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Where we’re at: I’m recapping my 2019 travels, which kicked off with this brief New Year’s Eve trip to Mexico.

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If there’s one thing I’m sure my longterm readers won’t be surprised by, it’s that there was no way I was going to Mexico and not getting my bum to the beach. The college crew I was in Merida with packed up on New Year’s Day and headed out to Isla Holbox, but I hung back and headed out to stay with my friend Rachel, who had recently moved to the outskirts of Merida.

Hippie in Heels in Merida, Mexico
Hippie in Heels in Merida, Mexico

Many of you knew Rachel as Hippie in Heels, and were among those shocked and heartbroken by her sudden passing this year. To me, Rachel was a close friend and business confidant, and still I find myself struck by the fact that I don’t wake up to her long voice notes, still I find myself paralyzed when a song that makes me think of her comes on, still I find myself so grateful for the memories of our time together, especially in that last year.

Rachel and her fiance Ben had just spent the holidays hosting family for a long stretch, but still they warmly opened their home in Merida to me, insisting that I stay for as long as I wanted. At the time even a couple days away from home was a stretch for me, but how I wished I could have taken them up on it. It felt so good just to lounge around the house, watch Netflix, play with their dogs, do face masks, and laugh.

Face Masks

Face Masks

Rachel was, like me, a beach bum. The closest beach to her house on the outskirts north of Merida was Progreso, and so that’s of course where we made our way. There were more naturally beautiful, untouched beaches further afield, she assured me — but this one had beach bars with sun-loungers and guacamole. Sorted.

Progreso, Mexico Travel Blog Post

Sand in Progreso, Mexico

Boats on the beach in Progreso, Mexico

We drove up and headed straight to El HaGuay Beach Bar, which Rachel reported to be the only slightly Instagram-able spot within miles, ha. Progreso is no Tulum — it’s actually primarily a port town, known for having the longest pier in the world at four miles long, with regular cruise ship dockings. It’s worth checking online to see if there will be any around, and avoiding weekends, if you have some flexibility in your schedule. 

Our visit was a peaceful one. We parked it at El HaGuay for hours, swapping between gossiping at the pool’s swim-up bar and having heart-to-hearts on the beach. I’ll remember the conversations we had that day for the rest of my life.

Window in Progreso, Mexico
Boats on the beach in Progreso, Mexico

El HaGuay Beach Bar in Progreso, Mexico

El HaGuay Beach Bar in Progreso, Mexico
Hippie in Heels in Progreso, Mexico

We also, of course, cooled off in the ocean. While the north coast of the Yucatan is not known for crystal clear waters the way the eastern beaches of Quintana Roo are — think Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, and all those dreamy destinations — it was my first time in the ocean in months and months, and I couldn’t have been more grateful. 

Boats on the beach in Progreso, Mexico

Window in Progreso, Mexico

Boats on the beach in Progreso, Mexico

Alex in Wanderland in Progreso, Mexico

El HaGuay, Progreso, Mexico

Eventually we got a little restless and decided to go for a stroll along the malecón. The coast of Progreso is strewn with thatch-roof palapas, simple seafood restaurants, and little souvenir shops. I’d never been easier to please — I was just happy to stroll around in the sun, spending quality time with a close friend and snapping photos of everything colorful and cute.

Beach palapas in Progreso, Mexico

Coconut water stand in Progreso, Mexico
Hanging Shells in Progreso, Mexico

Thatch roof beach bar in Progreso, Mexico

Beach restaurant in Progreso, Mexico

Octopus mural in Progreso, Mexico

Tourist info stand in Progreso, Mexico
Beach day in Progreso, Mexico

Hanging Shells in Progreso, Mexico

Eventually, we managed to drag ourselves from the beach. We considered driving down to the coast to take in some of the area’s famous flamingos or pink salt flats — lesser known than the pink lakes of Las Coloradas, but still, well, pink. Rachel had her own wheels, which made exploration easy, but it wasn’t the best time of year to see the birds, and I hadn’t packed my drone, which I knew would have been the best way to capture the salt flats.

Driving to Progreso, Mexico

Progreso, Mexico Travel Blog

Progreso, Mexico Travel Blog
Progreso, Mexico Travel Blog

Instead, we decided to follow a mystery launched on our Google Maps, when we saw a cenote labeled as suspiciously nearby. Rachel was skeptical — how could there be a cenote so close to the shore and to town? Most surrounding Merida were in rural areas, a huge haul from humanity. 

We decided to investigate, and found ourselves at Reserva Ecologica El Corchito. A bored ticket seller explained that we’d have to take a short included boat ride across the bay, where we’d find a mangrove area home to three open cenotes. We shrugged and paid our 35 pesos (less than $2USD) and walked down the dock to our awaiting vessel.

Boat ride to Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico

When we disembarked in the mangroves we were greeted by scampering bands of what appeared to be highly domesticated raccoons and coatis, as well as some exotic looking birds.

Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico

Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico

 Hammocks at Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico

Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico
Coatis at Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico

Cenotes at Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico

We also found a lot of other people — mostly domestic tourists splashing around with their kids, which was pretty cute to see. That said, we were there at the very end of the day, and we weren’t mad when the crowds thinned enormously at the very end, which gave us some time to enjoy the natural beauty of the place on our own, too.

Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico

Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico
Hammocks at Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico

Cenotes at Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico

While the open air swimming holes aren’t what you traditionally think of when you think “cenote” — that’s more what I visited earlier in the trip on another little adventure outside Merida — they were beautiful and for the price we paid and the convenience of the location, well worth a visit if you’re in Progreso.

Is Progreso itself worth a visit? Personally, I can’t fathom a trip to Mexico without a beach day involved, so for me I say a big fat yes. And while we were lucky enough to have our own ride, it’s super easy to reach by local bus and arrange an affordable tour upon arrival too, like these bloggers did.

Cenotes at Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico

Boat Ride to Reserva Ecologica El Corchito, Progreso, Mexico

Merida is surrounded by stunning cenotes, ancient archeological sites, and of course, beaches like this one within day trips’ reach. While I don’t think Merida is going to go down as one of my favorite places in Mexico, I am truly eternally grateful to this trip for so many reasons — mostly because of the people I spent it with. Damn, do I miss Rachel.

I am also grateful for the ways this trip reminded me of me, and showed me how important reintroducing travel into my life was to my mental health. I could no longer take the month-long, open-ended backpacking trips to the world’s most exotic destinations like I’d been spoiled by. But maybe I could start to take spontaneous, short little adventures to places that were a little bit closer to home. 

And that thought started to bring me back to life.

My Trip to Merida, Mexico
My Trip to Merida, Mexico

My Trip to Merida, Mexico

Next up: a wintery week in New York City…

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3 Comments...
  • Jo-Anne From Downunder
    November 27 2019

    I like, I like, I like

  • Rick
    November 27 2019

    Alex,
    Very profound observation about mental health. Some people have a deep need for travel and adventure. I think it goes back to the beginning time when our ancient ancestors were nomadic. If you stayed in one place you starved to death thus the necessity to keep traveling.
    I’ve noticed in your travels starvation is never a problem 🙂

    Happy and sad to see you and Rachel enjoying time together. She was stoked about settling in Mérida and maybe building a home there. I had offered to help them with their project and still can’t believe she has left us.

    Rick

  • Tom
    December 2 2019

    Love the photos! Not a fan of raccoons though, lol.. Looks a like an amazing place to visit. May have to take the wifey there on our nice vacay.

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