If you visit Merida, Mexico, you’ll probably want some excursions. Here are some great things to do around Progreso – the closest beach town to Merida. Getting to Progreso is rather easy. Just go to the Auto Progreso bus station two streets south of Merida’s central park (across from the cathedral). The bus is only 21 pesos ($1). You can also jump on the bus along its route, but it’s almost full. Or you can drive. The cities are only about 45 minutes apart.
Manglar de San Crisanto
Despite the Yucatan Peninsula having over 10,000 cenotes, there don’t seem to be any very close to Progreso – at least none with public access. However, if you head 30 miles east to the village of San Crisanto, there’s a very fun excursion. A few feet down the road that heads out of town to the south is the Manglar de San Crisanto. Manglar means mangrove swamp, and this one is as cool as it gets.
Tickets are 80 pesos ($4) per person. Walk to the boat launch where a pole boat will take you a mile along a beautiful, fresh-water stream through the swamp to a small cenote.
As far as cenotes go, this one is a bit anti-climatic. It’s only about 20 feet in diameter, with a small hole in the ground that goes down maybe 15 feet. But the setting is gorgeous, the water is crystal clear, and at this time in 2021, there’s a good chance you’ll be the only one there. Current restrictions strictly limit the number of tourists each day that can go to the cenote, possibly by as much as 90%!
The full excursion takes about an hour, depending on how long you spend at the cenote. Just make sure you coat absolutely every inch of yourself with mosquito repellent. The swamp is infested more than any other place I’ve ever been. Even with repellent on, I walked away with well over 100 bites on every part of my body.
Xcambó Mayan Ruins
Halfway back to Progreso is the archeological site of Xcambó. This was an ancient Mayan market. If you have a tour guide, he’ll describe each of the buildings, There are a lot of interesting features, such as the pits which served as ancient fridges for curing meat, the platform where the priest started each market day, and the “prison temple” where thieves and adulterers were kept before they were killed – either by evisceration or suffocation by habanero peppers.
You’re allowed to climb to the top of the pyramids, even though they’re nothing compared to the Chichen Itza world wonder, or Teotihuacan in Mexico City. The ruins aren’t that extensive, and you’ll probably be done exploring them in less than an hour. The entrance fee is 75 pesos ($3.75), which certainly is cheaper than Chichen Itza ($25 per person).
Just a couple minutes away from Xcambó is Salinas Rosas, aka the pink salt flats. Just as a heads up, these are the pinkest around September. When we went, the water had the barest pinkish tinge. Still, it’s nice to bathe in the water, exfoliate with the mud, and pick up a 2-pound pack of rock salt for 10 pesos ($0.50). If you want to see some really fascinating pink salt lakes, head to Los Coloradas…but that’s a 3-hour drive from Merida.
Finally, if you’re going to visit Progreso from Merida, you obviously need to spend some time at the beach. Progreso is located on the Gulf of Mexico on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula and thus is protected from most of the sargasso (seaweed) that make the beaches in Quintana Roo so uncomfortable. The water is slightly cooler, and it’s shallow enough for wading. The beach is miles long, and there are several different parts you can visit. Due to time constraints, I stayed by the Malecon (pier), but that was nice enough.
True, there aren’t that many things to do around Progreso. You could easily hit them all in a single-day tour. If you have more time, there are plenty of other major attractions within a couple hours of Merida, but I’ll write about those later.