Far to the west of Tabasco and along the border with Veracruz State is the archaeological site of La Venta. Though inaccessible until very recently, La Venta hopes to secure UNESCO World Heritage Site status in the coming years. Here, the Olmecs built their grandest ceremonial center: spanning several square kilometers, La Venta was initially excavated by archaeologist Franz Bloom (of Palenque fame) in 1925.
When oil exploration resulted in the draining of marshes, giant carved stone structures were revealed, to the amazement of locals and archaeologists alike. Local poet Carlos Pellicer fought to recover and save the relics from their initially uncertain fate. Most were moved to Villahermosa, where they now form an important feature of La Venta. After continued lobbying, La Venta finally opened its gates in 1958. Many of the area's original Olmec treasures were transplanted to this wonderful tropical garden setting. Situated along the banks of the Laguna de las Ilusiones (Lagoon of Dreams), La Venta showcases both nature and the native splendors of the Olmecs, and remains one of Mexico’s most unusual and enjoyable eco-archaeological attractions. Not to be missed if you're anything more than passing through Tabasco.
Scattered along a maze of jungle-shrouded paths you'll find 30 large sculptures, including altars, inscribed stone slabs, and three giant Olmec heads. Weighing over 20 tons, these colossal stone sculptures depict curiously baby-faced Olmec rulers. The mysterious origin of these carved heads has spawned unending debate, and there are only 18 known to exist in the world, so be sure to bring your camera. All sculptures are clearly marked with signs in Spanish and English, so the historical aspects of the park won't pass you by if you're not a Spanish speaker. On top of its rich archaeological profile, the park also boasts a zoo and a botanical garden. Displays and enclosures are scattered around the park, housing exotic animals including howler monkeys, crocodiles, colorful birds and even jaguars in an environment not too distinct from their natural habitat. Enormous mahogany and ceiba trees shade a collection of unique medicinal plants of particular interest if you're ecologically-minded and/or interested in alternative medicine. The park is open 8am to 4pm daily and not to be missed.