Port of Progreso
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Those who have previously been to the ruins might opt to visit the beach on the mile-long malecon in Progreso, equipped with an abundance of water sports activities, chair rentals and food and drink. Other attractions include cooling off in a cenote (a natural sinkhole) or just sampling a shot of the licorice-flavored native drink, Xtabentun.
Cruise visitors can also take advantage of the port's proximity to the charming colonial city of Merida, a 30-minute bus ride away. Merida offers historic ambience, shopping that ranges from boutiques to bazaars, and plenty of restaurants and cafes. It's often called "The White City" for its light buildings and the white clothing originally worn by locals. Named for Merida, Spain, the city was built in 1542 on the Mayan site of Ti'ho and designed around the Plaza Grande, flanked on all sides by some of the city's most important buildings.
Merida boomed because of the region's haciendas, originally dedicated to cattle or maize. They later became sisal plantations, and serve to remind visitors of the economic boom of the region during the late 19th century and into the last. Sisal is a fleshy plant native to the area and yields a stiff fiber used for cordage and rope. At its peak, Yucatan produced practically all of the rope for the world's shipping industry, resulting in the highest concentration of millionaires anywhere at that time. Some of these magnificent haciendas have been turned into inns and/or luxury hotels. Their ornate colonial architecture has held up well in most cases, and some -- for example, Hacienda Teya, just one mile from Merida -- are regional showpieces.
The climate is typically Caribbean or "tropical" with high temps and high humidity. Temperatures range between 80 and 95 degrees. Hats, bottled water and sunscreen are musts when sightseeing in the region, while mosquito repellant and good walking shoes will make the trip more pleasant.
Both Progreso and Merida have been attracting expats from Canada and other countries, so amenities for English-speakers are growing.
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Where You're Docked
Progreso Pier juts nearly five miles straight out into the Gulf of Mexico and is touted as the longest pier in the world. The terminal houses several bright and loud cantinas, a few fairly priced souvenir shops and a taxi stand. Telephones and Internet connections are available.
Good to Know
Like many of Mexico's colonial cities, Merida's sidewalks are very uneven and occasionally have steep drop-offs. Watch where you step, or a sprained ankle could be in your future. Otherwise, Merida's historic center is very safe, and you should have no problem walking around.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The Mexican peso is the official currency; go to www.xe.com or www.oanda.com for current rates. Money can be changed at any bank or currency exchange. ATMs are also available in both Progreso and Merida. Most vendors accept cash only.
Designed for the region's humid weather, guayaberas -- also known as "Mexican wedding shirts" -- offer an easy-to-pack, lightweight gift for men; while the traditional look comes in white or pastels, the shirts also are available in black and colors. You'll also find plenty of vendors selling hammocks, a nod to the sisal plant that used to be a mainstay.
Most restaurants and bars will have a bottle of Xtabentun to enjoy as an aperitif. Tree bark and water are the main ingredients, which is distilled until it has a licorice flavor. Cold beer is the drink of choice for walking around town or sitting on Progreso's Malecon Beach; waiters will bring them to you from the restaurants.
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