The National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City is an excellent way to discover the human history of Mexico. From the dawn of the human species until the modern day, it covers everything. It was for this reason – that it would inform our travels – that I insisted the museum be one of the first places we visit during our trip to Cuidad de Mexico.
The National Anthropology Museum is in the Chapultepec Park district of Mexico City. It is on the north side of the park, above Lago de Chapultepec and Paseo de la Reforma. Its location makes it an opportune destination for entire day’s outing – we combined our day with Chapultepec Castle.
The museum is very large and has a large avenue leading to it. There are also signs throughout Chapultepec Park that will direct you where to go. Opposite the museum, is a large pole and demonstration ground. Here we witnessed an indigenous ceremony where drum and flute players hang by their feet upside down while spinning to the ground.
Upon entering the front building you have three options:
You cannot have backpacks, bags, etc – luckily, the museum provides a “coat storage” for you just behind the gift shop. After that, you can proceed towards the right side of the entrance building where you can purchase your tickets and receive a map.
Designed in 1960, the museum is – to say the least – huge. With 23 rooms, each covering a distinct aspect of Mexican heritage, culture, and history, the establishment is the most visited museum in Mexico.
The museum began in 1790 and expanded and moved numerous times over the following centuries. For a while, the collection was housed in Chapultepec Castle, before settling at the current location.
The current design is that of a horseshoe around a large central pond. The buildings are two stories with a courtyard accessible from the bottom floor.
As I stated above, a big reason I wanted to do the museum, and to do it early, was to inform the rest of our time in Mexico. Our plan was to visit Teotihuacan the following day and Templo Mayor sometime soon after. These massive archaeological sites, I thought, would be better appreciated if we knew about them beforehand. I was right.
When we entered, the ticket master handed us a map, and circled a few key exhibits. As it was a little bit later in the day, we would not have the time to see the whole museum. You will need at least a whole day to see everything – however, you can still get a great experience even if you only see half. If you have the time and interest, you could spend a second day there too!
We spent around 4 hours in the museum. All the exhibits were kept in top shape, and were highly informative and interesting. One aspect that we particularly enjoyed was how the bottom floor exhibits had their own outdoor exhibit portions as well. These gardens gave fresh air and a more authentic presentation of the artifacts.
We put our focus on the Mayans, Olmecs, Aztecs, and Teotihuacan, as well as on the Oaxaca region. Though, we did still manage to see the majority of the museum. It does not disappoint at all.
These human sacrifices were found at Templo Mayor. Their hands were bound behind their backs, and were wearing necklaces made of human jawbones.
A reconstruction of an Aztec temple in one of the many outside exhibits. This is a part of the Tenochtitlan exhibit.
A stone carving of an Aztec God.
Arguably one of the most recognizable artifacts from the Aztecs – the great stone sun calendar is a huge monolithic carving.
A scale model replica of the Templo Mayor complex. The ruins of the complex can be seen in Centro Historico.
The Jaguar is an important animal in the mythologies of the Aztecs.
The Mesoamericans were highly skilled stone workers.
Second-floor exhibits display more modern items. Here, we viewed the traditional dress and textiles of the region.
Death was a very important part of the cultures of Mexico and Central America.
I really don’t think I can emphasize enough, just how impressive the museum is. It’s excellently curated and should keep you occupied the entire time you are there. The displays are in Spanish, English, and Nahuatl – so don’t worry about understanding if you don’t speak Spanish.