Tanner Callais is the founder of Cruzely.com; having grown up on the coast and sailing on everything from a 50′ pleasure craft to the new Carnival Horizon, Mr. Callais has drawn on his experience to write hundreds of articles about every aspect of cruising. He has been quoted in The Washington Post, USAToday, and CBSNews, along with dozens of publications and websites. Two days ago, Tanner Callais came up with an extraordinary piece on our beloved Port of Progreso.
Not long ago, Progreso was a sleepy port town with one claim to fame — one of the longest piers in the world. Its famous pier juts miles out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, Progreso still has a lot of that sleepy charm, but it has another claim to fame. It’s quickly becoming a popular port of call for cruise lines. Not only is there plenty for cruise passengers to do, but the city it also has something else going for it — location.
Progreso sits on the northern edge of the Yucatan Peninsula. That location makes it one of the closest ports of call for places like Galveston, New Orleans, and Mobile. Instead of a cruise line sailing a day, visiting Cozumel, and then sailing back home, Progreso adds another port that passengers can visit.
Today you’ll find that Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian all makes stops in the port, with Carnival by far having the most calls.
If your cruise has a stop in Progreso, you might be wondering what exactly there is for you to do on your cruise. Below we cover all the things you can do, whether you’re looking for something inexpensive, close to the cruise pier, or simply the biggest adventure possible.
First, let’s cover a little background about the port you should know.
Progreso Location and General Information
As we mentioned, Progreso sits on the Yucatan Peninsula. All told, it’s about 200 miles as the crow flies from Cozumel, so many cruises have these ports back-to-back.
The most distinguishing feature of the city is the long pier. When you dock, you are still miles from the shore. There is a small port complex that features a number of shops, as well as a bar area.
Want to head into town? After you walk through the port complex there is a spot with buses that run continually from the cruise pier into Progreso. It’s free to ride. The bus heads to the station that’s a few blocks from the beach. When you’re ready to head back, just head back to the station and catch the next bus to the cruise ship.
Overall Progreso is relatively relaxed compared to the hustle and bustle you’ll find in Cozumel. With fewer cruise ships visiting — and not being a major cruise port for a long time — the build-up of the area isn’t as pronounced as you’ll find in Cozumel.
That said, expect it to feel like there are a lot of people in port when you visit if you stick to the tourist areas like the beach and boardwalk. However, just a couple of blocks off the main hot spots and you can see that it’s a fairly quiet town.
Things to Do in Progreso Near the Cruise Pier
Want to stay near the cruise pier? There are quite a few things to do nearby. You don’t have to go far to have a good time.
With any cruise port in the Caribbean, you’d expect to have a beach nearby to allow you to get some sun, swim, and generally just hang out. Progreso doesn’t disappoint.
As you head down the cruise pier, the main beach that most cruise passengers head to on is on your right. It’s’ white, sandy, clean, and during our visits the water has been gorgeous.
Right alongside the beach is a nice walkway — a malencon in Spanish-speaking countries — that lets you walk the beach and head into the sand where you want.
Feel free to find an open area and spread out your things. One thing you’ll notice is that there are lots of restaurants in this area and many have areas set up in the sand where you can get food and drink service while on the beach.
You’ll also notice a number of chairs and umbrellas set nicely in the sand. Just know that these are either for rent, or for the use of restaurants. If you sit here, you’re expected to order for the restaurant while you enjoy the chair and shade.
If you want to shop for souvenirs, then the area right near the cruise pier is ideal. Don’t think you’re going to find all the high-end diamond shops like you’ll see in places like Cozumel. Vendors here are smaller; often it’s just someone setup with a table and a tent.
You’ll find a wide variety of items, everything from clothing to bags, to jewelry, and anything you can imagine with “Mexico” written across it.
Our advice is to bring lots of small bills as you’ll need them. Having correct change is ideal. As well, haggling is perfectly ok. If you can’t find a price you like, don’t be afraid to ask for a lower one or walk away.
Hit the Bars
The walk between the bus stop and the beach and then down the malencon has a number of small bars and restaurants, many offering lots of drink specials. Want a beer? Expect it to cost a couple of bucks at some of the smaller spots.
One thing to keep in mind is that drinking in port is vastly cheaper than drinking on the cruise ships. If you have a drink package, then by all means get your fill on the ship. For those without, you can save considerable money. A beer on the ship may be $6-8 and a cocktail can be $10-12. That’s several times what you’ll pay in Progreso if you decide to make a stop at the bar.
Grab a Meal at a Restaurant
Near the port are tons of restaurants offering everything from cheap eats to high-end dining. What’s nice about eating in port is that it can offer a welcome break from the fare on the cruise ship. Even if you love eating on the ship, having the same things day after day can get tiresome.
As for the food near the Progreso pier, you’ll find lots of Mexican fare, often with a focus on seafood. So if you want guacamole or fish tacos, you’ll find several places offering these items.
Keep in mind that restaurants near the cruise pier are going to cater to American passengers, so you might find higher prices than you would elsewhere.
Here are a few spots near the port with good reviews:
Eladios – A popular beach bar that’s right on the corner of the beach and the cruise pier. Serves a ton of Mexican and seafood dishes.
Milk Bar & Kitchen – Down the Malecon next to the beach, Milk serves up an eclectic mix of meals ranging from pasta to burgers to sausages. Did we mention cold beer and great reviews?
Lena & Mar – For those wanting a little finer dining, this spot is near the beach but is a step above a beach bar in atmosphere. It serves everything from pizza to ceviche, so anyone can find something they like.
Walk the Malecon
We’ve mentioned the malecon already, but it deserves a standalone mention as something to do near the cruise port. The concrete paved walkway runs right down alongside the beach. On the other side is a street, with restaurants and shops.
What’s neat about the area is that there is so much going on. You can watch people playing volleyball on the beach, check out vendor’s tables alongside the walkway, duck into a restaurant for a beer or snack, or just take in the sights and sounds of Mexico.
One thing to keep in mind is that it can get warm and humid, and the sun can be strong. Be sure to stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and don’t forget a hat when you’re walking.
Cheap Things to Do in Progreso for Cruise Passengers
Looking to save some money during your visit? Progreso is a great place to do that. We’ve covered several options above, which are also some of the cheaper things you can do.
Head to the Bar at the Port
You likely won’t realize it is there when you first arrive, but by the afternoon you will no doubt hear the bar next to the cruise ship. The bar has some palapas, swimming pools, and cheap drink specials.
The bar is a fantastic spot to have a cold drink or two without having to spend a lot — or venture far from the ship. Come afternoon the music cranks up a bit and it turns into a jumping spot to enjoy some sun with your fellow passengers before getting back on the ship.
Hang Out on the Beach
We’ve mentioned Progreso’s beach and for good reason — it’s wide, white, and gorgeous. Best of all? It’s easily accessible once you get off of the cruise shuttle and is only a few minutes walk.
The beach is free to everyone, although if you want to use one of the umbrellas or chairs that are setup, then expect to pay a few bucks (or order some food/drinks from the restaurant that put them out).
Don’t want to pay? No worries — just set your towel down in an open spot.
Enjoy Quiet Time on the Ship
While it’s technically not Progreso, one of the cheap things you can do is spend your day on the ship. While there aren’t as many activities led by the crew like there are on days at sea, things like the pool, spa, fitness center, and more are all available to you. There are also a number of places to eat onboard, depending on your ship.
Many people like to stay on the ship in ports of call as it gives them an opportunity to enjoy the ship without the same crowds that are around when everyone is back on board.
Tere are some neat excursions and experiences that can take you inland where there are a number of unforgettable experiences.
The Yucatan is made of porous rock that in some spots has been eroded away. Some of these spots become freshwater pools known as cenotes.
Cenotes are one of the most unique geological features in the Caribbean. The water has been filtered through rock, making it amazingly clear. And because it’s been underground for so long, it’s always cool.
There are a number of excursions offered through the cruise line that will offer trips to nearby cenotes from Progreso. The trips will include transportation and usually have lunch as well.
Trips to Merida
Merida is the capital of Yucatan, and just about 45 minutes inland of Progreso. With a population of nearly 1 million people, it’s a major city. So why visit during a cruise?
For those interested in Mexican history and architecture, Merida has a lot to offer. The city was founded in 1542 — about 235 years before the United States. With so much history, it practically oozes from the buildings. See churches built hundreds of years ago, museums, and art galleries.
The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (The Museum of the Mayan World) is a can’t miss if you are interested in the history of the indigenous people.
Excursions to the area are available through the cruise line or you can arrange private tours yourself.
If there was a single thing we’d suggest that visitors do in Progreso when they visit, it would be to go visit some of the Mayan ruins.
The Yucatan was a hot spot for Mayan civilization, and ruins continue to be discovered even today. For those interested, there are a number of sites within a day trip from Progreso, and the cruise lines offer excursions. Major sites like Uxmal and Chichen Itza are within a few hours drive, giving you a chance to see some of the most historical sights on the planet.
Best of all, these trips take care of transportation, tour guide, and admittance into the sites. You only need to worry about bringing your camera.