With its lavish five-star hotels, American-style shopping malls, and raucous nightclubs, Cancún is about the last place you might expect to find a world class archaeology museum. However, that is exactly what has been built in this popular resort city on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.
The Museo Maya de Cancún, which was inaugurated in November 2012, is considered to be the most important project undertaken by Mexico's National Institute of Archaeology and History (INAH) since the construction of Mexico City's Templo Mayor Museum in 1987. The state-of-the-art museum was designed by Mexican architect Alberto Garcia Lascurain, and its construction reportedly cost 15 million dollars. Built to survive Cancún's capricious climate, the 4,400-square-foot structure features innovations such as steel-reinforced windows to resist hurricane winds, latticed concrete walls to ensure air circulation, and elevated exhibition halls to prevent flood damage to the museum's precious collections.
Hundreds of archaeological treasures from throughout the Maya region are on display in three spacious exhibition halls or salas, two permanent ones and another with temporary exhibits on loan from other museums in the area. The first hall that visitors encounter houses artifacts from the state of Quintana Roo (in which Cancún is located), including the 10,000-year-old remains of a woman found in a submerged limestone cave or cenote. The Sala Maya highlights broader aspects of the Mayan world with displays related to subjects such as daily life, architecture, art, and the natural environment. Floor-to-ceiling windows and an external walkway offer panoramic views of surrounding lush vegetation and of Laguna Nichupté, the sprawling tropical lagoon that borders Cancún's luxurious Hotel Zone.
Adjacent to the museum, and reached by a path winding through the forest, is the recently opened San Miguelito archaeological site that dates back some 800 years. Nestled among towering trees are the remains of residential complexes, ceremonial platforms, and altars, as well as a 26-foot-high pyramid. Exploring both the new museum and these ancient Mayan ruins hidden for so long in the jungle promises to be an eye-opening experience for many of the estimated 12 million tourists who arrive every year to enjoy modern Cancún's white sand beaches and hedonistic pleasures.
The Museo de Cancún is located at Km 16 on Kukulkán Boulevard in the Hotel Zone or Zona Hotelera. It is easily reached by public bus or taxi from downtown Cancún. Admission to the museum and archaeological site is 57 Mexican pesos (about $5.00 US). The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (10 p.m. on Thursday). Get there early enough if you want to see the San Miguilito archaeological site as it closes at 5 p.m.
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Cancun Mayan Museum and San Miguelito Archaeological Site, Cancun - Images by John Mitchell