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The Emerald Coast of the Yucatan Peninsula

Emerald Coast of Yucatan Peninsula

The Emerald Coast (Costa Esmeralda in Spanish) is an unofficial name for the the 98 km long coastal area in the north of the Yucatan Peninsula. The name comes from the emerald colored water. The coast on the opposite side in Florida is also called Emerald Coast.

The Emerald Coast is very different from the Caribbean side, which is very touristy and Americanized - and last but not least, more expensive in all aspects. From coast to coast it is about a four-hour drive, and buses also run very frequently every day. That means you can also take both experiences with you.


The Mexican Caribbean beaches in Playa del Carmen, Cancun or Tulum are among the best and well-known beaches in Mexico. But also the quiter beaches of Yucatan at the Gulf of Mexico have a very special charm. From Mérida's point of view, the nearest seaside resort is the port city of Progreso, which is popular and frequently used by Mérida residents and can be reached in about 30 minutes by car or bus.

The Gulf of Mexico (Golfo de México in Spanish) is a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, mostly surrounded by the North American continent. It is bounded on the northeast, north, and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexican states such as Yucatán and Campeche, and on the southeast by Cuba. Already during the Mayan civilization, the Gulf of Mexico was used as a trade route between the Yucatán Peninsula and present-day Veracruz.

Some interessting figures:

Figures about Emerald Coast of Yucatan Peninsula 1
Figures about Emerald Coast of Yucatan Peninsula 2
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Casa Loltún Vacation Rentals

Rent a wonderful restored 19th-century colonial house or a new apartment in the historic city center of Mérida. This is an amazing opportunity for anyone looking for a unique and beautiful place to stay!

Get ready to be blown away by a unique blend of colonial heritage and modern architecture and dive straight into the vibrant life of the city!

Casa Loltun Colonial House
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Best Tours to the Emerald Coast

Would you like to go on a boat tour through the mangroves, spend a day at the Celestún beach, watch flamingos or discover the pink lagoon and Río Lagartos? Make it easy for yourself!

We have picked out
the best guided tours to the Emerald Coast for you from our partner, the market leader Viator. You save time and nerves, get everything you need to know and insider tips from an expert guide and can join up with others if you like. And it's also safer to travel in a group.

Disclosure: This article contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we get a small provision at no additional cost to you (#Disclosure Policy)

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The most beautiful Beaches

Progreso is the favorite beach of the Yucatecans due to its proximity to the city. As an alternative, a few kilometers to the west, there is Sisal, which has been awarded the title of "Pueblo Mágico" and has very beautiful beaches. Another recommendation is the very tranquil San Crisanto with its picturesque beaches, jungle-like mangroves and pink lakes.


Looking west from Progreso, and a bit further away, Celestún also offers very beautiful beaches. Due to the distance, however, Celestún is the best choice if you also want to visit the nature reserve. And the "Pig Beach" at Yucalpetén between Chelem and Progreso, which houses small Vietnamese pigs, is an alternative if you want to experience something unusual.

Beautiful Beaches at Emerald Coast
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Water sports on the Emerald Coast

Eine Welle erwischen

The Emerald Coast boasts ideal conditions for kitesurfing, with consistently strong winds throughout most of the year and shallow waters near the shoreline, making it a prime spot for enthusiasts of this water sport.

Emerald Coast is also a great destination for windsurfers. The wide beaches and calm, shallow waters create ideal conditions if you who want to learn to windsurf or improve your skills. Hire stations and windsurfing schools coast offer equipment and lessons.

Are you a diver and snorkeler? The crystal-clear waters off the coast of the Yucatan also invite you to explore the fascinating underwater world. Coral reefs, colorful schools of fish and a variety of marine life await adventurers beneath the surface.

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Round Trip Suggestion

Along the Emerald Coast, a road runs parallel to the sea for around 100 km, leading from Chuburna Puerto in the west to Dzilam de Bravo in the east. If you want to explore the coast by car, you can, for example, drive from Mérida to Progreso and from there take the coastal road 27 about 35 km east to Xtampú and visit the Mayan ruins of Xcambó and the pink lagoon.


Then you can drive back to Mérida via Baca. You can also drive about 8km further east to Telchac Puerto or about 18km further to San Crisanto and then return to Mérida via Motul. For the long round trip, you would then have to calculate around 3 hours of pure riding time for the approx. 175 km. 

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Choose between Sisal & Progreso?

Sisal and Progreso (beach and sea)

There is no direct road connection between Sisal and Progreso. If you only want to visit Sisal or Progreso, the following information may help you: Progreso is closer to Mérida and can be reached in about half the time from Mérida (35 to 75 min.). Progreso has the more impressive beach promenade with more restaurants and bars.


Sisal scores for its mangrove forest and wildlife in addition to the more beautiful beach. In fact, the beach at Sisal is one of the most beautiful beaches in the north of Yucatán (along with Celestún and San Crisanto). The port of Sisal also has a late colonial-era fortress, the "Fuerte de Santiago."


Because of its proximity to Mérida and due to the cruise ships that regularly dock in Progreso, it is much more crowded compared to Sisal. In December 2020, Sisal was designated a "Pueblo Magico." As a result, tourism in Sisal has also increased.

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Flamingo Hotspots

The two flamingo hotspots are Celestún and Río Lagartos / Las Coloradas (the flamingos move between this two places). Flamingos hang out in open water. The Ria Celestún (a coastal type with a narrow and long bay that penetrates deep into the land) runs parallel to the coast for around 25 kilometers. Ria Lagartos is even around 50 kilometers long. These are the bays where the flamingos are typically found, but other birds such as cormorants and herons can also be seen.

The tendency is for the birds to winter in Celestún (November to March) and breed/summer in Río Lagartos (March to November). So the best time to see flamingos in Celestún is between November and March, with January and February being the best months. In other months there may be few birds to be seen.


Especially when the water level is low, thousands of these reddish graces can be found feeding in the shallow water. American flamingoes (Phoenicopterus ruber, these are relatively large) are the prominent species. The mangrove forests are also worth a tour.

Flamingo Hotspots at the Coast
Animals at Río Lagartos and Celestún

Aside from the different times when the flamingos are present, Río Lagartos and Celestún offer a similar experience, so you don't necessarily have to visit both places (from Mérida, Celestún is much closer). You also have the possibility to see flamingos in Sisal and at Laguna Rosada near Xtampú and of course many other animals, which are also surrounded by mangrove forests.


On the eBird website you can view the latest sightings. Birdwatchers from all over the world submit their observations to the website. What time of day is best for you to come? Basically, the earlier the better. The sun is less intense then and the animals are more active.


If you want to photograph the flamingos (or animals in general), you should use a zoom lens. The boats stay at a safe distance to avoid disturbing the birds and without a decent zoom lens, the impressive flamingo will otherwise become just a pink blob on the photo. And on the other hand, of course, an ultra-wide angle lens is a good choice for landscape shots.

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