Parque-Museo La Venta

Park in Villahermosa

Image by DEA PICTURE LIBRARY Getty Images

This fascinating outdoor park and museum was created in 1958, when petroleum exploration threatened the highly important ancient Olmec settlement of La Venta in western Tabasco. Archaeologists moved the site’s most significant finds, including three colossal stone heads, to Villahermosa. There's also a zoo but the cages are shabby and depressing. Avoid the zoo as much as possible when making your way to the sculpture trail.

Inside, you first come to the zoo devoted to animals from Tabasco and nearby regions: cats include jaguars, ocelots and jaguarundi, and there are white-tailed deer, spider monkeys, crocodiles, boa constrictors, peccaries and plenty of colorful birds, including scarlet macaws and keel-billed toucans. Most people prefer to rush through this part.

There’s an informative display in English and Spanish on Olmec archaeology as you pass through the sculpture trail, the start of which is marked by a giant ceiba (the sacred tree of the Olmec and Maya). This 1km walk is lined with finds from La Venta. Among the most impressive, in the order you come to them, are Stele 3, which depicts a bearded man with a headdress; Altar 5, depicting a figure carrying a child; Monument 77, ‘El Gobernante,’ a very sour-looking seated ruler; the monkey-faced Monument 56; Monument 1, the colossal head of a helmet-wearing warrior; and Stele 1, showing a young goddess (a rare Olmec representation of anything female). Animals that pose no danger (such as coatis, squirrels and black agoutis) roam freely around the park.

From 8pm Tuesdays to Sundays there's a sound and light show (M$100).

Plan two to three hours for your visit, and take mosquito repellent (the park is set in humid tropical woodland). Parque-Museo La Venta lies 2km northwest of the Zona Luz, beside Avenida Ruíz Cortines, the main east–west highway crossing the city. It’s M$30 via colectivo.