When it comes to cruise ports in Mexico, everyone knows the big three: Cozumel, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta. Still, there are smaller ports in the country that bring cruisers to the lesser-known corners of Mexico's vast and varied coastline.
Puerto Progreso, on the coast of the state of Yucatan, is one of these smaller ports, but new investments and renovations aim to bring it up to the big leagues and to expose the tourism offerings in the state.
From 2015 to 2019, Puerto Progreso increased its reception of cruise ships with the arrival of 30 additional ships, representing a 47.8% growth in the number of annual passengers received. Part of the development includes exhibition areas, a beach club and the construction of a new malecon, or seaside esplanade.
The coastal town of Progreso is the gateway to what is being dubbed the Riviera Yucatan, a string of coastal towns anchored by the capital city of Merida. The Riviera Yucatan has been a popular beach getaway for the domestic market, but it is growing in popularity among international guests as they flock to discover what the state has to offer.
Progreso comes alive when cruise ships dock, but for the most part, the town retains a sleepy vibe, which brings with it a level of authenticity that can be lost in other port cities. The city's 4-mile pier is the longest in Mexico. The malecon is lined with bars and restaurants, many of which spill onto the beach for toes-in-the-sand dining. In fact, in June, two of Progreso's beaches earned Blue Flag certification, a designation awarded in recognition of high environmental and quality standards.
The Blue Flag certification illustrates the restart of Progreso's economy under the Tourist Reactivation Plan, which includes strengthening the destination's position with cruise lines to increase the number of arrivals at the port. The government of Yucatan has invested about $2.37 million in the first phase of urban improvements in the tourist area of Progreso, which are designed to provide visitors with new opportunities.
One example is the Callejon de Amor, an abandoned alleyway that has been splashed with murals and reinvented as an art attraction. Public works have also been carried out along the malecon and adjacent streets, including improvements to paving, underground wiring and accessibility ramps.
The malecon in Progreso. Photo Credit: Courtesy of State of Yucatan Ministry of Tourism
For cruise passengers, Progreso will act as a gateway to the rest of the state, which is packed with tourist-friendly favorites and is like a microcosm of Mexico, showcasing all the things travelers have come to love and expect from the country. From archaeological ruins to cenotes, smaller beach towns, culture-rich cities and foodie favorites, Yucatan delivers on Mexico favorites.
Most travelers who have visited Cancun have already been to Yucatan state if they've ever taken an excursion to Chichen Itza. One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is one of the most famous Mayan archaeological sites. Yucatan state also is home to the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal. There are about 2,000 smaller Mayan archaeological sites in the state as well as cenotes peppered throughout. The city of Valladolid acts as a great jumping-off point from which to explore Mayan ruins and jungle cenotes.
With respect to beach towns, travelers may also like exploring Celestun, a small town to the west of Progreso. It's known for beaches with powdery sand and turquoise water and its biosphere reserve, which is teeming with thousands of pink flamingos.
Culture, architecture and food are alive and well in the Yucatan, as well, especially in Merida. Here, colonial cobblestone streets are flanked with beautiful old buildings, leafy plazas, an eclectic mix of restaurants and lively bars and cantinas.
Hotel offerings in the state of Yucatan appeal to a wide variety of travelers, as well. Unlike other tourist destinations, there is less of a focus on massive all-inclusive resorts and more of an emphasis on smaller, ecofriendly boutique properties. Travelers can opt for budget beach bungalows or splurge on experiential luxury and wellness, like at the impressive Chable Yucatan.
Between the cruise offerings, the history, design, culture, hotels and cuisine, it's not difficult to see why Yucatan was chosen to host the 2020 installment of Tianguis Turistico, which has since been postponed to 2021 due to Covid-19. Come March, assuming it is safe for groups to convene, the state of Yucatan will have its moment in the spotlight and will become one of the big players in the Mexico tourism scene.