Join Date: Feb 2012
Sounds like you may not be getting quite the info you asked for. Here's my two cents worth, for what it's worth (...about 2 cents). First, we know what you're not looking for (Cancun), but since we don't know exactly what you are looking for, it's hard to describe whatever "advantages" might accrue from being in one place vs. the other. (Cancun is "out" for almost everybody - which is why we live in Playa and just go there for shopping Costco and Home Depot.)
Merida is a much bigger and hotter (climate) city than Playa del Carmen ("Playa"), and has a fairly large ex-pat population, lots of pretty areas, etc. It's about 3-4 hours from Playa by car on the "autopista" or 4-5 hours by good, clean, modern bus (ADO, Autobuses de Orient, under $30 USD round-trip). I know several folks who live in Merida and come to Playa for the cooler breezes every 2-3 weeks - apparently no big deal if you're mobile - and many folks here who go to Merida for a week-end shopping, vacation, or a "visit to colonial Mexico" spree. Try the Yucalandia.Wordpress.com forum for Merida info, and the Trip reports on this forum (Playa.info) for Merida.
Progresso is close to Merida (north about 45 min depending on your ride), but the northern edge of the Yucatan (i.e., north coast) is generally more windy than the gentle trade winds in Playa (and sometimes unpleasantly more windy - everybody knows Chicago is "the windy city" - where do those winds end up after howling down through the great plains all the way through Texas? They end up on the north coast of the Yucatan, including Progresso, after crossing the Gulf of Mexico).
The soft puffy Atlantic trades, on the other hand (the breezes that Columbus glided over on) hit the West Indies and then move on to the east coast of the Yucatan, i.e., here in Playa, so Playa's weather is dependably more pleasant than Merida or Progresso.
Playa is trendy, too, but nothing like Cancun - unlike Cancun, the whole town of Playa is generally pleasant, all low-rise buildings, and the trendy touristy areas are far more human-scale oriented (more like Europe) - you can get almost anywhere quickly by walking (and taxis are clean and inexpensive - 20-30 pesos; in-town busses are almost clean and quite cheap and take you anywhere for 5 pesos; and Playa, for all its trendiness, is very livable, unlike Cancun with its dirty taxis and busses, crowded streets, and choking traffic). There are lots of Italians and Italian restaurants in Playa, so you can give your Italian a good workout. (No need to write your posts here in Spanish, though). There may even be an Italian forum about Playa.
You can walk around downtown in Merida, too, but getting downtown is a bitch, with lots of bumper-to-bumper noisy smoky traffic - we bitch about traffic in playa, but it's nothing like central Merida, which is far worse than Cancun.
So, Merida is big and hot and "real" Mexico, Progresso is small, windy, and even more "real" Mexico, and Playa is manageable size, Euro-trendy (but Euro-scale, too, small and human-scale), but the Yucatan for all its size is relatively easily accessible. If you hustle, you can easily get in some (superficial scouting) visits to Merida, Progresso, and Playa (and points south) within a 7 day week - it's tight and demanding (a la "If it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium"), but an experienced traveler can do it (and you sound like an experienced traveler). Suerte! (And give us more info about what you're looking for).
Beam-Eye, be my baby