Progreso is a tiny port town on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula on the Gulf of Mexico.
The port in Progreso is a frequent stop for cruise ships partly because it is considered the gateway to the Mayan ruins.
The Yucatan Peninsula was where the Mayan culture spread from the south of the peninsula into Guatemala, Honduras and the Chiapas highlands. Hernadez de Cordoba was the first Spanish explorer to reach the peninsula in 1517. By 1550, the Spanish had conquered the region. Unfortunately for the Mayans, the Spanish brought smallpox with them to the peninsula and the disease killed an estimated 75 - 90% of the population. It was not until 1821 that the Yucatan Peninsula gained back its independence.
Mexico is one of the few countries that has parts of their territories that extend into more than one peninsula. The Yucatan peninsula is in Central America, and separates the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Progreso was founded in 1811 as a port for the exporting of sisal fiber, which is used for various types of cordage.
Today, Progreso’s oceanfront promenade, the Malecon, sports a lengthy beach and small thatch-roofed restaurants. Progreso is sometimes presented as a port with Merida, but they are not in close proximity. Merida is a colonial city that is about an hour south of Progreso and it is the capital of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Progreso also boasts of the longest pier in the world at four miles long. One of the reasons that the pier is so long is that the Yucatan coast is very shallow and cannot accommodate cargo vessels or cruise ships. The length also allows numerous ships to be docked at the same time.
Progreso Pier. Credit: Benito Armando Lopez Lara
Progreso is most active when there are cruise ships in port. It can be pretty sleepy otherwise. The city center encompasses the Malecon ocean promenade and accompanying businesses behind the Malecon. When cruise ships are in port, pop-up food stalls in the local market cater to passengers with typical Mexican cuisine.
Credit: astrid adame
The town has a still-active lighthouse called Faro de Puerto Progreso. Tours are not available for the lighthouse, but it is handy as a point of reference when touring town.
Check out this video tour of Progreso:
Good To Know
Some visitors have complained of being hassled to purchase items or services. However, a “no thank you” while you continue on your way seems to be all that you need to do to discourage unwanted solicitation.
Where You Dock in Progreso – Yucatan Mexico
As mentioned above, because the coastline around Progreso is so shallow, cruise ships have to dock at the end of the 4 mile long, world record-setting Progreso Pier.
There is a duty-free shopping area at the terminal, as well as quite a few other vendors where you can purchase souvenirs, including Mexico’s famed vanilla and silver products . There is a variety of other merchandise, restrooms, restaurants, bars, and even a pool with in-water seating to enjoy a drink.
If you have booked a tour, then your tour guide will meet you at the terminal buildings.
The port authority provides a free shuttle – Auto Progreso – from the terminal, down the pier to Progreso’s town center. Prior to the pandemic, the shuttle used to stop at the main bus terminal, close to the lighthouse. Now, the shuttle drops off closer to the beach at the corner of C.80 and . It is a 15 minute ride to shore, and the shuttle runs every 20 minutes. The bus terminal has people offering tours and shops and there are also signs to direct you to the beach.
This video gives a great perspective getting from the ship to shore, with some helpful tips in-between:
Getting Around Progreso – Yucatan Mexico
As the pier is four miles long, you will not want to take this route into town, especially in the hot Mexican sun. Take the free shuttle bus instead (see below). Once you get to the town center, you will be able to traverse Progresso on foot. It is, however, about five miles long, so just know that while you can walk, there is a lot of ground to cover.
There is a shuttle bus provided by the port authority, called Auto Progreso, that will take you from the cruise terminal into the town center. The shuttle is free, runs every twenty minutes and takes about 15 minutes to reach the center of Progreso. The shuttle will drop you off at the Auto Progreso bus terminal where there will are tours offered, shops, and restrooms. From here, you can walk to the beach.
There are taxis that wait close to the shuttle bus stop at the public bus terminal. There is also Uber in Progreso.
If you want to rent a car in Progreso, you need to be 21 years of age and have a valid photo drivers license. Driving in Progreso, Mexico is on the right-hand side of the road.
Here are two rental services located in Progreso:
BMV Renta de autos +52 999-540-9517
Shopping In Progreso – Yucatan Mexico
With Mexico’s diversity, there are many souvenirs to keep an eye out for. Typically, when looking for traditional items, it’s better to find a store that specializes in the item rather than those sold in the tourist-trap-type stores located in and around the cruise port.
Food & Drinks
Tequila and Mezcal are both produced in Mexico and come from the agave plant. Mezcal is smokier than tequila because of the way it’s processed. Look for 100% agave tequila. It makes a big difference!
Mexico is a large producer of organic and fair trade coffee beans. Look for whole bean coffee produced in small batches for a unique souvenir that can be enjoyed for many mornings after you return home.
Mexican vanilla is also a popular souvenir. While it’s less expensive to purchase in Mexico than at home, real vanilla is still fairly pricy, so don’t be fooled by the vanilla you see in the souvenir shops or grocery stores. This vanilla often has additives, including coumarin, which is banned in the U.S.
Since Mexico is the birthplace of chocolate, it’s a must! Try it hot while you’re in port, then take a chunk home for yourself and your friends! If you want to make true Mexican hot chocolate at home, then you will also want to pick up a molinillo – kind of like a wooden whisk that you rub between your hands. It stirs and froths at the same time!
Mexican fabrics are often woven and brightly colored and made into everything from blankets and shawls to bags and hammocks.
Shirts and dresses with colorful embroidery are also a popular souvenir and can be found at many stores.
Colorful Talavera pottery, ceramics and hand-painted tiles are plentiful around Mexico and can make for a wonderful gift or art piece for yourself. You may also find a colorfully painted ceramic Day of the Dead skull (calaveras).
Barro negro (black clay) pottery is highly polished black clay pottery that is unique to Mexico.
Shopping around Progreso
There are many, many choices for shopping both at the cruise terminal, and in the city center, catering mainly to tourists. Once the shuttle drops you off at the bus terminal, you are a couple of blocks away from the Malecon beach area, where shops abound. Once off the bus, if you follow the signs to the Playa (beach), you will walk through the souvenir market, exit through a gate and onto Calle 80.
Bolom Balam The Leather Store – 1 min. walk from the bus terminal, on Calle 80
Leather is also a great suggestion for a Mexican souvenir. Reviewers say that this shop has great quality products and the prices are reasonable. Purses, backpacks and computer bags along with belts and hats are on offer. They also have leather totes that are embroidered. You will pass this shop if you follow the signs from the bus terminal to the beach.
La Plaza de Progreso – 4 min walk from the bus – corner of C. 76 and C. 25
A little ways off the touristy streets, La Plaza de Progreso is an inexpensive venue for a variety of household items, toys and clothes.
Mercado Municipal Francisco I. Madero – C. 80 – 3 min. walk from shuttle stop
This municipal market has vendors selling everything from fresh fruit and seafood to cooked food to clothing and home goods. Visiting a market can be a great way to experience resident life and eat some delicious food.
Dining In Progreso – Yucatan Mexico
There is absolutely no shortage of places to eat on the Malecon. You will find any number of Mexican and seafood options. Some are dine-in and others will serve you on the beach.
Pop-up stalls will appear when ships are in port at the town market. You will be able to get tacos, burritos and enchiladas that are authentically Mexican. The more upscale restaurants are along the beachfront Malecon.
Crabster Seafood & Grill – C. 19 between C. 76 & C. 74 – 4 min. walk from shuttle terminal
Considered a happening spot on the Malecon, Crabster has a variety of seafood dishes, but pizza as well. You will find a selection of beers and fun shakes with candy toppings. Can be just a bit pricey.
El Cordobes – C. 80 and C. 31 – 7 min. walk from shuttle terminal
A tradition since 1895! With a friendly atmosphere, although no air conditioning, you will be able to choose authentic Mexican fare. Enchiladas, tortas, panuchos, salbutes, shrimp, calamari and fish are on the menu. They have vegetarian options, and are open for breakfast.
Eladio’s Bar – C.80 & C. 19 – 2 min. walk from shuttle terminal
With a beachfront setting, Eladio’s Bar offers complimentary sampler plates before your main dish arrives. Traditional Mexican offerings that can be accompanied by spicy peppers, there is enough variety on the menu to please everyone. Enjoy tasty drinks and listen to live entertainment.
El Naranjo – Municipal Market C. 80 – 2 min. walk from shuttle terminal
Known for its pulled pork, the El Naranjo has been in business since 1937, is a family-run currently on the third generation. Their Cochinita Pibil and baked suckling pig are favorites on the menu. They have grilled red meat (asado) and Poc Chuc, which is pork meat in fine grilled steaks and Mayan in origin. They have a few locations around Progreso, but the closest to the cruise shuttle terminal is in the Mercado Municipal. Just know that they only operate from 6am to 12pm.
Things To Do in Progreso – Yucatan Mexico
Progreso is the gateway to the Mayan ruins, with Chichen Itza being the largest and most popular in the Yucatan. The ruins are two hours one way from Progreso, so make sure you have enough time in port before venturing to these ruins. The next closest ruin is Uxmal, but it is still an hour and a half to get there from Progreso.
Merida is about 30 minutes from Progreso. It is known as the White City because of the limestone buildings that line the streets. Just remember it is 15 minutes to Progreso, so it would be a total of 45 minutes to get to Merida. Merida is the hammock capital of Mexico; this would be the place to buy an authentic one to take home. Check out this top-rated shore excursion to Merida.
Walk The Malecon
Walking the Malecon is a great way to get a feel for the region. There are numerous places to eat or get a drink. Shops also line this area and you will have many opportunities to pick up a souvenir.
Check out this video of a walk down the Malecon:
Swim in the Cenotes
One of Mexico’s unique natural wonders are the cenotes which are giant limestone sinkholes which fill with crystal-clear water, with Cuzama being the most well-known closest to Progreso. The caves produced are filled with stalactites and stalagmites and offer a one-of-a-kind swimming experience. If you go to Cuzama, you’ll need to be able to climb ladders down to the swimming hole, so it’s best if you take a tour. Check this one out!
There is just one beach in Progreso but you can do a lot besides swimming. You will be able to rent a jet ski, kayak or go kiteboarding. If you are in need of a massage, just look for one of the many tents set up along the beach. The beach is just a five minute walk from where the shuttle bus drops you off.
Parque Natural Ría Lagartos
About 30 miles away, is home to hundreds of flamingos. They gather in this biosphere reserve and around the lakes. They are a sight to behold!
The Pink Lakes Of Las Colorades
These vibrant pink waters are the real deal. While it is a distance, about three hours, it is worth knowing about in case you have the opportunity to visit. Swimming is not allowed, but they are beautiful to see. The pink color is created from red-colored algae, plankton and brine shrimp who love the salty water as a habitat.
Top Tours & Excursions In Progreso – Yucatan Mexico
Travel inland from the port in Progreso to Merida and discover the slow pace of a small community untouched by over commercialization. For a true and authentic taste of Mexico, step into the home of Sofia, a local with a passion for sharing her cooking, culture and traditions. You will work side by side with her in her own kitchen as she teaches you how to make traditional Yucatecan dishes from scratch (menu may vary). Once all the dishes a...
- Duration: 4.5 Hours
- Activity Level: Easy
- Wheelchair Accessibility: No
- Food: Meal Included
Learn all about Mayan history on this fun Progreso expedition. Your Progreso tour takes you to Xcambo, a Mayan city known for its combination of curious ruins and springs. During your 3.5-hour tour, your guide will show you all around this beautiful Mayan city. Xcambo dates back to 150 BC and it served as a critical port for the nearby Mayan city of Izamal. The city was also known for its handcraft production and its role as a salt distributor...
- Duration: 3.5 Hours
- Activity Level: Easy
- Wheelchair Accessibility: No
- Food: Lunch provided
Your journey begins with a scenic two-hour ride that lets you sit back and enjoy the changing scenes of Mexico's beautiful landscapes before arriving at Chichen Itza. Considered to be one of the best Mayan archaeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula; a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chichen Itza's El Castillo was named one of the New Seven Wonders of World in 2007 after a worldwide vote. Upon your arrival, your English-speaking guide will inform ...
- Duration: 6 Hours
- Activity Level: Moderate
- Wheelchair Accessibility: Folding wheelchairs (advance notice required)
- Food: Bottled water and light snack provided