Pondering Progreso: 5 Things to Love

September 19, 2013 | By | 3 Comments

progreso yucatan costa maya
As Cruise Critic’s (relatively) new Destinations Editor, I’ve been spending lots of time reading our forums, looking to see what ports and regions inspire the most questions and concerns among our members. It soon became apparent that our members wanted more information about several popular ports in Mexico — Progreso and Costa Maya.
Progreso, in particular, seems to get a bad rap. Many members say they’d rather stay on the ship than explore this Yucatan Peninsula gateway on the Gulf of Mexico. But after spending a few days in the region and taking several shore excursions — including an independent one with passengers from Carnival Triumph — I found lots to love in this Mayan mecca. Here are a few of my favorites:

Cenotes. The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for cenotes: freshwater pools fed by underground springs. There’s no better way to beat the heat, particularly after touring an out-in-the-open Mayan ruin, than immersing yourself in the cool water. Some of them contain small fish, which you can view through a snorkel mask. While cenotes come in all shapes and sizes, I’m partial to the ones found in caves. When the light hits the water just right, it shimmers with an unearthly blue tint you won’t find anywhere else. Bliss.
• Shore Excursion possibilities: Carnival offers a biking and cenote adventure that costs $99.99; Princess, which will make one stop in the next year with Caribbean Princess, charges $89 for a similar sounding tour. Lawsons Original Yucatan Tours ($87 for Mayapan and hidden cenote tour; minimum six people. Other cenote tours available upon request). Note: At one time, you could take a trip to Cuzama that included three cenotes, but the villages are feuding, and those tours are no longer available.
Merida. If your only exposure to Mexican cities is the high-rises of Cancun, then you’re in for a treat. Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan, dates to 1542, and its main cathedral is the one of the oldest in the Americas. Despite a population of nearly 1 million, Merida has maintained its colonial architecture in the historic center, so you’ll find plenty of photogenic places to spice up your Instagram account. Grab a cafe con leche at a sidewalk cafe (Parque Santa Lucia has some particularly picturesque places), sit in one of the rounded, sculptural chairs on the Plaza Grande or go inside the Governor’s Palace to view murals, some graphic, depicting the region’s occasionally bloody history. When you get tired, hail a calesa — white, horse-drawn carriages decorated with flowers — and admire the city’s brightly colored facades.
• Shore Excursion possibilities: Carnival runs a city tour into Merida that costs $39.99 per person; Princess combines its Merida tour with a visit to a hacienda that’s now a rum distillery for the same price. Alternately, you can get your own transport to town via taxi or Autoprogreso, which costs $10. Autoprogreso also runs regular city buses between Progreso and Merida that are a steal at $1.50. I took one back from the beach and found it very prompt; the bus station in Merida is just two blocks from Plaza Grande.
progreso yucatan costa maya
Ruins. Most people have heard of Chichen Itza, the ancient Mayan metropolis that was declared one of the new seven wonders of the world in 2007. But what’s great about Progreso is you don’t have to travel two hours to get your archeological fix. While smaller sites such as Uxmal and Dzibilchaltun might not have as intricate carvings, they do boast fewer crowds, adding a sense of serenity to the experience. At Mayapan, you can feel like Indiana Jones by climbing the main pyramid, which rises about 50 feet. Top-notch views of treetop terrain, plus time to grab a massage beachside? Sign me up.
Shore Excursion possibilities: Carnival runs several ruins tours. Chichen Itza is the farthest away, and starts at $79.99 (and can go higher, depending on if you stop somewhere for lunch. Keep in mind that if you choose this one, it will take up your entire day). Princess charges the same. Visiting Dzibilchaltun, which is closer to Progreso, costs $59.95 through Carnival and $45 through Princess. Both lines have an option that adds a Mexican rodeo. While I didn’t have a chance to go there, Uxmal receives high praise from CC members. Through both cruise lines, a trip there costs $79.99.
Ruin tours through AutoProgreso cost about half of what you’ll pay from the ship. My tour to Chichen Itza cost $49; no lunch included. Lawson’s Yucatan Excursion has a variety of ruin tours, often combined with cenotes, at various costs.
progreso yucatan costa maya
Yucatan cuisine. Because the Yucatan Peninsula remained isolated from Mexico’s mainland for many years, the area’s cooking style took its cues from Cuba, the Caribbean and important 18th century European-flavored ports such as New Orleans. Traditional dishes are more elaborate, in some cases taking days to prepare. Try cochinita pibil, pork marinated in citrus and slow-cooked in banana leaves and served with handmade
tortillas, or queso relleno, gouda-style cheese stuffed with beef and pork. Adventurous palates can try empanadas de cazon — shark — or Michelada, beer spiked with Worcester sauce served in a glass rimmed with salt and chili pepper (think of it as a Mexican Bloody Mary).
• Shore excursion possibilities: Take the pier shuttle into Progreso and find your favorite restaurant. Carnival runs the popular Salsa and Salsa tour that includes a Mexican meal for $89.99; Princess charges $79. Princess also has a a $39 city tour that promises a traditional lunch downtown. Alternately, Lawson’s Yucatan Adventures has a Taste of Merida tour aimed at foodies, where you visit the city’s market, indulge in the area’s famed sherbet and have a full traditional meal, for $111 per person.
Shopping. Whether you’re on the make for tequila on the Malecon or searching out an embroidered sundress, Progreso leaves you spoiled for choice, at prices that are far cheaper than Cozumel. The small downtown draws vendors on cruise ship day; good choices include guayaberas, Mayan masks and hammocks (the main crop of this area of the Yucatan used to be hennican, a fibrous plant once used instead of rope). I found even better luck within the artisanal shops of Merida, picking up a set of festive fall placemats and an el Diablo figure perfect for a husband named Faust.
• Shore Excursion possibilities: Carnival runs a Shopping in Merida excursion for $75.99. Alternately, get your own transport into Merida and take Calle 60 off the Plaza Grande to find some of the best shops. It’s an attractive, safe street.
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    Comments

    3 Responses to “Pondering Progreso: 5 Things to Love”

    1. Lori
      September 20th, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

      I love Merida. I’ve been a couple of times on land trips and really enjoyed the city as well as Uxmal. But finding a cruise that stops at Progresso is hard. Which cruise lines go there on a regular basis besides Carnival?

    2. Cruise Critic
      September 23rd, 2013 @ 9:33 am

      Lori, this year it’s almost all Carnival, with Princess only making one stop. More ships have come in the past. My thought is that visits will bump up if Galveston and New Orleans expand their ports (Progreso is an easy stop on routes leaving from those cities).

    3. D Morris Kuzio
      September 25th, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

      When we cruised with Carnival earlier this year, I was surprised at how inviting the city of Merida is. I somehow thought it would be some dumpy town tourist trap but it was anything but that. While the shore excursion we were on only did a short drive through of Merida, I would like to return and spend more time in the city itself. It reminded me of old San Juan with the colonial architecture etc. It’s just my opinion, but sometimes you need to put aside your preconceived notions and actually explore the ports and nearby areas.

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