Progreso – Yucatan Mexico

progreso yucatan

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. 

map of Yucatan peninsula with the island of Cozumel on the mid-right of the peninsula, and Progreso, circled in yellow, on the upper left of the peninsula.

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.

Aerial view of the beach and town. The beach is lined with small thatched-roofed huts. The town is crowded with buildings.

Credit: featherandthewind.com

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. 

Looking from shore at the 4 mile long Progreso pier as it curves to the left and fades into the distance. You can see cargo cranes in the far distance at the end of the pier.

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.

Looking from the ground up at a tall, white lighthouse against a blue sky with wispy white clouds.

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. 

Weather:

The summers in Progreso are hot and oppressive with lots of cloudy days. The winters tend to be short and days are warm, muggy and dry. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 68°F to 91°F and is rarely below 61°F or above 95°F. From December to March, “los nortes” (northern winds) are strong along the coast.

Currency:

The Mexican peso is the currency used in Progreso. The nearest ATM is in town itself, which is about a 15 minute bus ride. Most of the taxis and vendors will accept US dollars, but you will get change back in pesos. The larger stores and restaurants accept credit cards, but cash is usually the preferred method of payment. It is good to ask beforehand in any establishment you are in what form of payment is accepted. Check exchange rates here: https://www.xe.com/

Wireless Internet:

There are a couple of bars in the cruise port terminal that offer free Wifi, but only for customers, so not really free.  The bus station in Progreso does have free WiFi.

Languages:

Spanish is the language spoken in Progreso. You will find that some vendors will have a smattering of English.

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. 

Cruise ship terminal view form the ship. The strip of land is narrow with water visible on both sides. A round building painted colorfully is in the center with a few tables and umbrellas, indicating an eating area. A larger building is directly behind, with access to the road leading down the pier to the shore.

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

Walking

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.

Buses

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. 

Taxis

There are taxis that wait close to the shuttle bus stop at the public bus terminal. There is also Uber in Progreso.

Rental Cars

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:

 Yucatan Vacations

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!

Textiles 

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. 

Pottery 

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.

Store with wooden shelves in background filled with ceramic statues and pottery in muted colors. Table in foreground in covered in colorfully painted ceramics - bowls, vases, skeleton statues and pitchers.

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.