We were last in Progreso some 30 years ago, so unsurprisingly a lot has changed. In the 90’s it was a relatively small dusty kind of place that had pretty much one purpose – to serve the Malecón, The Pier, supplying cargo and trade as well as being a major cruise ship terminal. At a staggering 6.5 kms, it’s the longest pier in the world and actually (to my mind) looks like a bridge to some far-off land, reminding me of say the Øresund Bridge that links Denmark and Sweden. The pier has survived for over 80 years thanks to its steel and cement structure and its 146 arches and has probably weathered many a hurricane over its time. Hurricanes though are relatively infrequent visitors to this part of the Gulf (unlike the US side), with a locally acknowledged rule of thumb that one will hit the Yucatan once every 10-15 years or so, but Mérida, which is 30ks inland is rather protected, so is more likely to weather the storm than cop a direct hit.
We opted to take a taxi from Santa Lucia rather the rattling Auto Progreso bus from downtown, this being our first foray out to the coast – and most probably not our last. We had a very chatty cabbie named José Luis in a rare airconditioned cab with seatbelts! José Luis prattled away in rapid-fire Spanish, probably fooled into thinking we could speak Spanish as Ants gave him directions and asked after his welfare. Well, he pretty much didn’t let up for the 45 mins to Progreso (Ants getting about a third of what he was saying), but that was ok as conversation turned to where we were from, where we had been in Mexico, how long we were we in Mérida for and – hello – where did we want to go? No surprises then that he offered his cab driving services to us – at a price of course. He’d take us wherever we wanted and wait for us, returning us to the casa. All we need to do is WhatsApp him the day before and he’d be outside. He even rattled off some prices, which compared with the USD$ private one-on-one tour costs we’d been recommended and had been considering, were hugely less expensive, in some cases by hundreds of dollars! We’re not fans of tour guides anyhow, preferring instead to wander around a place by ourselves, picking up knowledge where we find it and, above all, soaking up the atmosphere at our own pace and volition. So José Luis’ services are right up our alley.
Anyway, back to arriving in Progreso. Well, a lot has happened in 30 years. As I say, from memory this place was small, dusty and very quiet. That it is not. The Malecón is as we remembered still enormous – jutting out into the azure Gulf to the horizon – with a gleaming white high-rise control tower far off in the distance. The Malecón also now refers to the beachfront which comprises numerous bars, restaurants, shops and tacky souvenir stalls. The beach itself is packed with palapas, the ubiquitous dried palm thatched umbrellas that provide beach shade and outdoor eating spots. There are as always swaying coconut palms lining the wide, white sandy beach for as far as you can see, but that beach is colonised. The only downside when we were there was that the water was a tad murky and full of seaweed, but that could have been due to the stiff wind. Even though it was a Monday there were a quite a few people on the sand and in the sea, though from what we’re told the weekend here is jam packed with Méridian families escaping the city heat.
Cancun it is not but it’s not too bad and offers a welcome fresh perspective. The beachfront is going through some major renovation at the moment so parts of the boulevard were dug up, making some sections of the walk a definite eyesore – but then progress (no pun intended) takes time, and debris.
If you walk up towards Calle 60 and the far end of the beach, there are some funky beach clubs which looked really quite cool. I can imagine coming back here in the coming weeks and spending the day at one of these, hiring a palapa and sunbeds and soaking in the rays whilst sipping a Margarita or two.
We decided for our return journey to take the Auto Progreso bus. At 21 pesos each that’s a steal. The bus promptly left Progreso but was not, we were told, directo (that’s only on weekends) instead stopping off along the way at passengers’ requests. The bus is no looker but it was comfortable enough for the 1-hour journey (and fully air conditioned!). All the more convenient when we realised we were barrelling down Calle 62 and nearing Santa Lucia and home, so we were able to have the driver pull over and let us off. Excellent service and all for the equivalent of AUD$1.20. We’ll be taking the bus to Progreso from now on.