Most travelers to Mexico have never heard of the town of Progreso. Or if they have, it’s not a town that warrants much interest in visiting. But did you know there are actually a lot of things to do in Progreso for kids and adults?
Since first coming to Mexico in 2018, our family has fallen in love with the country. We’ve enjoyed exploring the bustling cities of Mexico City and Guadalajara. And we’ve also loved seeing the wonderful nature of Mexico, from sea turtles in Puerto Escondido to whale sharks in La Paz. This time, we’re exploring the Yucatán peninsula, and discovering all the fun things to do in Progreso that families can enjoy!
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Where is Progreso, Mexico?
Progreso is a small city in Mexico on the northern coast of the Yucatán peninsula. With a population of around 37,000 people, Progreso is primarily a port town. The main industry in Progreso is fishing, as well cargo shipping.
In recent years, however, Progreso has become a stop for cruise ships. Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruises stop at Progreso. The city boasts a pier that is 6.5 km (4.1 mile) long. It’s not quite as developed as popular cruise stops like Cancun or Playa del Carmen, but I’m sure once the pandemic goes away and cruise tourism resumes, there will be more cruise companies added to this list.
But Progreso is more than just a cruise ship port town. And it’s more than just a gateway to the rest of the Yucatán peninsula. It’s a destination in its own right! There are plenty of things to do in Progreso for families that warrant more than just an afternoon’s stay or a drive through.
Planning your trip to Progreso
The best time of year to visit Progreso is from mid-October to mid-March, when the weather is not sweltering hot. The coldest months are December and January. But even during those months, you can still enjoy plenty of warm beach days from time to time.
To really enjoy the city, plan to stay at least a week. If you’re pressed for time, you can plan for one or two days. But be sure to reserve some time for beach play. We stayed in Progreso for a month, and it gave us plenty of time to explore the city and enjoy the beach.
Getting to Progreso
As I mentioned earlier, Progreso is a cruise ship port for Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruises. But if you’re coming to Mexico by air, the nearest international airport is located in Mérida. This airport also serves domestic destinations too.
If you’re planning to drive a car in Mexico, you can get to Progreso via Mérida as well. And if you’re traveling by bus from elsewhere in Mexico, you’ll need to get a bus into Mérida. From there, you can hire a taxi to take you to Progreso.
Getting around Progreso
While in Progreso, it’s fairly easy to walk around the city. The city is very safe. The streets have sidewalks, and some streets, like the Callejón del Amor (on Calle 23), is specifically for pedestrians. If you stay close to Centro (the center of the city) or the Malecón (the beachside boardwalk), you’ll have access to plenty of restaurants.
There are no Ubers in Progreso, but there are taxis that are available. For families, however, I suggest renting a car. Having access to a car allows you to easily explore all the things to do in Progreso, and makes excursions outside the city easier as well. We rented our car in Mérida through Yucatán Vacations.
COVID-19 specific information for Progreso
As of the time of this writing, COVID-19 protocols for Yucatán state, where Progreso is located, requires everyone to wear masks in public. Grocery stores and convenience stores allow only one member of a household (adults only) to enter. Restaurants are open, but will take your temperature and have you use antibacterial gel. Some museums, like the Faro de Progreso, were temporarily closed when we visited.
The government of Mexico uses a traffic light system to classify the COVID-19 precautions in each state, with red signifying “stay at home at all times” and green signifying “you can go out, but take precautions”. At the time of this writing, Yucatán state is listed as yellow. Check the Mexican government’s COVID-19 page to see the status of Yucatán state when you decide to visit.
Other things to know before you go
As in most parts of the Yucatán peninsula, many people in Progreso have Mayan heritage. This means you’ll have a chance to experience Mayan culture through dishes like cochinita pibil (pork that has been slow cooked underground) or pavo relleno negro (turkey that’s been slow cooked underground in a pumpkin seed-based broth).
Additionally, if you’re having trouble finding housing within the city, try looking outside the city in towns like Chelem or Chuburná. While it requires renting a car, you’ll be able to rent some nice beachfront places at fairly affordable prices. Progreso tends to be a popular spot for retirees and snowbirds who want to avoid the crowds of Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
Before you book your trip to Progreso, take a look at my other tips about traveling in the Yucatán peninsula.
Things to do in Progreso for families
The selection of things to do in Progreso for families is vast. Families can enjoy a beach day, explore nature, and even learn some history too! It’s a great worldschooling destination for families because of its variety of activities available.
Progreso offers activities for active families, and also has low key options for families who just want to relax. Take a look at some of the interesting things families can do during their visit to Progreso.
1. Spend a day at the beach
Progreso’s proximity to the beach is one of the many draws of this town. Since the town is located along the Gulf of California, you won’t find surfing beaches in Progreso. However, families can still spend a day playing in the waves.
The Malecón borders the main beach in Progreso. So you can spend an afternoon at the beach, and then head over to the restaurants along the Malecón for dinner. As with any public space in Mexico, you’ll find hawkers walking along the beach selling things like snacks, fruit, or bracelets.
2. Hang out at the Malecón
Progreso’s beachfront boardwalk runs from corner of Calle 19 and Calle 80, and ends at Calle 60. The paved boardwalk is wide, so there’s plenty of room for families to stroll and enjoy the ocean views.
Along the Malecón, you’ll find a large selection of restaurants, many of them selling seafood. The prices will be fairly inflated, due to the location. But if you want dining with a beach view, then this is the spot.
You’ll also find many street vendors selling a local snack called marquesitas. These are crunchy crepe-like rolls filled with a sweet or savory filling of your choice.
3. Walk through the Municipal Market
Public markets are integral to daily life in Mexican culture. Many Mexican families still use markets each day to purchase their ingredients for their daily meals. So if you want to catch a glimpse of day to day life in Progreso, then a visit to the Municipal Market is a must. The market is just three blocks away from the Malecón.
At the market, you’ll find fresh produce and general sundries. You’ll also find food stalls, known as loncherías, selling local dishes. If you’re looking for a cheap lunch place, then the Municipal Market is a good option.
4. Kayak through the mangroves (La Ria Progreso)
For families looking for low key water activities, renting kayaks with La Ria Progreso is a must! La Ria Progreso is located along Calle 37, east of highway 261. The dock leads into the mangrove forest, located southwest of Progreso.
Families can rent kayaks to explore the mangroves. Kayak rentals are hourly, at 100 pesos for singles and 200 pesos for doubles. Families can also rent paddleboards for 250 pesos per hour. Life jackets are available for adults and kids of all sizes.
Keep in mind, the mangroves can be full of mosquitoes, depending on the time of year. We like using Deet free insect repellent. We’ve also used Deet free bug repellent bands with our kids. They come in fun colors, so the kids can pretend they’re superheroes with powerful arm bands!
5. Experience water-based things to do in Progreso with AlphaSports
Another option for paddleboarding in Progreso is through AlphaSports. Located on Calle 29, between Calle 132 and Calle 128, AlphaSports offers paddleboarding tours and rentals. They also offer kiteboarding classes at 1,000 pesos per hour per person.
For those renting paddleboards, rentals start at 300 pesos per hour. AlphaSports also offers delivery to your home for 500 pesos for the whole day. If you’re staying on a beachfront property, this is a good option, as it allows families to enjoy paddleboarding for a whole afternoon.
6. Visit Reserva Ecológica El Corchito
To the south of Progreso is Reserva Ecológica El Corchito. The highlight of El Corchito are the cenotes that are available for swimming. Cenotes are sinkholes in limestone bedrock that are filled with fresh water. These natural pools can be found all over the Yucatán peninsula. During Mayan times, they were used for sources of drinking water.
There are three main cenotes at El Corchito, ranging from less than 1 meter (around 3 feet) deep to over 2 meters deep (around 6 feet). There is also a small cenote, roughly 2 meters (6 feet) in diameter that is exclusively for dipping your feet in. The fish in this particular cenote like to nibble the dead skin off your feet!
Reserva Ecológica El Corchito is open every day, from 9am to 4pm. The entrance to the reserve is located on Calle 27, near the roundabout on Calle 46. From the entrance, you take a boat across the estuary into the reserve. Admission to El Corchito costs 90 pesos for adults, and 35 pesos for children.
Excursions from Progreso
If you’re looking for more things to do in Progreso, why not take an excursion. Progreso is just a short drive from archaeological sites, big cities, and nature reserves. These excursions offers families a chance to explore the Yucatán peninsula more, and gives a nice alternative to beach day.
Here are a few Progreso excursion that you can book on Viator:
If none of the tours above interest you, or you are more interested in exploring on your own without a guide, take a look at my excursion suggestions below.
7. Visit Zona Arqueológica de Dzibilchaltun
Families don’t have to travel all the way to Chichen Itza to learn about Mayan history. Zona Arqueológica Dzibilchaltun, located just 25 kilometers south of Progreso, is a convenient place to learn about the history of the Mayans.
Dating from as early as the late Precalssical period of Mayan history to the late Postclassical period, the main feature of the ruins complex is the Temple of the Seven Dolls. The Dzibilchaltun Museum, located near the ruin entrance, offers exhibits to help visitors learn more about the complex. There is also a cenote, called Cenote Xlacah, that visitors can visit during the weekdays.
Dzibilchaltun is open for visitors every day of the week from 8:30 or 9 am to 4 pm. Entrance to Dzibilchaltun is 231 pesos for foreigner adults, and 75 pesos for kids. During your visit to Dzibilchaltun and other Mayan historical sites, remember to be responsible and respectful of the site, and follow the posted rules.
8. Visit Zona Arqueológica Xcambo
Another Mayan ruins complex worth visiting is Zona Arqueológica Xcambo. Located less than 30 minutes away from Progreso, Xcambo was a former commercial port city within the Mayan empire.
Within the complex, you’ll see several pyramid structures surrounding an open space. Xcambo is open every day from 8am to 5pm. The fee for Xcambo is 75 pesos per adult. Children under 13 are free.
9. Laguna Rosada and Salt Ponds
Near the Xcambo site is Laguna Rosada and the Salt Ponds. Laguna Rosada gets its name from the red hue of its waters. This red coloring comes from the algae that live in the lagoon.
You can rent kayaks to explore the mangroves at Laguna Rosada through Reserva Ecológica Sayalchaltun. Or you can take a guided boat tour of the lake. Rates start from 100 pesos per hour. The reserve is open every day from 7am to 4pm.
Alternatively, you can take a visit to the traditional salt ponds of Laguna Rosada. Workers harvest pink salt from shallow pools fed from the lake. You can purchase a package of locally harvested Mexican pink salt for 10 pesos a package.
10. Take a break from things to do in Progreso with a beach day in Chuburná
On the other side of Progreso, to the west, are the beach towns of Chelem and Chuburná. These towns each have populations of less than 2,000 people. But they are popular spots for beach excursions from Progreso. Chuburná, especially, has a nice secluded beach, with calm waters.
To get to the beach at Chuburná, just continue west until you reach the end of the road. It’s about a twenty five minute drive from Progreso. The beach is public access, and there is no fee to enter. Just remember to bring snacks, as there are no vendors at the beach.
11. Take a day trip to Mérida
For a taste of history and culture, as you’re thinking of things to do in Progreso, head south to the city of Mérida. Just a 30 or 40 minute drive from Progreso, Mérida has no shortage of activities for families.
A city of over 600,000 people, Mérida has a large selection of restaurants, parks, and museums for families to visit. There are also several neighborhood markets and shopping malls to visit, so you can experience both traditional and modern Mexican culture. Getting to Mérida is easy via highway 261.
If you have a big appetite and are in the mood for a little walking, be sure to book this Mérida street food walking tour.
12. See flamingos at Celestún
Another exciting excursion to take from Progreso is a visit to Celestún, on the western coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. A visit to the Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Celestún will give you the chance to see wild flamingos!
Celestún is about an hour and a half drive from Progreso. Just after you cross the bridge to enter the town of Celestún on highway 281, you’ll see a tourist stop where you can rent boats to explore the estuary and see the flamingos. Boat rentals cost 1,800 peso and come with a guide.
The boat ride takes you around the estuary, to give you an up close and personal view of the flamingos. Like Laguna Rosada near Progreso, the estuary near Celestún is filled with red algae that makes the water look pink. This is also what gives the flamingos their bright pink hue. We loved seeing these magnificent birds in person and in the wild!
Did you know there are many more amazing places to visit in Mexico? Check out my other posts about traveling to Mexico with kids.
Taking time to enjoy all the things to do in Progreso
As I mentioned before, Progreso is more than just a pass-through town. It’s a bonafide tourist destination! During our visit to Progreso, we filled our time with so many things to do in Progreso! Though the city is small, it’s packed with family-friendly activities that will make your stay worthwhile.
Our family spent a month in the Progreso area. But even if you don’t have that much time to spend on your vacations, you can still enjoy a visit to Progreso. Pick your favorites from this list of things to do in Progreso and start planning your own family trip. And don’t forget to enjoy the beach!
Have you visited Progreso, Mexico? What were your favorite things to do in Progreso? Share your experiences in the comments below.
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Are you struggling to keep your travel planning and preparation organized? My Overseas Family Vacation Travel Prep Checklist is just the tool you need! Click here to receive your free copy by signing up for my newsletter.