You won’t make it far in Tapijulapa before you’re accosted by kids offering to take you to boats for the Parque Natural Villa Luz, with its spa pools, cascades and caves. Two companies charge the same price for the short ride upstream; the better established operation is past the plaza: follow López Portillo till it dead-ends, then turn right to the river. The natural park’s outstanding feature – not least for its powerful aroma – is the stream running through it, which owes its cloudy blue-white colour to dissolved minerals, especially sulphur. Where it meets the Río Oxolotán, it breaks into dozens of cascades and semicircular pools. Thousands of butterflies settle on the riverbanks, taking nourishment from dissolved minerals, and jungle trees and creepers grow wherever they find a foothold – a truly primeval sight. From the boat dock, well-signed trails (no need for a guide) lead 1.5km to the waterfalls, passing the Casa Museo Tomás Garrido Canabal, the country retreat of Canabal, the controversial former governor of Tabasco, which contains a few of his personal effects as well as Zoque artefacts and handicrafts from the area. Another path leads to the Cuevas de las Sardinas Ciegas – the caves of “blind sardines”, sightless fish with translucent scales that have adapted to the cave’s sulphur-rich waters. The gases in the cave are so powerful that it’s impossible to breath inside, but you can peer into their precipitous entrances. In Maya cosmology the openings are believed to lead to the underworld (Xibalba). During Semana Santa, the local people catch the fish and dedicate them to the rain god, Chac. Beyond the caves are a couple of albercas, stream-fed swimming pools said to have therapeutic properties.
You can also take an easy three-kilometre walk to the park: cross the tributary river on the suspension bridge (to the right before you reach the plaza), head left on the concrete path, across the football field, then follow the track over the hill, keeping close to the main river – about 35 minutes in all. And for those travelling by car, the main entrance to the park is on the main highway toward Oxolotán, a few kilometres past the turn for Tapijulapa.