This museum, 21km west of Santiago Tuxtla, showcases important findings from the archaeological site of the same name, inhabited by the mysterious Olmec civilization for over 2000 years, from around 1200 BC to AD 1000. The Olmecs preceded Mexico's other major civilizations, and are notable for sculpting giant human heads, a 1.5m example of which, dating from 100 BC, takes pride of place in the museum. From Santiago Tuxtla, take a 2nd-class bus (M$35) or taxi (M$40/140 colectivo/private).
The important late-Olmec center of Tres Zapotes is now just a series of mounds in cornfields, but the wealth of finds in the museum is impressive. The biggest piece, Stela A, depicts three human figures in the mouth of a jaguar. Other pieces include a sculpture of what may have been a captive with hands tied behind his back, and the upturned face of a woman carved into a throne or altar. The museum attendant is happy to answer questions in Spanish or give a tour (tipping is appreciated).
The Tres Zapotes site was probably first inhabited while the great Olmec center of La Venta (Tabasco) still flourished. After the destruction of La Venta (about 400 BC), the city carried on in what archaeologists call an ‘epi-Olmec’ phase – the period during which the Olmec culture dwindled, as other civilizations (notably Izapa and Maya) came to the fore. Most finds are from this later period.
If driving, the road to Tres Zapotes goes southwest from Santiago Tuxtla; a ‘Zona Arqueológica’ sign points the way from Hwy 180. Eight kilometers down this road, you fork right onto a paved stretch for the last 13km to Tres Zapotes. It comes out at a T-junction, from where you go left then left again to reach the museum.