A visit to Villahermosa’s Parque La Venta could easily fill half a day. The most important artefacts from the Olmec site of La Venta, some 120km west of Villahermosa, were transferred here in the late 1950s, when they were threatened by Pemex oil explorations. Little is known about the Olmec culture, referred to by many archeologists as the mother culture of Mesoamerica.
Just inside the entrance, a display familiarizes you with what little is known about the Olmecs, as well as the history of the discovery of La Venta. The most significant and famous items in the park are the four gigantic basalt heads, notable for their African-looking features. Additionally, there’s a whole series of other Olmec stone sculptures. To conjure a jungle setting, monkeys, agoutis (large rodents) and coatis (members of the racoon family) wander around freely, while crocodiles, jaguars and other animals from the region are displayed in sizeable enclosures. At night, there’s a rather good sound-and-light show that involves strolling from monument to monument, dramatically illuminated amidst the shadowy trees – buy tickets and enter at a second gate, about 250m southwest along Paseo Tabasco.
Parque La Venta is set inside the much larger Parque Tomás Garrido Canabal, which stretches along the shore of an extensive lake, the Laguna de Ilusiones. There are walking trails here and boats for hire, or you can climb the Mirador de los Águilas, a tower in the middle of the lake. Also in the park, opposite the La Venta entrance, the small Museo de Historia Natural features displays on the geography, geology, animals and plants of Tabasco, focusing on the interaction between humans and the environment.