Taking a short cruise from Galveston or New Orleans? Then the chances are high that you’ll be making a stop in Progreso, Mexico.
A port city on the northern side of the Yucatan Peninsula, Progreso started welcoming cruise ships a few years ago. The increase in foreign tourists is slowing transforming the city and its facilities, but if you’re looking for a taste of real Mexico, Progreso is your best bet among cruise ports.
In fact, cruise passengers expecting a port similar to Cozumel — well known for its large resorts and catering to American tourists — should know that Progreso is very different. It still has a rustic “old Mexico” feel. The unique setting, however, can make Progreso one of the most interesting ports of call to visit.
From the world’s longest pier to stellar beaches to being a gateway to Mayan ruins, the port offers plenty to experience while still serving up authentic Mexican culture.
Arriving in Progreso
You’d be forgiven if upon reaching Progreso you weren’t sure you were actually there. While some cruise ports may sit offshore and tender passengers into the port, other ports are simply docks that sit just a few hundred yards from the shore.
Progreso isn’t like either of those. The pier where the cruise ship docks is famous for being the longest in the world at approximately four miles long. That means once your cruise ship docks, you’re still quite a ways from the actual city. Luckily, there is a shuttle that will take you back and forth from the cruise ship to the city for free.
As you exit the ship, you will make your way through a small market with vendors selling all sorts of souvenirs and chotskies. After leaving the market, you’ll see the sign for the free shuttle, which is provided by a tour company in Progreso.
The sign says that the shuttle leaves every 20 minutes. We found that shuttles run more frequently in the morning when the ship first arrives and passengers make their way into town.
Once on the bus, it’s about a 10-15 minute ride into town. Once you arrive, you’ll be at a small bus station run by the tour company providing the ride. Be warned, this spot can get pretty busy on cruise day. With vendors selling their wares and thousands of tourists coming off the ship, it will be hectic. While the exits aren’t clearly marked, simply follow the crowd to make your way out to the street.
One thing you should be prepared for is for vendors to be asking you at every turn to take a look at their shops. If you aren’t used to it, this can be a overwhelming. If you aren’t interested, just give a polite “no thank you” and keep moving.
If you plan to head to the beach (the main attraction in Progreso) it’s a short walk from the bus station. Here’s a map:
While most cruise passengers aren’t sure what they should do when visiting the port, Progreso’s beaches are a gem. The city has a malecon (a broad walkway next to the beach) that offers white-sand beaches and turquoise water on one side and a number of restaurants on the other.
Beaches are usually a hub of activity with cruise ship passengers, locals, and visitors from Merida all converging to enjoy the beauty. Many restaurants offer loungers and umbrellas on the beach that you can use for free as long as you order food or drinks.
The beaches are definitely a playground. With a wide expanse of sand you’ll likely see volleyball or soccer games being played, sunbathers, swimmers, and vendors. Beaches in Mexico are free for the public to use and you can setup anywhere you like. There are no areas that are for restaurant customers only (although loungers and umbrellas will be for customers only).
If you simply want to spend a day on the beach, Progreso is a great place to do that. One piece of advice is to head farther down the beach if you’re looking for a less crowded area to spend the day. The area right next to the pier can get busy.
Looking for a place to eat? The area right at the beach is filled with restaurants, most serving some mix of Mexican food and seafood. Here are a few popular restaurants right at the beach:
Like many other spots in Progreso, this is an open-air bar/restaurant right on the main boulevard and across from the beach. Los Henequenes serves all sorts of seafood and Tex-Mex, but most visitors seem enamored with the lobster. Expect to pay about $15 per person, but it is cheaper if you can spend pesos.
What makes this restaurant one of the highest rated in the area? Maybe it’s the food, which offers up fresh seafood and tasty drinks. Maybe it’s the atmosphere, which includes shaded booths in the shadow of a replica Mayan temple. Or maybe it’s the fact that it has a pool running through the middle of the seating area for guests to cool off! No matter, this is the most unique restaurant in Progeso and a can’t miss.
According to TripAdvisor, this is the #1 rated restaurant in Progreso. It may be because it’s a welcome change from the seafood served everywhere else. At Milk Bar you will still find seafood, but they are well-known for their burgers and sandwiches. They are also the best place in town for vegans and vegetarians. Also, be sure to try a shake or a malt before you leave town.
Want to read more about restaurants in Progreso? See our list of places to eat near the cruise pier.
Excursions from Progreso
What if you don’t want to go to the beach? What other things are there to do when stopping in Progreso?
Mayan Ruin Tours
The Yucatan used to be a hive of activity among ancient Mayans. Today their former cities are fascinating to visit, giving a glimpse into the ancient cultures that lived there hundreds of years ago.
The ruins of Chichen Itza and Uxmal are both reachable from Progreso with cruise lines offering excursions. If you want to save some money, the tour company offering the shuttle from the cruise ship (AutoProgreso Tours) has trips to these sites for much less than the cruise excursion.
Never heard of a cenote (pronounced see-no-tay)? It’s a massive sinkhole that results from water eroding the limestone bedrock. The result is a huge pit that fills in with crystal clear freshwater from underground rivers. Cenotes aren’t just beautiful, they offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience to swim in some of the most amazing surroundings you can imagine.
The area around Progreso is filled with cenotes and there are a number of tours that offer a stop at one as part of the trip.
If you’re a fan of history, then a trip to Merida is just the thing. The city of roughly 1 million was founded by the Spanish in the 1500s and is just about 30 minutes from Progreso. From museums to old Spanish architecture (including ancient churches) to food, Merida is a fascinating city with a lot to see.
It is recommended that you take a tour guide to go to see the city. You’ll get a lot more from your visit and also have some help to avoid you from getting lost.
Getting Back to the Ship
Ready to head back to the ship after your visit? For that you will head back to the same station where the shuttle dropped you off to start your day. Be careful — the last shuttle leaves one hour before the ship leaves. We suggest giving yourself plenty of time to get back to the ship as the last few shuttles can be busy.
If you make it back in plenty of time and are still looking for a place to go instead of getting back on the ship, there is a bar right near the cruise pier and just steps away from the boat. The bar offers cheap drinks (especially compared to the cruise ship), thumping music and also has several pools you can relax in if you didn’t get enough beach time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is the shuttle pickup to go down the Progreso Pier and into town?
The free shuttle stop is at the end of the cruise port complex. To get there, you’ll want to follow the pathway through the duty-free area, as well as a number of shops and some small vendors selling drinks.
It may seem simple, but follow the crowd to get to the pickup spot. There you will see a sign and if you are leaving during the busy morning then you are sure to see the buses loading up.
The ride into town is free, and takes about 15 minutes.
Where do I go to catch the shuttle to go back to the ship?
When you arrive into town, you’ll be dropped off at a bus station. You’ll return here to get a ride back to the cruise ship. Keep in mind that the last bus leaves an hour before the ship departs — so be sure to get back to the bus station at least an hour an a half before your ship departs.
You don’t want to be stuck waiting on a bus because the other ones are full with people trying to make it back to the ship in time.
I don’t speak Spanish. Can I get around in Progreso on a cruise stop?
Don’t speak the local language? It’s not a big deal. As with other ports that cater to cruise ships coming from the United States, the locals in the tourist trade speak great English. Some small shopkeepers might speak broken English, but for the most part you won’t have any trouble getting around.
Have you been to Progreso? Are there things you’d suggest to other cruise passengers? Let us know in the comments below.