Set in spacious gardens off Avenida Xalapa, 4km northwest of the center, this remarkable museum (containing Mexico’s second-finest archaeological collection) is a work of art in its own right. 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. A taxi costs M$30.
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 a truly excellent bookstore, while the walk back up the hill through the beautifully kept garden is a delight.
It's well worth paying extra for the excellent audio guide (bring ID to leave as collateral), or else download the museum's app.
If taking public transportation, hop on a ‘Camacho-Tesorería’ bus from Enríquez near Parque Juárez. To return, take a bus marked ‘Centro.’