Visitors to the popular resort area of Cancun are mostly looking for fun in the sun on Cancun's beautiful beaches, but many will be pleased to know that during their visit, they can also learn about the ancient Mayan civilization that developed in the area.
The Maya Museum is located in the heart of the Cancun hotel zone. Besides a museum, there is an archaeological site, called San Miguelito, on the same grounds (which stretches over 85,000 square meters).
The Museum and Exhibits
The museum is housed in a modern white building with large windows, which was designed by Mexican architect Alberto García Lascurain. Three white columns made of delicate leafy patterns representing the vegetation of the area sit in a fountain at the entrance to the museum. These were designed by Jan Hendrix, a Dutch-born artist who has lived and worked in Mexico for over thirty years.
On the ground floor of the museum, you'll find the ticket booth and bag check area; you'll be asked to leave any large bags as they're not permitted inside the museum. There is a cafeteria on this level also, and gardens with paths leading to the archaeological site.
The exhibition halls are located on the second floor, accessed via elevator (the museum is wheelchair accessible). They are elevated to 30 feet above sea level to protect the collection in case of flooding. There are three exhibition halls, two of which are permanent and one which is used for temporary exhibits. The museum's complete collection contains over 3,500 pieces, but only about a tenth of the collection is currently on display (some 320 pieces).
The first hall is dedicated to the archaeology of the State of Quintana Roo and presented in roughly chronological order. One of the most notable aspects of the collection is found here, the skeletal remains of La Mujer de las Palmas ("The Woman of the Palms") and a replica of the context in which they were discovered. She is believed to have lived in the area some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, and her remains were found in the Las Palmas cenote near Tulum in 2002.
The second hall is dedicated to Mayan culture as a whole and includes pieces found in other areas of Mexico: besides Quintana Roo, the Maya World encompassed the present-day Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, and Yucatan, and stretched into the countries of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and part of Honduras. A replica of Monument 6 from Tortuguero site in Tabasco is particularly interesting, as this stela was used as evidence for some of the theories of what would happen at the end of the Maya long count calendar in 2012.
The third hall houses the temporary exhibits and rotates often.
San Miguelito Archaeological Site
After visiting the museum, go back down to the ground level and follow the path that leads to the San Miguelito archaeological site. This is considered a small site, but it's certainly a pleasant surprise to find this green oasis of 1,000 square meters (3,200 square feet) of jungle with meandering paths leading to a variety of ancient structures in the middle of Cancun's hotel zone.
The Mayans inhabited the site over 800 years ago until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors (roughly 1250 to 1550 CE). The site contains some 40 structures, of which five are open to the public, the largest being a pyramid of 26 feet in height. San Miguelito's ideal location, on the coast of the Caribbean Sea and near the Nichupté Lagoon, facilitated its residents' involvement in the ancient Mayan system of trade. The location allowed them to make use of routes around the lagoons, reefs, and mangroves.
The Museo Maya de Cancun is located at kilometer marker 16.5 in the Hotel Zone, adjacent to the Omni Cancun, The Royal Mayan, and the Grand Oasis Cancun resorts. It is easily accessible by taxi or public bus from anywhere in the hotel zone.