Visiting Mummies in Mexico

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When you think of mummies, Mexico is probably the last place that comes to mind. For most people, we associate mummies with Egypt. But surprisingly, there are mummies in Mexico! And the best place to find these mummies is in the central Mexican town of Guanajuato. In fact, there is a whole museum dedicated to these mummies of Guanajuato.

There are so many cultural and adventure attractions in Guanajuato to explore. But the Museo de las Momias, which is located on the western side of the city, is the most unique and unusual attraction. It sits on top of a hill, adjacent to a cemetery called the Panteon Santa Paula. Here in this small museum, around 59 human bodies from the 1800’s are on display, perfectly mummified in their glass cases.

Warning: if you are in any way uneasy about death or dead bodies, then don’t read any further. While I find these kinds of things fascinating, I understand that not everybody does. Consider yourself warned. 

Mummies in Mexico at the Mueso de las Momias in Guanajuato
The mummies of Guanajuato (December 2018)

The history of the mummies of Guanajuato

The story behind the mummies of Guanajuato is both strange and sad. These mummies of Guanajuato were bodies of the deceased, exhumed from the Panteon Santa Paula beginning in the 1800’s until the 1970’s. Yet in researching the history of these mummies in Mexico, I found some discrepancy as to why the bodies were exhumed (removed from their crypts) in the first place.

One explanation I found was that these mummies were part of the dead that resulted from the cholera outbreak that swept through Asia, Europe, and Latin America in the mid-1800’s. In order to make more room for the newly deceased in the Panteon Santa Paula, bodies had to be exhumed.

In another explanation, the reason for exhuming the bodies was because the relatives of the deceased failed to pay grave taxes to the cemetery. The mummies that reside in Museo de las Momias, and that are part of the museum’s larger collection, are the bodies of the deceased who never had relatives come to claim them and pay the necessary taxes for their graves.  

Regardless of which explanation you go with, because of the dry and air-tight conditions of the crypts, these bodies were perfectly mummified when they were exhumed. For a long time, the cemetery kept these mummies in an underground storage area. Over time, the workers began charging admission for people to come see these mummies of Guanajuato. Eventually, the Museo de las Momias was created, to properly store and display the mummies in a more respectful manner.

Mummies in Mexico at the Mueso de las Momias in Guanajuato
A woman at the Museo de las Momias (December 2018)

Visiting the Museo de las Momias

Oddly enough, the Museo de las Momias is one of Guanajuato City’s most well-known tourist attraction. People throughout Mexico know about the mummies of Guanajuato. There’s even a classic Mexican horror film about the mummies! Author, Ray Bradbury, once visited the Museo de las Momias and wrote a short story based on it.

The Museo de las Momias is easy to get to by car, bus, or even walking. Any taxi driver knows where the Museo de las Momias is located, and many of the public buses that pass through Centro, Guanajuato’s historic town center, go in the direction of the museum.  If you choose to walk to the museum, it is about a thirty minute walk from Centro.  

Admission to the Museo de las Momias is 85 pesos for adults, and 50 pesos for children over three and a half feet tall. Cameras (including phone cameras) cost an additional 30 pesos. The museum is open Mondays through Thursdays from 9am to 6pm. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the museum is open from 9am to 6:30pm.

Baby mummies in Mexico at the Mueso de las Momias in Guanajuato
A baby with their picture (December 2018)

Our family’s experience with the mummies in Mexico

We hesitated at first to bring our kids to the mummy museum. Would it be too scary? Too creepy? How would the kids handle seeing dead bodies? But surprisingly, the kids were just as fascinated by the mummies of Guanajuato as we were.

The mummies at the Museo de las Momias are all displayed in sealed glass cases that are temperature controlled. It is a bit unnerving, at first, to see them displayed like this. In their cases, they look like specimens. They look like objects. You forget that they are humans. These mummies were people who, at one point, had their own lives and their own stories. Now they are just exhibits in a museum. Thinking about this, even now, makes me sad.

But from a historical and educational perspective, the Museo de las Momias is an interesting place to visit. Here, you can really see what happens to our bodies when we die. In the exhibits, you see people in the clothes they were wearing when they were buried. You see body parts that you think wouldn’t be preserved, like beards, or teeth, or even eyeballs. You can even see the smallest mummy in the world, a six month old fetus.  

Smallest mummy in the world - mummies in Mexico at the Museo de las Momias in Guanajuato
The smallest mummy in the world (December 2018)

Making time to see mummies of Guanajuato

A visit to the Museo de las Momias is not for the faint of heart! There are things in that museum that may be disturbing for young children to see. So take time to consider whether seeing mummies in Mexico would be appropriate for your family.

However, if your kids are mature enough to see this kind of thing, then you should definitely make time to see the mummies of Guanajuato. As I wrote about previously, travel often pushes us to step out of our comfort zones, and a visit to the Museo de las Momias certainly fits that bill. 

Have you visited the Museo de las Momias? Share your experience of seeing mummies in Mexico in the comments.

Visiting Mummies in Mexico | The Wandering Daughter

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23 Responses

  1. You are right. When I think of mummies I think of Egypt. Who would have known there is a whole mummy museum in Mexico. I was not surprised to read that it is located right beside a cemetery. Fascinating to hear that there were different stories about why these were exhumed from their original resting spots. The faces on the mummies look so animated! Almost as if they were unhappy at being moved. I like that cameras are allowed. And am ok with paying a little more to be able to take pics!

  2. What an odd museum. I’m sure it was really interesting though. We went to the catacombs outside of Rome and saw all sorts of body parts from long ago. My kids were fascinated with the whole experience. I thought that was also an odd thing to have as a tourist attraction. The babies in your post make me sad though. Babies shouldn’t die. They are very well preserved though.

    1. I heard Rome has some usual things to see in the catacombs. It’s good to have our kids see these kinds of things, though.

  3. I never knew that there were mummies in Mexico, thought it was confined to Egypt! So I learnt something new today. It is a really unique museum and for some reason, I want to check this out now. Did you get the spooky chills while exploring here?

  4. I think this looks such an interesting place to visit. I’ve only seen mummies in the British Museum, not like this, I guess the presentation year is less glossy, possibly more ‘real’. I didn’t realise certain body parts would be preserved. My son would love visiting this place for sure

    1. It definitely was interesting to see how the bodies were preserved. How old is your son? He probably would get a kick out of it for sure.

  5. Wow, the expressions on many of them look absolutely grueling and scary. The dark atmosphere definitely adds to this effect – I’m too much of a chicken to see this, lol.

    1. Apparently, the expressions come from the relaxing of the jaws as the body breaks down. But it does make it look creepy, doesn’t it?

  6. You are right, I wouldn’t able even to guess you can see mummies in Mexico. I have seen mummies for the first time in the British Museum, but they didn’t look like these ones. I am impressed that the kids were not scared.

    1. Our kids were pretty fascinated, and we used it as a science and history lesson for them. I’m sure the mummies at the British Museum were a lot more preserved and well-kept.

  7. These mummies do not make me feel uneasy at all. In fact I find them interesting, as they represent the history of the life of those who existed before us. And as you’ve mentioned, whether you believe that they were exhumed to make space after a cholera outbreak or because their relatives didn’t pay grave taxes, is not that important. Histories are multi-layered. I can’t believe how well preserved they are. I’d be keen to see the 6 month old foetus mummy up-close.

  8. You are right, I am familiar with mummies in Egypt but would not have considered Mexico. What a fascinating visit, though I have to admit the pictures of the mummies make me a little uneasy, However, If I do get to Guanajuato City, I’d visit this museum. Thanks for writing about it.

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