Like many a cruising sailor, I’ve spent years in the eastern and southern Caribbean, exploring the Virgin Islands and down through the Leeward and Windward chain all the way south to Trinidad.
In the southwest I’ve explored the ABC Dutch Antilles and Colombia, as well as the San Blas islands and Panama.
But just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, I clawed my way up the east coast of Central America on my 2006 sloop, Premier Cru (a Beneteau Oceanis 42), to what is perhaps the least visited Caribbean corner — the Gulf of Mexico, or specifically, the port of Progreso on the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula.
I initially stopped at the port of Cancún on the peninsula’s eastern tip to clear Mexican Customs and Immigration. I used the services of a port agent, which I highly recommend (about US$150 for everything), and, since I intended to stay and discover northern Mexico, I went to the Port Captain’s office to take out a ten-year Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for Premier Cru. This is mandatory if you plan to leave your boat in Mexico for an extended period. I also added a third-party liability insurance policy with a Mexican insurer (US$240 for a year).
That done, I sailed west from Isla Mujeres to Progreso overnight, staying four miles offshore for most of the passage due to the shallow coastal conditions.
As I cleared the longest pier in the world (four and a half miles), I could see the harbor basin entrance looking like any other — until I sailed in and watched it open like a white rose with boats of all kinds on a scale that truly surprised me!
Progreso is home to one of the biggest squid fishing fleets in the world. That was apparent as I sailed past their boats and proceeded farther inland to a host of marinas that provide excellent facilities and great shelter.
I motored past two very large boatyards, one of which had the biggest haul-out lift I’ve ever seen. I remember thinking that this harbor must have just about every service a yachtie could possibly need. This certainly turned out to be true. And those services, along with slip costs, are relatively inexpensive compared to most everywhere else I’ve been in the Caribbean.
It’s only 20 miles north of the Yucatán state capital city of Mérida and is considered Mérida’s beachfront. Moreover, the state of Yucatán has for years remained the safest state in Mexico, and is recommended not only for its beauty, but also as a very secure place to cruise and live.
Progreso, with its 18 miles of sandy beach, is also home to a large fleet of recreational boats, most of which are located in the protected harbor called Yucalpeten (Progreso), which has 15 marinas of all sizes and levels of comfort.
Upon my arrival I made a courtesy call on the Port Captain to announce my intention to temporarily keep Premier Cru in Progreso in order to do several upgrades on her: new cockpit and transom teak, sail reconditioning, beautification of the companionway steps, modification of the refrigerator to 110 from 220 volts, new decals and some painting, upholstery touch-ups, a new bimini, bottom sanding and antifoul painting. There are so many skilled marine workers in Progreso that almost any job can be handled, and at great value.
I then took a tour to find boat accommodation. For vessels with drafts of four and a half feet or less, Marina Lagun Mar offers slips right on the edge of the entry channel.
Marina Sureste was preparing to add additional dock space, and a brand-new marina, called Grand Marina and located in a perfectly sheltered hurricane hole, is now open with over 100 new slips.
Yucalpeten Resort Marina, the largest and most expensive marina, located next to (but not part of) the Club de Yates (Yucalpeten Yacht Club) was in the process of erecting two new condo towers to house boating residents and patrons of their establishment.
Of the 15 available marina possibilities, I chose the security of the gated Alacranes Marina, its slips inhabited by sailors on yachts of all types from all over the world. It boasts a pool and an onsite cafeteria. My docking fees cost less than US$300 per month, with 100-volt electricity and water hookup included. Alacranes Marina was clearly the popular home to the vessels of most of the sailing community in Progreso. However, their additional liveaboard fee of 2000 pesos (US$100) per month per person discourages some of those visiting cruisers who may intend on longer-term liveaboard dockage.
Since I don’t live aboard Premier Cru full time, I chose this marina, although there were several others available. In one of these I met a pair of liveaboard cruisers who helped me and with whom I got along famously. JoAnne Bond and her husband Captain Keith, fellow cruisers from Canada, had arrived in Progreso on Bridlewilde, a 33-foot Al Mason sloop, at almost the same time as I did.
Their chosen marina is Marina Paraiso. It’s small and intimate and has everything they need: pool, showers with hot water (unusual in parts of the tropics), water hookup, storage locker, liveaboard fee and power included. The owner lives in the marina, which has a lovely, thatched-roof palapas and social gathering spaces. JoAnne and Keith have a scooter and an allotted parking space within gated security. The marina staff are all a family and they include the yachties as such, which makes for great relationships. The docks and slips are safe, and the owner is an avid sailor. JoAnne and Keith are very happy there, as am I with most of the same facilities in the nearby Marina Alacranes.
Shortly after my arrival, I met the affable Ignacio (Nacho) Ponce when he came to my boat by dinghy to greet me and tell me about the wonderful pizza at the local Club de Yates. He is the club’s commodore and told me that I was welcome. Membership is available but not required to visit or to eat and drink at the club. It was founded in 1996 and has been growing in membership, activities and fleet ever since.
I found it to be a great place to get together to socialize with other cruisers. Over a few very cold Pacifico cervezas at the club, Nacho told me he was born in the Yucatán and became a sailor and boater due mostly to the tradition that Yucatecans enjoy the warm and shallow waters of the Gulf all year round. He began as a windsurfer at the age of 13 and eventually worked up to a Beneteau Oceanis 45, and took part in the club’s races and rallies to nearby ports and islands — regularly to Alacranes Reef, to old colonial Campeche and Isla Mujeres. Recently I raced against Nacho in the club’s first post-Covid regatta with my friend and slip neighbour Kerwin Davidson, a member of the club. We came in second in a fleet of more than 50 yachts!
Nacho is one of the most active and foresighted commodores I have ever met. He’d realized early that although Progreso is well known by the locals for its facilities, beaches, well-protected harbor, and closeness to the capital city of Merida, most cruisers (like me) had no idea it existed! So Nacho got involved in the yacht club to promote, along with local authorities and businesses, sailing and boating as a source of income and growth for the community. He believed then, and still does, that an activity such as boating can have a huge influence on the local social and economic wellbeing of the area.
I’ve kept Premier Cru at the Alacranes marina all through the Covid era, and I have a local person who attends to and regularly inspects her. For 600 pesos (US$30) I have the topside decks and chrome cleaned. Plus, in-the-water bottom and prop cleaning is around 700 pesos (US$35).
Area transport is inexpensive by taxi or Uber. JoAnne and Keith purchased a second-hand scooter for all their local travel needs. They got a really good deal!
Fuel is easily accessible at the fuel dock at the entrance to the harbour or elsewhere in several gas stations locally.
Basic provisions including ice can be found at a few local stores within a block of the marinas. Downtown Progreso, ten minutes by car or scooter, has several big supermarkets of which Bodega Aurrera is a subsidiary of Walmart.
A drive or bus to Mérida will present you with the huge Liverpool Mall and next door is a Costco and a Sam’s Club, and close by is a Home Depot. There are bus departures for Merida every ten minutes that can drop you and pick you up right in front of Costco.
Also, there are three marine chandleries within walking distance of any of the many marinas. They are Solutions Náutica, Marina Silcer and Marina Sureste, which has a large marine equipment store as well.
You can find a lot more information in the Yucatan Cruising Guide at http://yucatancruising.com/
Flying from my home in Montreal to Merida, or through Cancún, I return to Premier Cru regularly. I am always quite relaxed about the boat when I am not there, even in the hurricane season. Progreso has good protection from Atlantic hurricanes due to the landmass of the Yucatán and the fact that arriving hurricanes tend to want to spin to the northwest as they arrive in the Caribbean and then head north. I have spent two summers in Rio Dulce for hurricane season protection and repairs, and while it is a very nice place I have found that Progreso provides good protection and much more value in the wide range of services and skills available.
I am delighted to have found Progreso and could not have chosen a better location in all of the Western Caribbean.
Ashore in the Area
Many specialized local ecotours are available from tour operators, or groups may put together specific trips for their individual taste.
Some popular day-trip destinations from Progreso are the mango boat tours of the Celestun Biosphere Reserve to view thousands of migrating flamingoes, the Santa Barbara Cenotes of Humon, a connection of the underground labryinth of freshwater rivers, caves and waterholes throughout the Yucatán. You can take an excursion to Hacienda San Hose Chakak to learn of the history of haciendas, relax in the exquisite surroundings and enjoy a fine Mexican cuisine dining experience, or choose to explore the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Dzibilchatun, a half hour drive between Progreso and Merida. (https://culturestraveled.com/celestun-flamingo-tour)
It’s also easy to hire your own van and driver and head off for the day. I have really enjoyed visits to the ancient but remarkably well-preserved and renovated Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, and swimming in the numerous cenotes around Mérida, which in itself is a fascinating old but fast-growing classical colonial city. You can find anything you desire in Mérida, ranging from a fresh avocado at the great local market right up to a ticket for the symphony — and all in the safest city in Mexico.