Guides,  Mexico

Stress Free Guide to the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology

Mexico City National Museum Of Anthropology

Did you know Mexico City has one of the top history museums in the world? It’s true! Like much of the capital, the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology is absurdly underrated while also being a world-class tourist attraction.

This museum contains over 600,000 objects related to Mexico’s extensive history. These objects span centuries and empires, to tell Mexico’s rich history, and yet, it doesn’t get talked about in nearly the same vein as more popular museums like the Louvre or the British Museum. I’d like to help change that.

This post on the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology is going to introduce this excellent museum to you. You’ll also find important need-to-know info for planning your visit. Because this is a such an extensive museum, having plans for how to tackle it are immensely helpful if you want to have a relaxed and enjoyable time.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission. This occurs at no added cost to you.

Summary of the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology

HoursTuesday – Sunday 9:00 – 6:00
Length of VisitAt least 2.5 – 3 hours
Cost90 pesos (about $5 USD)
HighlightsAztec Sun Stone, Olmec head, garden exhibits,
Moctezuma’s headdress, Pakal’s tomb

The Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology is one the greatest repositories of Mesoamerican art and history in the world with over 600,000 different objects that tell the story of mankind’s time in Mexico.

The museum is divided into a ground floor containing archaeology exhibits and an upper floor with exhibits on the cultures of modern-day Mexico.

Plan to spend the bulk of your time visiting the ground floor. This is where the National Museum of Anthropology’s most important collections are found. The various exhibits here are conveniently arranged by either region or civilization. Because of this arrangement, it’s easy to find specific things. For instance, if you’re most interested in Mayan history, you can head straight to this section while your mind and legs are fresh.

In general, though, the ground floor is meant to be visited in counterclockwise order starting with the first room on your right when you enter the central courtyard. Starting there, you’ll get an introduction to humanity’s first migration to and settlement of Mexico (however, this can be skipped – more on that below). After that introduction, you’ll walk through rooms dedicated to different Mexican civilizations. These sections include the civilizations of the Teotihuacans, Toltecs, Mexicas, Oaxacan, Mayan and more.

If you’re not too burnt out after visiting the archaeology exhibits, you can head upstairs to learn more about modern Mexico. Stairways can be found in a few different spots of the museum.

Sculpted Water Feature In The Mexico City National Museum Of Anthropology Courtyard
This water feature, El Paraguas, greets you when you first enter the main part of the museum. The different sections of the museum are arranged around this courtyard.

Three Tips to Enjoying the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology

Consider a Guided Tour

Let me preface this by saying I thoroughly enjoyed the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology without a guide. I found all the objects on display utterly fascinating, and they made me want to learn more about Mexican history. So, it’s certainly possibly to have a good on your own here.

Having said all that, I think a guided tour at this museum would add so much to your experience for three reasons.

First, the National Museum of Anthropology is huge. It’s easy to become both physically and mentally exhausted before you’re even halfway through everything. A guide will make sure you see only the most important things to help keep you from getting overwhelmed.

Second, much of the historical information provided by the museum’s curators is likely going to be new for most visitors. To make this worse, Mexico has seen many different civilizations come and go over its history. These civilizations overlapped, interacted with, and evolved from one another. It all gets pretty confusing and difficult to keep straight. Similar to how a guide will take you to the most important objects, he or she will also provide you with the most important information to give the objects historical context. They’ll also be able to answer any questions you may have along the way.

Third, a lot of the information in the museum is only in Spanish. It makes sense since Spanish is their primary language. Still, it’s important to note if you are visiting from another country where Spanish isn’t the main language. We were able to understand some of it, but I was a little disappointed that I missed out on so much.

Skip the First Three Rooms

If you are going to visit the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology without a tour, these next two tips are for you.

Don’t waste your time and energy in the first three sections of the museum. These first rooms, especially the first two, deal with the evolution of humans and our migrations across the globe. Naturally, the focus deals with how our distant ancestors settled what became Mexico.

Despite the focus on Mexico, it’s not particularly essential nor is it even close to as interesting as the rest of the museum’s exhibits. Furthermore, the objects here are mostly replicas and dioramas, and you likely have seen some of this information before.

Besides that, you can easily enjoy and appreciate the rest of the museum even if you don’t know this part of Mexico’s history. With how much the National Museum of Anthropology covers, save yourself for everything else.

Because we didn’t know what to expect, we spent way too much time in these first rooms. We completely skipped the upper floor of the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology because we were too exhausted by the time we finished with the ground floor. While the most important parts of the museum are on the ground floor, I would have liked to have seen the rest of the museum. I had way too much museum fatigue. A big part of that was due to reading too much information in these rooms while I was fresh.

Take Your Time

If nothing else, take your time in the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology. Like I’ve said a couple times now, this is a big museum with tons of objects for you to see.

It’s doable in about three hours if you have other things to do in Mexico City. However, if possible, you should give yourself at least an additional hour or so if you want to see everything. You’ll be grateful that you planned that much time for the museum once you start making your way through it.

Take advantage of benches both indoors and outdoors to take a break. I think the ones outside are particularly helpful because they give you a chance to sit and look at something different from museum exhibits. It’s a chance to completely shut off and relax for a couple minutes.

The Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology also has a cafe near the entrance if you need to stop for a coffee or quick meal during your visit. You can even leave the museum and come back later in the day with your ticket if you need an extended break.

Garden Bench In The Anthropology Museum
Don’t hesitate to grab a seat for a breath of fresh air if you’re starting to feel exhausted.

Know you’re going to have to rush through the museum? You can always plan for a few days of rest and relaxation in Los Cabos after your time in Mexico City!

Highlights of the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology

Aztec Sun Stone

Probably the most well-known highlight of the Mexico City National Museum is the Aztec Sun Stone. This historical find is one of the most emblematic objects in the museum.

The exact purpose of the Aztec sun stone is unclear, but what is apparent is how impressive of an object it is. It weighs 24 tons, has a diameter of 12 feet and is 39 inches thick. It’s a sight to see, and it dominates the central room in the Mexica section of the museum.

Common belief holds that this carved stone is an Aztec calendar. However, it was most likely used as a sort of sacrificial altar dedicated to the Aztec sun god and their overall cosmology.

Aztec Sun Stone Mexico City National Museum Of Anthropology
The Aztec Sun Stone is a fascinating object. I spent several minutes just admiring the many intricate carvings on it.
The Room In The National Museum Of Anthropology With The Aztec Sun Stone
The room with the Aztec sun stone contains lots of other objects, but the sun stone easily takes center stage.

Olmec Heads

The Olmec heads were probably the exhibit I was most looking forward to in the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology. Whether it’s because of my adolescent love of Legends of the Hidden Temple or because of their ancient nature, I couldn’t wait to see these carvings. I don’t think they’ll disappoint you, either.

These colossal heads date to at least 900 B.C. and were created by the Olmec civilization who lived in southeastern Mexico. Seventeen of these sculptures have been found to date, with two of them residing in this museum.

The two in the anthropology museum were both found in San Lorenzo, measure 5.5 and 8.8 feet tall, and weigh 8 and 10 tons each. Their massive size is incredible to behold in person.

Olmec Colossal Head
One of two original Olmec heads in the National Museum of Anthropology
A Replica Olmec Head In The Mexico City National Museum Of Anthropology Garden
A replica of an Olmec head placed in one of the museum’s several gardens

Garden Exhibits

The Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology has several outdoor exhibits containing original and replica objects. Many of the features in these areas are large scale replica temples and other buildings. The designers placed them in such a way that it makes visitors feel like they’re discovering them in the middle of Mexico’s tropical forests.

The other outdoor sections are more garden-like in nature with paths leading around Mexican flora and various archaeological objects, including a replica Olmec head. One of these gardens was lined with sculptures of dragons in various states of disrepair that I found particularly enchanting.

Besides the various things on display, these parts of the National Museum of Anthropology are just a pleasant way to get outside. They’re a nice break from the crowds and barrage of historical artifacts inside.

Several Statues Depicting The Heads Of Dragons
The garden exhibits were filled with interesting things while also being a nice outdoor escape.
Replica Temple In The National Museum Of Anthropology's Gardens
The curators of the museum did a good job at making it feel like you just stumbled upon these temples while walking through nature.

Moctezuma’s Headdress

While only a replica, this recreation of Moctezuma’s headdress is still a stunning object. It’s made from hundreds of different feathers that, taken together, give off a bluish green hue. The headdress is so elegant and intricate that both Michelle’s and my initial reaction were hushed wows.

But is it really Moctezuma’s headdress? The answer to that is up for debate. Most current art historians doubt that it belonged to Moctezuma since Aztec rulers didn’t wear headdresses like this. Current thought is that this headdress would have been worn by priests during religious rituals.

Replica Of Moctezuma's Headdress In Mexico City National Museum Of Anthropology
Whatever the original intent of this headdress, there’s no denying its beauty.

Replica Temples

Personally, I loved how several sections of the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology had large-scale replica facade of buildings built inside it. These replicas are modeled after whatever civilization that section of the museum is showcasing, and I thought they were a great way of setting the mood in each room.

They were also much more interesting ways of displaying the exhibits compared to plain walls. It made the museum feel more organic. A couple of these exhibits even allowed you to walk inside them to view other historical objects from that particular era.

Replica Temple Facade Adorned With Various Creatures In The Mexico City National Museum Of Anthropology
One of the large temple facades in the museum
A Mexican Temple Recreation
Another recreated temple that you can walk inside to view smaller exhibits

Tomb of Pakal

Like the replica temples, this exhibit recreates the tomb of Pakal, the monarch of the Mayan city-state of Palenque.

The exhibit takes you downstairs to a small space with dim lighting. It’s designed to feel like you’re walking into the bowels of the temple where Pakal’s tomb was found in 1952. It’s an interesting change from the rest of the National Museum of Anthropology.

In addition to the replica tomb, you can also see the original jade mask and funerary jewelry that archeologists found on Pakal. The mask is fine example of Mayan craftmanship, even if it is a bit on creepy side.

Tomb Of Pakal In Mexico City National Museum Of Anthropology
One of the museum’s more atmospheric sections

Other Things to do Near the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology

Chapultepec Castle is the nearest major tourist attraction from the National Museum of Anthropology. The castle sits on a hill in Chapultepec Park not too far from the museum. A visit here includes the opportunity to visit Mexico’s National History Museum and the apartments of Emperor Maximilian I.

The other major attraction near the anthropology museum is the Museum of Modern Art. This art gallery contains collections from famed Mexican artists like Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Jose Clemente Orozco.

All these attractions can be found in Chapultepec Park. This is Mexico City’s largest park and the second largest park in Latin America. Even if you don’t intend to visit any of these places, Chapultepec Park is still a pleasant spot for a walk away from the rest of Mexico City’s urban scene.

Within the park is Chapultepec Zoo. This could be a good option if you have children with you. It’s a great way to reward them either before or after the National Museum of Anthropology. Chapultepec Zoo is also famous for being the first zoo outside of China to successfully mate giant pandas. It currently houses one of the last remaining giant pandas in the world not owned by China.

Part Of Chapultepec Park In Mexico City
One of the entrances to Chapultepec Park near Mexico City’s downtown
Chapultepec Castle
Some of the gardens at Chapultepec Castle

Frequently Asked Questions About the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology

When is the best time to visit the Mexico City Anthropology Museum?

Summer and winter months are the best times to visit if you want to avoid crowds. You should also try to visit the museum early in the morning before tour groups start to come through.

Should I buy tickets beforehand?

You can purchase tickets beforehand to skip the line at the ticket office. It shouldn’t be necessary, though. The museum can get busy, but you likely won’t have to wait too long to buy tickets. If you want to buy tickets, you can buy them from the official website or by using the widget below.

Are there food options at the museum?

The museum has one cafe to the left of where you enter the central courtyard after purchasing your ticket. We stopped in to grab something after our visit to the museum but ended up not purchasing anything because we arrived around the lunchtime rush. Nevertheless, online reviews of the cafe are generally positive.

Here are some more tips and answers to common questions regarding visiting Mexico City!

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