Where we’re at: I’m recapping my 2019 travels, which kicked off with this brief New Year’s Eve trip to Mexico.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next up: a wintery week in New York City…