Set in spacious gardens on the west side of Avenida Xalapa, 4km northwest of the center, the building that encases this remarkable museum (containing Mexico’s second-finest archaeological collection) is a work of art in its own right – a series of interconnecting galleries that fall like a regal staircase down the side of a lush hill. Viewing archaeological treasures has rarely been this pleasurable. As there’s so much to see, allow yourself a good chunk of time to visit.

The exhibits' scale and breadth rival the museum’s intricate layout. Three key Gulf coast pre-Hispanic civilizations are represented – namely the Olmecs, the Totonacs and the Huastecs – and the exhibits are presented chronologically within their sections, with clearly labeled explanations in Spanish. Laminated English information sheets are attached to the wall at the entrance to each new room, but a good audio guide in English (bring ID to leave as collateral) explains the most important items in detail. Several spaces concentrate on the Olmec culture from southern Veracruz, from which comes the most celebrated piece, the sculpture El señor de las Limas. There’s also an array of fine work associated with the pre-Hispanic ball game.

There’s 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.

To get there, take a ‘Camacho-Tesorería’ bus (M$8) from the corner of Enríquez and Parque Juárez. To return, take a bus marked ‘Centro.’ A taxi costs M$30.