Hernan Cortez landed at the mouth of the Grijalva River in 1519 during his infamous conquest of Mexico. Here he founded the first European town on the American continent (Santa Maria de Victoria). Because of frequent pirate raids, the once coastal city was relocated further and further inland along the Grijalva to its present, more defendable location. Villahermosa remained a backwater town for centuries until, following the discovery of massive offshore oil deposits in the 1970s, the city awoke from decades of economic slumber and underwent a major transformation.
The city spreads along the western shore of the Grijalva River, with an irregular road network that skirts past lagoons, marshes and wetlands. In addition to the city’s modern amenities (shopping malls, hotels, quality restaurants etc.) and oil-funded prosperity, two features distinguish Villahermosa from other southern Mexican towns: its beautiful parks, and the native Tabasqueño people who relish getting together in large social gatherings. The west side of Villahermosa has lovely landscaped lakes rimmed by parks (Tomas Garrido Canabal, Laguna de Las Ilusiones, for example) featuring stone paths, royal palms, well-tended gardens, conference centers and outdoor theatres. Blooming tropical trees (especially in March and April), howler monkeys, and dense foliage add vibrant color and an unmistakeable exotic quality to this “Emerald of the Southeast”, a very different Mexico to the semi-desert of common stereotyping. Like the intense greens of Chiapas, Tabasco's tropical foliage often takes first-time visitors by surprise.
The pedestrian-friendly Zona Luz is enduringly popular with tourists and locals alike for its shops, cafes and the pleasures of relaxed people-watching, the area's proximity to the river giving it an added charm. Though its provincial air is beginning to fall prey to commercialization, the area is pleasantly bustling during daylight hours, and tends to quieten down at night. There are several air-conditioned restaurants, some art galleries, musicians playing the state’s signature marimba music. There is also an attractive and newly remodeled riverside esplanade, from which you can embark on a pleasant trip down the Grijalva River.
Other must-sees in the historic center include the Casa de los Azulejos (House of Tiles). This former turn-of-the-century hotel is an eclectic mishmash of architectural styles that now houses the charming Museo de Historia de Tabasco (Museum of Tabasco History). There are informative displays about Tabasco’s history from prehistoric to modern times, and the setting couldn't be better: the interior tile work is stunning, as are city views from the second story balcony.