The facade of the Museo Nacional de Antropología.

©Daniel Welsch/Lonely Planet

Museo de Antropología

Top choice in Xalapa

Attached to spacious gardens, 4km northwest of the center, this remarkable museum contains Mexico’s second-finest archaeological collection. The focus is on the main pre-Hispanic civilizations from the Gulf coast, principally the Olmecs, the Totonacs, the Huastecs and Classic Veracruz, and the beautifully displayed artifacts are presented in chronological order in a series of interconnecting galleries that descend the side of a lush hill.

The exhibits' scale and breadth rival the museum’s intricate layout. Standout exhibits include the world's largest collection of giant Olmec heads, a reconstruction of the Las Higueras temple, jade masks, and the museum's most celebrated piece: the jade Olmec sculpture, El señor de las Limas, from southern Veracruz. There are also dramatic stone representations of the main pre-Columbian deities, namely Quetzalcoal (aka the Feathered Serpent), god of creation and knowledge; Tlaloc, the bespectacled god of rain and fertility; Tlazolteotl (aka the Eater of Filth), the patron deity of adulterers and goddess of carnal desire; and Xipe Totec, deity of life-death-rebirth, celebrated with the sacrifice of a slave and the priest wearing the flayed skin of the corpse. There is also an array of fine work associated with the pre-Hispanic ball game.

It has a small cafe on the upper floor and an excellent bookstore, while the walk back up the hill through the beautifully kept garden is a delight.

All information panels are in Spanish, but there is an excellent iPhone/audioguide in English (bring ID to leave as collateral) that you can rent.

If taking public transportation, hop on a ‘Camacho-Tesorería’ bus from Enríquez near Parque Juárez. To return, take a bus marked ‘Centro.’ A taxi costs M$35.

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