Yucatan (Progreso) Cruise Port Guide

A highlight of any Yucatán cruise, the laid-back town of Progreso stretches out along a long, skinny stretch of palm-shaded beach on the Gulf of Mexico. This shoreline is best known as the gateway to some of the most famous Mayan sights of the region, including spectacular Chichen Itza and Uxmal, as well as the elegant old city of Merida. 

Mayan antiquities aside, you’ll find plenty to do on a Caribbean cruise to the Yucatán, from swimming in cooling cenotes to kayaking on lagoons where huge flocks of flamingos feed, or simply relaxing on the white sand in the shade of an umbrella. Life in Progreso focuses around the buzzing Malecón waterfront, where you’ll find abundant food stalls, souvenir sellers, inviting beachfront cafés, and places to sunbathe.

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Top Sights & Attractions for Cruises to Yucatan (Progreso)

The Malecón & Beaches

The white sand beaches of Progreso stretch for miles; the town sprawls out along a narrow coastal barrier backed by lagoons and facing the sparkling Gulf of Mexico. A lengthy stretch is fronted by the Malecón, a long, attractive promenade lined with cafés and bars, many of which offer palapas to rent. Browse the souvenir stalls, snack on street food, stroll, and cool off in the turquoise shallows. Upscale beach clubs are available, too, with restaurants and lounging areas.

Mayan Antiquities

Progreso is the gateway to spectacular Mayan ruins which are dotted all over the landscape. The 1,500-year-old Chichen Itza, the most famous, is a comfortable day trip away. Uxmal, dominated by the Temple of the Magician, an enormous pyramid that towers over the surrounding trees, is slightly closer. The small site of Xcambó, meanwhile, is easily accessible from Progreso, lying behind the pink salt flats; visit here and you’ll still have time to enjoy the town.

Wildlife Lagoons

Behind the coastal strip where Progreso lies, brackish lagoons form a watery backdrop where nature thrives. Laguna Rosada, the pink lagoon, is one of the most spectacular, the water colored by a pinky-red algae. You’ll often see flocks of flamingos here. Progreso has its own ecological reserve, El Corchito, where you can explore the lagoon by boat on the lookout for coatis, flamingos, and crocodiles, and swim in the three cenotes.

Top Things to Do in Yucatan (Progreso)

Discover Chichen Itza

Mexico’s most famous Mayan site is an unforgettable experience. Gaze at the vast El Castillo pyramid, a representation of the Mayan calendar. You’ll see the Great Ball Court, where ritualistic ball games were played. Check out the acoustics here; whisper in the South Temple and your voice will be heard in the North Temple some 440 feet away. Other highlights include the Observatory and the Cenote Sagrado, where countless treasures have been found, thrown into the water as a religious offering.

Explore Mérida

Nearby Mérida, the capital of the state of Yucatan, is a grand and elegant city. Stroll the compact center, where beautiful colonial-era buildings line the central plaza. Your guide will point out the blend of old and new; many of the buildings are adorned with stones from former Mayan temples. Learn more about Mayan culture in the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, where more than 1,000 artifacts have been preserved.

Cool Off in Cenotes

The landscape of the northern Yucatan is dotted with cenotes, or freshwater limestone sinkholes, considered sacred by the Maya. Among the best are the cenotes around Homún, an ecological reserve south of Mérida. Some are overhung by rainforest, while others are in caves festooned with stalactites and stalagmites. Because of the sacred nature of the cenotes, a shaman will often conduct a purification ceremony before you enter the water.

Top Food & Drink in Progreso

Progreso has a buzzing central market perfect for grazing. Come here to snack on shrimp tacos, burritos, and enchiladas while taking in the bustle of the mercado. Local specialties include poc chuc, which is pork marinated in citrus and then grilled, served with a side of rice, avocado, and refried beans. You’ll also see pibil, which is meat wrapped in banana leaves, and ceviche, marinated seafood. 

Anyone with a sweet tooth will love marquesita, a wafer-like crepe that’s rolled and stuffed with anything from condensed milk to toffee, chocolate, or honey. The local specialty is the unlikely sweet-savory combination of shredded Dutch cheese with Nutella.

Culture & History of Progreso

The ancient Maya inhabited the Yucatan Peninsula from around 2,500 BC to the 13th century. Progreso’s history is more contemporary. As the closest coastal access to the state capital of Merida, the town developed as an important port in the 1870s. Its main function was the export of sisal, which brought wealth to the Yucatan peninsula. The fiber from the agave cactus was known as “green gold” for good reason, although sisal farming tailed off in the middle of the 20th century. The port continued to function as a distribution center for the northern Yucatan peninsula.

The fortunes of this sleepy place changed in 1989 when the longest pier in the world was built here, stretching over four miles. This vast length was necessary as the sea floor drops away slowly here and the water near the coast is too shallow for big ships to dock. The pier is an attraction in itself. The far end serves as a container port, but the endless stretch also comes complete with its own cruise terminal and shopping center. Progreso is a relaxed, easygoing place that makes its income from fishing and tourism.

Progreso (Yucatan) Cruise Port Facilities & Location

Yucatan cruise ships dock on the pier at Progreso. As soon as you disembark, there’s a large duty-free shopping complex, restrooms, a tourist information desk, and a pharmacy. There’s even a bar on the pier with free WiFi.

From outside the duty-free area, there are free shuttles into town. Walking is not really an option, given the tropical climate and the distance.

Transportation in Progreso

Free buses run into downtown Progreso from the cruise terminal. The journey takes around 15 minutes. Taxis wait at the bus stop in town, where there are also more souvenir stalls and restrooms. Taxi drivers will offer to take you to all the local sites if you haven’t pre-booked an excursion. You can also use ridesharing in Progreso, although be aware that you may have to wait a while for a ride.

Shopping in Progreso

Progreso is a souvenir shopper’s dream. For authentic handicrafts, head for the Mercado Municipal in the center of town, where there are food stalls as well as souvenirs and plenty of photo opportunities. There’s also a handicrafts market a couple of blocks inland from the pier. Otherwise, the malecón is lined with souvenir stalls and shops. There are also good quality souvenirs on sale in the shopping complex at the cruise terminal.

Things to buy include hats, embroidered fabrics, replica Mayan artifacts, wood carvings, and items made of onyx. Silver filigree jewelry is good value, as are bottles of mezcal and tequila. For something especially local, try and take home a bottle of Xtabentún, an allegedly aphrodisiac concoction invented by the Maya from anise, honey, flower nectar, and rum. Items made from sisal are a tribute to Progreso’s origins as a center for the export of the crop. Hammocks are a great gift to take home if you have the space; they’re handmade and come in bright, tropical colors.

Currency & Tipping Customs

The currency in Mexico is the peso, although most tourist establishments and taxi drivers will accept U.S. dollars and give you change in pesos. You will find several ATMs in town a couple of blocks inland from the shuttle bus drop-off point.

Most larger establishments will take credit cards, but food stalls and casual souvenir vendors will not, so always check that you can pay before choosing something.

The tipping culture in Progreso is similar to that of the U.S., so prepare to tip bartenders, restaurant waiters, and tour guides. Between 15 and 20% is normal.

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