Cocina Chontal in Comalcalco, in the Mexican state of Tabasco, was recently named one of the World’s Best Restaurants by Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine. It’s worth planning a trip around — here’s what you should explore once you’re there.

By Nili Blanck
August 20, 2020
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Tabasco, located in southeastern Mexico, is home to a fledgling ecotourism industry thanks to its white-sand Gulf coastline, mountain villages, and unrestrained rain forest — home to parrots, monkeys, and Mayan ruins. 

But as Tabasco’s tourism sector fortifies, so, too, may industrialization. It is the home state of Mexico’s populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and the site of two large-scale development projects: a new oil refinery for Mexico’s national petroleum company and the Tren Maya, a rail line intended to connect the country’s five southernmost states. If there was ever a time to visit, it is now. 

Villahermosa

Travelers fly into the state capital, just a short hop from Mexico City or Cancun. Hotel Boutique Menta & Cacao, housed in a government-protected, century-old, robin’s-egg-blue building, is a great place to spend the night. It’s located in Villahermosa’s historic downtown, a short drive from the open-air Parque-Museo La Venta. More garden than museum, the museum-park houses a collection of colossal heads made by the Olmecs, the first known civilization of Mesoamerica. Sculpted out of enormous basalt boulders, the heads are believed to date as far back as 900 BC.

Villa Luz Ecological Reserve

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From Villahermosa, it’s a 90-minute drive to this park, home to the Cascadas de Villa Luz waterfalls. Swim in the crystal pool at the bottom of the falls, or take a walk across swinging suspension bridges shrouded in dense greenery. Later, retire to one of the brightly painted bungalows at nearby eco-retreat Kolem Jaá, which offers ziplining, rafting, climbing excursions. The neighboring mountain village of Tapijulapa — known for its white houses with red tile roofs — is one of 32 towns across Mexico that has been designated a Pueblo Mágico by the ministry of tourism. 

Ruins and Beyond

Cocina Chontal is located just outside the archaeological site at Comalcalco, the westernmost city built by the Mayans. It’s also worth visiting Palenque, historically known as Lakamha, or “big water,” located in the neighboring state of Chiapas but just two hours by car from Villahermosa. This impressive Mayan city-state reached its peak in the 7th Century. An overnight in nearby El Panchan, where hostels are a dime a dozen, can break up the trip. Also in Chiapas, but not far from Tapijulapa, sits El Chichón, an active volcano offering a day of magnificent hiking. Those who make it to the top will be rewarded with views of the emerald-green crater lake.  

Tour Operator

Local adventure-travel outfit Jungla Experience, which operates in Tabasco and Chiapas, can create a custom eco-tourism itinerary. 

Read about Cocina Chontal and the rest of the World’s Best Restaurants here.

This story originally appeared on travelandleisure.com.