The crystal-clear emerald surf rolls gently onto the white sandy beach. Combined with the pungent salty air and gentle sea breeze, it’s nearly lulling me to sleep on my towel under one of the empty palapas on the oceanfront. Except for a local dog frolicking along the water, I’m the only one on this stretch of beach, as far as I can see.
That’s not because I’m here in “low” season. The town of Progreso, Mexico, is on the Gulf of Mexico, and it hardly matters when you go to the beach. With a yearly average high temperature of 83 F and average low of 73 F, there are no bad beach days in this paradise.
From my empty beach, I take a 15-minute walk south along the malecón (boardwalk), which bring me back to Progreso’s four-mile-long pier—the longest in the world. Here, the beach scene is bustling with mostly locals. Friends sit chatting in lounge chairs, live mariachi bands are playing, and solo musicians are walking around singing to anyone who will listen. Small restaurants line the malecón serving Leon Negra (the local beer), shot glasses of the licorice-flavored native drink called Xtabentun, and salt-laced margaritas. You can hear the clinking salutes as you pass by.
Even though Progreso shares Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula with Cancun, it is not a glamorous tourist destination. (That’s not to say you have to rough it here. For those wishing to be pampered, you can get a full-body massage right on the beach for $10 an hour.) Just 30 minutes north of the vibrant colonial city of Mérida, this town is “classic” Mexico. It lacks the progress of the Caribbean side of the Yucatan peninsula, making it an authentic and favored retreat of Mérida’s residents and North American expats.
The recently expanded malecón is paved in a pleasant, undulating pattern inviting patrons to cross the street into the small downtown where you’ll find lively cantinas and savory-smelling tapas wafting from outdoor cafes. A stuffed chile relleno lunch (enough for two) is $10; margaritas are $5 for two glasses.
Further down, the open-air market can barely contain the tables spilling forth with locally handmade crafts, multicolored blankets, and one-of-a-kind pieces of art and jewelry. A pair of earrings, as brilliant green as the ocean just a block away, with intricately inlaid mother-of-pearl flowers costs just $2.
The market is relaxed and low-key. While waiting for customers, two shop owners are content to sit swinging and chatting in the very hammocks they are trying to sell.
In the farmer’s market, I can find a good variety of inexpensive seasonal fruits and vegetables. Avocados sell for less than $1 for two pounds. Tomatoes are 75 cents for a little over two pounds.
If you’re looking for an affordable, laid-back fishing and beach community, this is it. Because Progreso is still relatively less developed than popular tourist beach spots like Cancun and Riviera Maya, here, just a few minutes from the malecón, you can find an attractive new two-bedroom beach home with an open floor plan and high-end finishes for just $140,000. It comes with a pool, courtyard, and ocean views. Travel even a little bit inland and you’ll pay even less.
Best of all, Progreso is as safe a location as you can find just about anywhere in the world, untouched by the troubles of border cities like Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Juarez. The safety of this area has been compared to the rural U.S. States of Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, and North Dakota. It’s just one more reason why Progreso is a great retirement destination.