Directly west of Cancun and just north of the historical city of Merida lies the port city of Progreso, Mexico. It occupies a small piece of shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico. The city of Progreso and its smaller surrounding communities are estimated to have a population of nearly 38,000 and is an important maritime port for the Yucatan Peninsula. It ships thousands of overseas containers from its lengthy dock. Major states like Campeche, the Yucatan and Quintana Roo rely on Progreso’s strategic location in the Gulf for importing and exporting of goods. The Malecon (boardwalk) parallels the beach and offers great views of the pier and its lights at night.
Progreso is home to one of the longest piers in the western hemisphere and, argumentatively, in the world. Progreso’s pier is over four miles in total length. When standing at the water’s edge and looking west, the pier resembles a bridge with its endless span of concrete pillared arches that could connect two land masses together.
After a four hour bus ride across the peninsula and another 40 minute taxi ride from Merida, we finally made it to our condo. Progreso has no mega-resorts, tourist traps or large shopping malls. Besides the occasional visit of a cruise ship, Progreso is still a fishing village much like it was back in the 1800s, but grown up. Even at that time, this small little community was a vital port connecting the Yucatan Peninsula with the rest of the world.
The first thing we did was to find necessary provisions in town. Progreso was going to be our home port for the next 30 days. We found a few grocery stores that met our needs. There was the San Francisco, the Bodega (A Walmart subsidiary — go figure!) and a variety of smaller convenience stores. We opted to do most grocery shopping at the San Francisco because it was an easy walk from our condo. There was also a indoor farmers market on Calle 80 (main street) that had fresh fruits and vegetables. We located a Banamex, the second largest banking institution in Mexico, which gave us the best exchange rate for our dollars to pesos. When we started to explore more of the city we noticed that not many people spoke English, forcing us to learn more Spanish.
We got up every morning and took our walk. This just happens to be the coolest part of the day to do this. We walked along the Malecon that lead us to the boardwalk, which in turn took us to the fishing pier. It was dwarfed by Progreso’s famous long pier that runs right alongside it. This is where a lot of local fishermen go to catch their daily bounty for their families and many of the town’s restaurants. The restaurants then build their daily menus around the fresh catch.
On the first morning’s walk, we stopped and watched locals fish off the pier. Here is where I met Fernando. Fernando was attending to his four lines (no poles). I was observing his style when all of a sudden he motions to me to pick up a line, bait it and toss it out. I hesitated for a moment and then decided why not! We stood there for awhile and tried to make small talk while we fished. Fernando spoke no English and I spoke very little Spanish, but we managed to hold a conversation nonetheless.
After about 30 to 40 minutes and a few fish caught, it was time to go. We said our goodbyes and parted ways. This is when I realized that the people in Progreso were a very kind and caring culture. By this time it was getting close to lunch time and we walked back to Calle 80 to try Eladio’s Bar & Restaurant, a restaurant recommended to us by our property manager. It was at the intersection of Calle 80 and the west end of Malecon’s round-a-bout.
Eladio’s faced directly west and provided great views of the pier and the beautiful turquoise waters. The open-air patio provided a nice breeze that cooled the day’s warming temperatures. We found a nice location to sit down and ordered drinks. We were told to tip the waiter ahead of time so we would receive plenty of premium botanas. Botanas are appetizers, mini snacks or samples of main courses. This was a new experience for us as the botanas arrived at our table. We ordered another round of drinks and, lo and behold, another round of botanas appeared. After we finished the second helping of free snacks, our appetites for lunch had disappeared.
We finished our beverages and ask for the check (“La cuenta, por favor”). When it arrived, we just stared at each other for moment. We had four beers, two shots of tequila and all the free botanas we could eat, and with tip it was less than $20 USD. We graciously paid our bill and ventured down the beach towards our condo. Since the weather was very hot, we wore our swimming suits everywhere we went. The Gulf waters are a refreshing 86 degrees and feel marvelous when jumping in for a quick cooling off!
We spotted a bar on the beach that provided free palapas and was only steps away from the water. We stopped, ordered a few beverages and, guess what? More free botanas arrived at our table! I guess we won’t be eating dinner tonight! We laid back and took in the sun, the island breeze, and cool dips in the ocean. Midday turned into late afternoon and the evening rain showers were rapidly approaching. We picked up and headed towards our condo, only four minutes from the beach. What a great first day in Progreso.
Watch for more exciting tours in and around Progreso, Mexico.
Author: Anthony Scopel
Photographer: Maureen Scopel