Izapa Archaeological Zone (8 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed.–Sun., free) is the Pacific coast’s most significant Maya ruin, having dominated the region for nearly a thousand years. Though not as grandiose as ruins elsewhere in the state, it still makes for an interesting day trip from Tapachula .
Many archaeologists believe Izapa was settled as early as 1500 B.C., which would have made it a contemporary of the Olmecs, Mesoamerica’s first complex society. A number of artifacts found at Izapa seem to mimic common Olmec motifs, leading some, including noted author and scholar Michael Coe, to describe Izapa as a connective link between the Olmec and the Maya cultures. Others say the influence is fleeting, however, and no definitive answer has emerged.
What is clear is that Izapa’s artisans were both highly skilled and extremely prolific. Excavations have uncovered scores of stelae, altars, and other monuments, many more than at other ruins from the same period. Frogs, toads, crocodiles, and other reptiles and amphibians, which represent fertility and rebirth in most Maya contexts, figure prominently in Izapa’s artwork; it is also notable for depicting large groups of figures rather than just one important personage.
Izapa was occupied for nearly 3,000 years before being abandoned in A.D. 1200.
The ruins are made up of about 80 structures, divided into three distinct building groups. The main one, Group F, is located along the highway, with the massive Tacaná Volcano  looming in the distance. Group F covers a relatively small area, consisting mostly of low-lying structures, a ball court, and a handful of weathered stelae and sculptures.
The other two groups, Group A and Group B, are made up of a number of uncovered mounds, stone sculptures, and stelae. They’re located on the opposite side of the highway from Group F, approximately 400 meters (0.25 mile) down a dirt road.
From Tapachula , take a Unión y Progreso (5a Calle Pte. near 12a Av. Nte., every 5–10 mins 4 a.m.–10:30 p.m.) combi that’s headed to Cacahoatán. Ask the driver to let you off at the Izapa ruins (30 mins, US$0.85). To return, just wait alongside the highway for a combi to pass by.
Heading east from Tapachula, look for Ruínas Izapa Restaurante; from there, Group F is about 200 meters (0.13 mile) further down the highway, while Groups A and B are about 400 meters (0.25 mile) down a dirt road (the turnoff is just before the restaurant). Partway down the dirt road, you’ll hit a three-way fork; go down the center road to hit the ruins.