Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropología is hands-down one of the world’s coolest national history museums. Other travelers agree. It’s the highest recommended Mexico City attraction on TripAdvisor, nabbing more than 2,200 “excellent” ratings.

The thoughtfully laid out museum tells the stories of civilizations that called Mexico home way before the Spanish arrived. Plan to spend at least a few hours exploring the expansive collection of relics, statues, and personal artifacts.

You’ll dig it. I promise.

Aztec sun stone

The Aztec section of the Museo Nacional de Antropología.

Aztec Sun Stone

The most popular item on display at the Museo Nacional de Antropología is the 25-ton Aztec Sun Stone. It was stashed away in Mexico City’s Zocalo, or city center, for safekeeping from the Spanish conquistadors.

While most of Mexico City’s other temples and relics were destroyed during the conquest, the Aztec Sun Stone’s hiding place wasn’t discovered until 250 years after the fighting ended.

The almost 12-foot sculpture is covered in carvings documenting Aztec creation myths. The pained face of the Aztec sun god Tonatiuh grimaces at its center.

Aztec sun stone

The 25-ton Aztec Sun Stone is the centerpiece of the Aztec exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Antropología, and one of the highlights of the museum.

The Olmecs May Have Been Giants

In another room, huge stone heads weighing 20 tons hail from the time of the Olmecs, one of Mexico’s oldest cultures.

The Olmecs lived along the Gulf coast of southern Mexico from 1200 to 400 BC. The heads, ranging in size from five to 11 feet, are believed to represent tribal rulers.

Olmec head

The Olmecs, one of Mexico’s oldest civilizations, may have carved these giant heads to honor their leaders.

Teotihuacan Extra Credit

If you’re visiting Mexico City, you have to check out the nearby ruins of Teotihuacan.

Once one of the world’s leading cities, Teotihuacan thrived for hundreds of years before being mysteriously destroyed and abandoned around 700 AD.

On display at the anthropology museum are life-size representations of Teotihuacan’s pyramids, some of the largest in the world. Bodies believed to be sacrificed during ancient rituals are also part of the exhibit. You can see how the victims’ hands were bound behind their backs before burial.

teotihuacan facade

The replica of a temple that once stood at the ruins of Teotihuacan, just outside Mexico City.

teotihuacan sacrifice

On display are the skeletons of people believed to be ritually sacrificed by one of Mesoamerica’s leading civilizations.

Oops, We Found a Garden. And It’s Awesome.

When taking a supposed shortcut to another exhibit, Greg and I accidentally stumbled upon the museum’s gardens. What a great mistake.

Hidden in the gardens were life-size replicas of the tombs and temples that stood before the conquest transformed Mexico’s cityscape.

Thoughtfully arranged plants and secluded trails heightened the experience of exploring the ancient villages.

museo nacional de antropología gardens

A temple replica in the Museo Nacional de Antropología gardens.

museo nacional de antropología temples

A boy rests on the staircase of a temple while behind him women carefully descend the steep and narrow steps.

Go

Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropología is located in Bosque de Chapultepec, a 1,655-acre park that offers an appreciated break from the city’s traffic and congestion.

The museum is free to residents – and subsequently very busy – on Sundays. Go during the week. You’ll have to pay 57 pesos, roughly $4.40 USD at the time of this post, but you’ll also avoid the crowds.

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