By Nancy Schretter
Located on the shores of Mexico’s Gulf coast, Progreso is often found on shorter Western Caribbean itineraries. The port is also used as a substitute stop when hurricanes and mechanical issues necessitate itinerary changes. So, what’s there to do in Progreso? Don’t let the size or appearance of this town fool you – there’s plenty to do in this port. Here are ten of my favorites:
1. Tour Chichen Itza: This important archeological site is listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Once the home of the great Mayan Empire, this legendary city’s grounds and structures are both visually and historically impressive. Chichen Itza is more than a two-hour bus ride from Progreso, but it’s well worth the trip. Here you can view the gigantic pyramid of Kulkulcan, see the well-preserved Mayan ball court, as well as the temple of the warriors and the observatory, where Mayan priests accurately calculated celestial events. On the occasional itineraries that include an overnight stay in Progreso, an afternoon and evening tour of Chichen Itza – complete with a nighttime light and sound show – may be available.
2. Discover Lesser-Known Mayan Sites: Cruisers with a strong interest in the Mayan civilization will appreciate Progreso’s proximity to a wide variety of Mayan cities and ceremonial centers. Those who have already visited Chichen Itza should check out tours to Uxmal and Dzibilchaltun. Uxmal is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the Mayan world. The site is famous for its beautifully carved facades, terraces, plazas and pyramids originating between 200 and 900 AD. Dzibilchaltun is one of the more important ceremonial centers of the Mayan world and is closer to the port of Progreso, making it a perfect option for those who want to see a Mayan site, but don’t want to take a full day tour.
3. Take a Beach Break: There are plenty of seaside beach clubs in Progreso offering chairs, food and drinks. Many cruise passengers also enjoy getting an inexpensive massage on the beach while they’re here. Massages range in price from $10 to $35 for an hour-long treatment. Those looking for something more exclusive may opt to take one of the many beach tours offered by the ship. These include trips to all-inclusive beach resorts, Corona Beach parties, and other options.
4. Explore Historic Merida: The lovely city of Merida was christened in 1542 and its Mayan and Spanish colonial roots are still in evidence. From colonial to cosmopolitan, Merida is a study in contrasts. Here, you’ll view the French-inspired Montejo’s Boulevard, the country’s National Monument, the 19th century Government Palace, as well as the Cathedral, built in 1774 from stones that were once part of the pyramid of Xbacluum-Chan. Opportunities to shop in stores surrounding Merida’s main plaza and other areas are also included.
5. Hone Your Bargaining Skills: Downtown Progreso is home to a small colorful market where cruisers can buy casual jewelry, t-shirts, and inexpensive souvenirs. There are stores on the way to the beach in Progresso. More are located in the main pier area where the cruise ships dock. Based on our experience, prices in Progreso are lower than those in Merida and Cozumel for similar merchandise. Selection, however, is rather limited.
6. Kayak Through the Mangroves: Cruisers looking for a peaceful activity can take a kayak tour through the mangrove lagoons around Progreso. These natural settings are a nesting place for local birds and the natural tunnels in the mangroves are fun to explore. Tours to view the native flamingos in an area near Progreso are also typically offered through the cruise ship and by private vendors in town.
7. Hit Some Balls: Play the 18-hole championship El Jaguar course at the Yucatan Country Club. This Jack Nicklaus Signature Course features lakes and natural cenotes in a tropical jungle setting. This course works well for a range of golfers, as five sets of tees provide play of anywhere between 5,000 to 7,253 yards.
8. Learn Something New: Those seeking a Mexican cultural experience can take a cooking class in Merida and learn how to make authentic Mexican salsas and guacamole using local fresh ingredients. Complimentary margaritas and Mexican beers complete the tasting experience. Then, perfect your dancing skills by learning the Salsa, one of the most popular Latin dances. The many Mayan site tours also teach guests a great deal about the Mayan culture and the history of the Yucatan peninsula.
9. Hop in a Dune Buggy: Load three of your friends into your stick-shift dune buggy and drive about 45 minutes to the Xcambo ruins, built over 2,000 years ago. Then drive for an hour to a beach where you can relax and take a refreshing swim in the ocean.
10. Cool Off in a Cenote: Cenotes, large natural pools located in the open or inside limestone caves, are quite common on the Yucatan peninsula. During your visit to Progreso, you may have the opportunity to take a dip in one. Sometimes cenote swims are combined with other activities, such as biking. Purification ceremonies presided over by a Mayan Shaman may be held as part of selected tours.
Progreso has the longest cruise ship pier in the world at about 4 miles in length. Free shuttle buses run on a regular basis from the pier to downtown Progreso. From the drop-off area where the market is located, it’s a few-minute walk to the beach. Rest rooms are available in the marketplace building and a number of restaurants are located nearby.
Want to get to Progreso? Several Carnival ships include Progreso in their itineraries from Gulf Coast home ports such as Galveston and New Orleans. Check with your travel agent or visit the Carnival website at https://www.carnival.com for more details.
Nancy Schretter is Managing Editor of the award-winning Family Travel Network.