It was exciting to see the sublime azure ocean come into view as you drive in to Progreso on the North coast of the Yucatan. We were here is 2008 and it was just a small fishing village with a beautiful miles-long sandy beach and clear aquamarine water. As we drove up to the beach back then, it was still an untouched beach for miles in each direction with only a few restaurants facing the sea.
But now Progreso was a big town, all grown-up, with paved front street, and a boardwalk; 37, 000 people and growing. The little fishing village was gone.
Just behind the boardwalk and ocean-front restaurants, was a street lined with restaurants and shops.
Downtown was the size of a small town with banks, and shops of all kinds.
But the beach was still lovely.
The beach vendors here are not at all pushy. Buying marzipan, or my favourite – almond brittle and coconut brittle, from this nice street vendor was a special treat. They are the round ones on the far right. Thick with almonds or fresh coconut chunks and enveloped in crunchy caramel fudge, they are delicious and much too addictive. Most of the street vendors are polite here, and honestly just trying to feed their families.
Another vendor had some fine and unique woodwork pieces, but we really had no room to take them home.
We ate at Eladias Restaurant at the end of the boardwalk, a place highly recommended, but we were sorely disappointed. The Guacamole was excellent, but this was my meal, which was a Spanish name I cannot recall. I could not eat it.
T was not thrilled about his meal either. When will we learn not to trust these recommendations for restaurants?
But sitting all afternoon on the beach was absolutely delicious. A warm day with a nice ocean breeze, the humidity and sun soaking into the skin.
They had these interesting wave-style sun beds in front of one restaurant, and anyone is free to use them. We were shocked at how comfortable they were.
A dip in the ocean to cool off. Perfect day.
We wanted to go to the little island of Holbox, but only got as far as Chiquita on the coast. After driving and exploring all day, then a long exhausting 3 hour drive north off the main highway 280D, we were just not up to a rough boat ride out to the island. Chiquita is a quaint fishing village, not a lot there, but friendly people.
Similary, we made the long drive to check out Rio Lagartos and San Felipe, straight North of Vallodolid, to find a swampy river with hundreds of flamingos and crocodiles, and a tiny fishing village.
Driving along the rural Yucatan highways on our way to the beaches, we came to a crossroads outside a small town. Two wizened old men with beautiful deep wrinkles stood on the side of the road selling hot corn on the cob. A perfect snack we thought, and they certainly looked like they needed the business. For a measly dollar each, he sprinkled each steaming hot cob with lime juice and jalapeno pepper seeds. We could hardly wait to try them. The aroma alone was heady. Neatly wrapped in a piece of foil and paper, he handed the cobs into the car. I asked if I could take his photo, and he nodded.
We drove away smiling and waving, then down the road pulled over to enjoy our yummy corn on the cob. We sunk our teeth into the cob and nothing happened. We bit harder, then harder and still got nothing. Focusing on the task, sure we just had to sink our teeth deeper to enjoy that sweet juice squished out of each corn kernel with the fresh lime and kick of hot pepper, we tried to bite into those cobs again. Impossible. You might get one kernel out, only to find that you had to chew and chew on it. Tough as nails. Cattle feed. Feed Corn!!! Tossed out the window. Maybe the birds would enjoy them.
Another day we drove to Celestun, a village on the West coast of the Yucatan, about an hour and a half from Merida.
Quick Tip: You have to drive through Uman to get to Celestun. Uman is a nightmare of twists and turns and one-way streets, and has a bizarre number of motorcycle taxis everywhere. We are sure that there are more 3 wheelers there than there are cars. It is wild trying to drive with 1o or more motorcyle taxis weaving in and out and between cars all around you, with inches to spare.
Celestun has a great beach, and if you prefer a quieter place, Celestun at 6000 population, is much smaller than Progreso, with a few seaside restaurants and a friendly atmosphere.
We parked on the first street parallel to the ocean, and went through La Palapa Restaurant to the beach.
La Palapa had great food, cold cerveza (beer), and refreshing Limonada.
We also found it much cleaner than Progreso, in fact, cleaner than most towns and cities in Mexico. The houses and streets are spotlessly clean.
Bottom line: we vote for Celestun as the best off-the-beaten-path beach in the Yucatan.