Villahermosa, the state capital, is a virtually unavoidable road junction: sooner or later you’re almost bound to pass through here on the way from central Mexico to the Yucatán or back, especially if you hope to see Palenque. It’s a large and prosperous city, and at first glance it can seem to be subject to as bad a case of urban blight as any in Mexico. The longer you stay, though, the more compensations you discover. Quite apart from the Parque La Venta and sudden vistas of the broad sweep of the Río Grijalva, there are attractive plazas, quiet old streets, impressive ultramodern buildings and several art galleries and museums. In the evening, as the traffic disperses and the city cools, its appeal is heightened, and strolling the pedestrianized streets around the Zona Luz, as the historic downtown core is known, or the lively malecón, where everything stays open late, becomes a genuine pleasure. Villahermosa’s modern commercial centre, Tabasco 2000, 2km northwest of the Zona Luz, is a smart area of government buildings, a conference centre and high-end hotels, where oil-industry business travellers hang out.
Most visitors to Villahermosa head straight out to Parque La Venta, the obvious highlight of the city, but the Zona Luz in the old centre also warrants some exploration. The narrow streets contain several absorbing museums and galleries, particularly the Museo de Historia de Tabasco, housed in one of the state’s most ornate buildings. If you have more time, it’s worth heading out to Yumká, an enjoyable safari park and ecological research centre.