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Latin America isn’t just a gorgeous place — it’s got lots of art and history as well, which means great museums to boot. But which ones should you check out during your visit? We’ve compiled a list of eight great Latin America museums. After all, your trip can’t just be all dancing and flirting!
1. The Museum of Belize, Belize City
The Museum of Belize in Belize City is colossal and beautiful, though it’s got a dark history. The building has stood since 1855, and has survived several fires. Oddly enough, it wasn’t always a museum; until 1998, it was actually a prison. Public executions were held in the area that is now the main entrance. Thankfully, since reopening in 2002 as a museum, its cells are now filled with antiques, photographs and general information about Belize City.
2. The Panama Canal Museum, Panama City
The Panama Canal changed the world. The man-made canal made shipping goods much easier — a boon to the global economy — so of course Panama’s best museum is dedicated to its most famous geographical feature. The Panama Canal Museum — or, if you want to be fancy, The Museum of the Inter-Oceanic Canal of Panama — was founded in 1874, right next to the canal. And like the Museum of Belize, it wasn’t always a museum. Until the museum opened in 1997, it was a hotel with government offices and a post office.
3. The Sculpture Museum, Copan
The Sculpture Museum in the Mayan archaeological zone of Copan, Honduras is a sight to see. It has some of the most important examples of pre-Hispanic culture and art distributed over 43,000 square feet. The 59 sections of the museum have over 3,000 pieces recovered from Mayan sites, along with some replicas to illustrate why the Mayans were one of the most advanced ancient civilizations in the world.
4. Museum of Art of El Salvador, San Salvador
If you’re more interested in modern art, you’ll want to check out El Salvador’s Museum of Art in San Salvador. This museum features El Salvadorian art of all media and size, from the 17th century to today. The works in the museum are a combination of the museum’s own collection, art from private collections and on loan and traveling exhibits from all over the world.
5. The Ortiz Gurdián Foundation, Leon
The Museum of Art of the Ortiz Gurdián Foundation in Leon, Nicaragua, displays art from the last four centuries. The museum is divided into two eras: One section holds older pieces like Catholic art from the 17th century, while the other is devoted to modern art and clay crafts from San Juan de Oriente. This museum has a very impressive collection, including work from Picasso, Diego Rivera and Matisse.
6. Chocomuseum, Antigua
Everyone knows Mayan ruins are impressive, but sometimes you get burned out on art and history. Thankfully, Antigua, Guatemala, has the perfect alternative: the Chocomuseum. Antigua’s a sublime small town, and the fact that it houses a museum dedicated to one of the most delicious foods on the planet makes it even more amazing. You’ll learn about the process of making chocolate, and you can even customize your own chocolate. And bring your wallet (or maybe conveniently leave it at home) — this gift shop puts Willy Wonka’s factory to shame. Switzerland and Belgium may be known for their chocolate, but there’s nothing better than going directly to the source.
7. Soumaya Museum, Mexico City
Mexico City has more museums than any other city in the world, and picking just one is no easy feat. The House of Frida Kahlo, The Anthropology Museum and the Children’s Museum are all worthy contenders, but the one that has it all is the Soumaya Museum of Carso Square. Name a famous artist and you’ll likely see work from them here. (If you can’t think of any famous artists, we’ll get you started: Fabergé, Mondrian, Van Gogh and Dalí all have work inside, and that’s just a start.) It’s not just art, though — the Soumaya also houses historical artifacts, and the upper level is devoted to sculpture. But the most impressive work of art may be the building itself. This modernist beehive attracts countless selfie-takers.
8. Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, San José
And, finally, if you want to see some classic bling, go to the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum in Costa Rica. Located in the Cultural Square of San José, this museum has the most impressive collection of indigenous gold pieces. That’s more than 2,000 objects, so be sure to bring your shades to protect your eyes from all that sparkle.