Colossal Olmec Stone Heads of La Venta
Parque-Museo La Venta in Villahermosa is one of the most unique, well conceived museums we’ve ever encountered. Created in 1958, the park-museum was designed to house relocated Olmec treasures that were threatened by petro-chemical development near the original La Venta archaeological site in northern Tabasco. Those priceless treasures include three colossal Olmec stone heads as well as many other very impressive examples of Olmec sculpture and carving.
Olmec art is very old (1,000 – 500 BC) and unique; it immediately stands out from other pre-Columbian art because of its simplicity and modern aesthetic. (Much of the smaller Olmec sculpture could almost be mistaken for traditional Japanese art.) There are also some intriguing cylindrical basalt structures at La Venta and mysterious monoliths that leave visitors with many questions.
But the highlight of any visit to the park is the rare opportunity to view three of the seventeen known colossal Olmec heads. While there are endless theories about these unique creations, not much is actually known about why they were created and who or what they represent. The head known as Monument 1 at La Venta (lead pic) is almost 8 feet high (2.4 m) and weighs more than 24 tons. How was such an enormous stone carving made and positioned more than 2,500 years ago? UFO and Atlantis conspiracists will especially love La Venta. 😉
Such unique art requires an equally unique environment. Rather than being just another series of indoor rooms, Parque-Museo La Venta is a jungle reserve. Visitors enter through a small zoo which includes local monkeys, birds, crocodiles, jaguars and more. From the wildlife area, a 1.2 km trail slowly winds through buttressed trees and a tangle of vines to “discover” each piece of art displayed in nature.
The creators of the museum really understood that presenting an archaeological treasure in an open air environment greatly enhances that Indiana Jones sense of discovery. An Olmec colossal head just feels way cooler when it’s backed by jungle with free-roaming coatis scampering across your path and tropical birds flying overhead.
That dizzy, sick feeling you get when you inch through a normal museum completely vanishes because you walk, you breathe, you explore and you discover. There’s quite a bit of space between pieces, so you have time to process the art and the wildlife. It’s incredible to think that this museum was built in 1958 because it feels totally cutting edge. We highly recommend it.
Tips on Visiting Parque-Museo La Venta
Parque-Museo La Venta is located in Villahermosa in the Mexican state of Tabasco. As of June 2020, tickets are around $2 for non-Mexican visitors.
We have seen some reviews on TripAdvisor.com which suggest a side trip to La Venta in Villahermosa is not worth a detour. If you have no interest in art, Meso-American culture, ancient mysteries, or unique museums, that might be true. However, we personally loved La Venta and the colossal Olmec stone heads . Visitors must understand this is a museum, not a large archaeological site like Chichen Itza or Palenque.
Moreover, the park-museum is very easy to visit if you are flying in to Villahermosa, which has the closest airport to Palenque (2-hour drive).