Villahermosa, Mexico, has a reputation as a rather unattractive city, but that has changed to some degree. Oil money has been used to landscape a good part of the city into parks and river walks and to build modern hotels, restaurants and the glass-and-steel Tabasco 2000, a convention center, mall and planetarium.

There's a fascinating, open-air archaeological park, La Venta, that displays several giant Olmec stone heads and other artifacts. The city's Anthropology Museum is another highlight.

A word of caution, however: The city gets unpleasantly hot during the summer. But a ride on an old Louisiana paddleboat may cool you down.

Located 550 mi/880 km southeast of Mexico City, Villahermosa can serve as a base for seeing Palenque, a two-hour drive away. You can also visit the Mayan ruins at Comalcalco, an hour by road from the city, where temples were constructed with handmade bricks instead of blocks of stone, and several giant stucco masks can be seen.

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