The waterfront town closest to Mérida, Progreso is not particularly historic. It's not terribly picturesque either; nevertheless, it provokes a certain sentimental fondness for those who know it well. On weekdays during most of the year the beaches are deserted, but over Easter and in summer they’re packed with families from Mérida. Progreso has also started attracting cruise ships, and twice-weekly arrivals bring in tourist traffic. The town’s charm—or lack thereof—seems to hinge on the weather. When the sun is shining, the water appears a translucent green and feels bathtub-warm, and the fine sand makes for lovely long walks. When the wind blows during one of Yucatán's winter nortes, gray water churns with whitecaps and sand blows in your face. Whether the weather is good or bad, however, everyone ends up eventually at one of the restaurants lining the main street, Calle 19, across from the oceanfront malecón. These all serve cold beer, seafood cocktails, and freshly grilled fish. There's also a small downtown area, between Calle 80 and Calle 31, with eateries that dish out simpler fare (like tortas and tacos), plus shops, banks, and supermarkets.
Although Progreso is close enough to Mérida to make it an easy day trip, several smaller hotels that have cropped up over the past few years make it a decent alternative base for those wanting to explore more of the untouristy coast. Just west of Progreso, the fishing villages of Chelem and Chuburna are beginning to offer walking, kayaking, and cycling tours ending with a boat trip through the mangroves for about MX$400. This is ecotourism in its infancy, and excursions are best set up ahead of time through the Progreso tourism office. Experienced divers can explore sunken ships at the Alacranes Reef, about 120 km (74 miles) offshore, although infrastructure is limited. Pérez Island, part of the reef, supports a large population of sea turtles and seabirds. Arrangements for the boat trip can be made through individuals at the private marina at neighboring Yucaltepén, which is 6 km (4 miles) from Progreso.