A wide, fast road (Hwy-261) connects Mérida with the Gulf coast to the north, first passing the ancient Maya complex of Dzibilchaltún, then arriving after 36km in the port of Progreso, on which meridanos descend en masse in summer. Due west of Mérida, the little village of Celestún offers a very different coastal experience from Progreso, being surrounded by a large nature reserve. In fact, most people hit the beach only after taking a boat tour around a long inlet that’s home to a massive flamingo colony.
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Were it not for its amazing flamingo-filled lagoon, Celestún, 93km west of Mérida, would be little more than a one-boat fishing village. It’s literally the end of the road, dead-straight for most of the drive through the forest, until you emerge and cross a bridge to the end of a sandbar on the northwest coast of the peninsula. The town has grown a tiny bit in the twenty-first century (with an ATM and a petrol station, finally), but still has a castaway feel; it’s busy only on occasional Sundays and during Mexican holidays.
The beach is wide, and the sea is cloudy yet clean – but it’s the birds in the 600-square-kilometre Ría Celestún Biosphere Reserve here that are the real draw. A typical boat tour takes in the flamingos, most numerous from November to May, when blue-winged teal and shovellers also migrate. Dedicated birders can hire a skilled guide, or, if you want something more active, you can bike and canoe through the mangroves.