. Oh, the fun and corny moments I had!

Mayapan is so incredible, it’s difficult to understand why it’s less visited than some of the other Mayan sites; perhaps it’s because it’s just one of many ancient ruins in the Yucatan.

Uxmal

uxmal

Just an hour southwest of Mérida, Uxmal (pronounced óˑʃmáˑl) is one of the best ancient Mayan cities in Mexico. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but nowhere near as crowded as Chichen Itza and easy to explore and roam around.

Built between 700 – 1000 AD, the spellbinding jungle city once had 25,000 inhabitants. Uxmal was well-preserved, even before restoration began. It is believed to have been taken over by Toltec invaders during the 12th century.

The ruins are well-preserved, giving a glimpse into Mayan life. The intricate grounds include the famous five-level Temple of the Magician, the Nunnery Quadrangle, and the Governor’s Palace, which rests on a massive platform and is aligned with the path of Venus when viewed from the Pyramid of Cehtzuc. Fine examples of carved stone are displayed throughout.

Unlike Chichen Itza, it is still permitted to climb on and inside the ruins.

Celestun

celestun

Celestun is a sleepy little fishing village on the western side of the Yucatan peninsula, about an hour and a half drive from Progreso. The beach is pretty and uncrowded, and you can dine on freshly-caught seafood overlooking the sea.

However, most people don’t come to Celestun for pretty beaches – they come for the pretty flamingos. Flamingos are my favorite wildlife, so I could not wait to take an eco-tour boat trip through the lush mangrove estuary of Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestun (Celestun River Biosphere Reserve).

I was so eager to spot the first flamboyance. There were flocks of wild pink flamingos on the shores of both sides of the boat. Much to my chagrin, my boat driver would not allow me to get up close and personal with the flamingos, so as not to disturb the birds. He even turned off the motor of the boats. “Regulations,” he said.

Ultimately, I do support eco-tourism but couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed not to get a closer look. So do be sure to bring a camera with a long zoom lens if you want good photos, and be sure to check ahead because flamingo visitations are seasonal.

Cuzama Cenotes

cuzama cenotes

Cenotes are natural sinkholes. These incredible pools were formed when an asteroid slammed into the seafloor off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula 66 million years ago. Limestone bedrock gave way to reveal more than 6,000 caves and reservoirs of water beneath.

In ancient times, Mayans considered these to be sacred places to perform spiritual rituals. Today, they are sought out by tourists looking for the quintessential Yucatan adventure or a refreshing swimming hole to escape the heat.

There are many of these ethereal, photogenic places close to Progreso. My favorite was a day at Los Tres Cenotes aka the Cuzama Cenotes.

Half the fun is getting to the first cenote. The only way to get into the jungle sites is in a cart pulled by a horse/mule. Hang on to your hat, because it’s a bumpy (albeit fun) ride!

I was surprised when we stopped at a hole in the ground surrounded by tree roots leading to the sky. My first thought was that they wanted us to look down into the hole, but incredibly, they told us we had to descend on a rudimentary wooden ladder into the hole to reach the cenote (not for claustrophobics!). I sucked it up and descended into the depths, and was not disappointed.

This and two different cenotes enveloped me in an otherworldly subterranean abyss filled with dark aquamarine water surrounded by unique rock formations with jungle vegetation hanging down. I jumped right in, shocked by the cold water. It didn’t take long to get used to the water temperature and enjoy floating around.

Izamal

izamal

Called “the Yellow City,” Izamal is about an hour and a half drive from Progreso. It’s one of the most Instagrammable places in the Yucatan which is why it is officially listed as one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos (magic towns).

I spent hours strolling up and down lovely cobblestone streets, gazing at yellow haciendas and bits of Mayan ruins strewn throughout.

Most notable is the Convento de San Antonio de Padula monastery, built in the 14th century by the Spaniards with stones from a Mayan temple which was located on-site. Like the city, the monastery offers some picturesque spots.

Climb up the steps of the Mayan pyramid of Kinich-Kakmo for a magnificent panoramic view of Izamal.

Click here to read my guide: Best Things to Do in Izamal.

Progreso with Kids

Meteor Museum

Sixty-six million years ago, a meteorite hit the earth where today the northwest edge of the Yucatán peninsula sits. Now a new museum has opened to pay homage to this and other meteorite events throughout history.

El Museo del Meteorito, or The Meteorite Museum, contains replicas of some of the world’s greatest dinosaurs as well as real pieces of meteorites that guests can touch.

There are interactive displays throughout the museum that tell the story of Yucatán’s Chicxulub meteorite — whose effects scientists believe wiped out 75% of all plants and animals on Earth, including the dinosaurs.

The museum is an attempt to attract families to stay near the Progreso beaches instead of heading off to the more well-known attractions such as  Chichén Itzá and other nearby Mayan ruins.

Jurassic Trail

A new park named “Sendero Jurásico,” (Jurassic Path) features large statues of Tyrannosaurus rex, velociraptor, brachiosaurus, and other prehistoric creatures, as well as information regarding the extinction-level event that took place in Chicxulub, roughly 65 million years ago.

The trail was built as a tribute to the great meteorite which fell on the planet. It is now widely accepted that the devastation and climate disruption from the impact of the meteorite was the cause of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, a mass extinction in which 75% of plant and animal species on Earth became extinct, including all non-avian dinosaurs.

Haciendas

progreso beach

A hacienda is a large ranch, estate, or plantation, usually in a Spanish-speaking country.

progreso beach

The Yucatan is full of beautiful haciendas, which occasionally open their doors to the public. On one of our visits to Progreso, we were lucky enough to be invited to an operating henequen hacienda in Telchac Pueblo where I interviewed Angelo Damman about how she was running a henequen business, restoring the hacienda, and raising a family in the Yucatan.

You can read my story about Angela’s hacienda in Yucatan Today magazine.

Food in Progreso

yucatan food

Yucatán cuisine is delicious. It’s different than traditional Mexican food in that it has been strongly influenced by European and native Mayan foods. Robust flavors such as habanero, sour orange, honey, and smoke are used to prepare pork, turkey, and chicken.

  • Marquesitas – crunchy crepe-like rolls filled with sweet or savory fillings
  • Cochinita Pibil – slow-roasted pork
  • Chile Relleno – baked chili pepper stuffed with melted cheese
  • Chilaquiles –breakfast nachos
  • Papadzules – similar to enchiladas
  • Panuchos – small fried corn tortillas topped with chopped turkey and vegetables
  • Sopa de Lima – a broth-based soup made from a local lime
  • Churro –fried-dough pastry
  • Flan –a custard dessert topped with sticky caramel sauce

You may be interested in “Yucatan Food: What to Eat and Where to Find It.”

Where to Stay

We’ve stayed in several types of accommodations in Progresso, and all are affordable.

progreso beach

You can stay on the beach with a gorgeous view of the ocean for under $100 per night.

puerto telchac

Puerto Telchac, about 30 minutes east of Progreso is a nice all-inclusive resort on the beach. It’s not too expensive, as all-inclusives go, but it’s also not the high-quality all-inclusives that you may be used to in the Caribbean either.

chuburna

chuburna

Alternatively, the small towns east and west offer a more traditional glimpse into the authentic way of life in the Yucatan Peninsula. Ifyou’re having trouble finding housing in Progreso during high season, try looking outside the city in towns like Chelem or Chuburná.

chuburna

Our favorite was a rental house just steps from the sparkling emerald water in Chuburná, about 30 minutes from Progreso Beach. The beach is secluded with clear, calm water.

Conclusion

We love going back to Progreso Beach again and again! To us, it is more than just a pass-through town or a day trip from Merida. Though the city is small, it’s filled with things to do that will keep you busy for a weekend to a whole week.

Click below to PIN so you can find Progreso beaches and activities again:

progreso beach

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About the Author

Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and the southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

3 comments

  1. Comment by Kate Nye

    Kate Nye Reply May 4, 2024 at 12:54 pm

    First time coming across your blog, and I’m so delighted! Besides being free of the kind of ads that clog the reading experience, I enjoyed all this detail! We are headed to Progresso for the day from Merida, and now I feel totally educated! Thanks for the great thorough content.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply May 4, 2024 at 1:41 pm

      Awww, I’m so glad you enjoyed my site! Have a blast in Progreso — I’m jealous!

  2. Comment by Michelle

    Michelle Reply June 12, 2024 at 2:49 pm

    Love your blog ! We’re heading to the area beginning October for 3 months! Can’t wait to feel and experience it. Thank you for all your inside’s.

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