International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
With good reason, guidebooks extol the virtues of the museums in Mexico's capital, including the world-famous Palacio de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum) and the Museo Nacional de Antropologia (National Anthropology Museum). These institutions house some of the country's finest art and exceptional collections of artefacts.
But this megalopolis of almost nine million people has far more to show than Diego Rivera murals and Aztec totems. Mexico City ranks second after Paris as the city with the greatest number of museums, with more than 150 at last count.
How can one city -- even one with such a rich history and such a large population -- sustain so many museums? The answer lies, paradoxically perhaps, in the burgeoning number of ultra-niche museums. Whatever your interest, there is probably a museum dedicated to it, and these museums' very existence inspires admiration and loyalty among aficionados and travellers alike.
Try the Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico (MUJAM), or Mexican Antique Toy Museum. If Willy Wonka had had a soft spot for toys rather than sweets, his factory would have looked a lot like this museum. It houses the million-strong toy collection of local architect Roberto Shimizu, who spent decades amassing the pieces on display.
The space is packed wall to wall and practically floor to rafters with displays of dolls, tin cars, action figures, board games and thousands of other toys, including masks from Mexico's indigenous cultures. The museum is an homage to the golden age of Mexican toy making, before the mass-produced toys of the globalised era came into being, and visitors of all ages come for a glimpse into the playful side to Mexico's history;
Akin to MUJAM in its celebration of Mexican products, the Museo del Objeto del Objeto (the Museum of the Purpose of the Object) is a collection of more than 30,000 quotidian objects, some more than two centuries old. From shoeshine boxes encrusted with aluminium religious icons to political campaign buttons and soda bottles, the objects reflect popular culture over the years and serve as a visual history of Mexican design and advertising
Some of the city’s niche museums are not quite so light-hearted. The Museo de la Policia Preventiva del DF (Museum of the Preventive Police of Mexico City) has a few permanent, no-holds-barred exhibitions about assassins and the history of the death penalty, which was abolished in Mexico in 2005. Rotating exhibits like “Women Who Kill” and “Vampires and Wolfmen: Myths and Realities”, are intended to discourage crime and help visitors learn about the “warning signs” of sociopaths and psychopaths. Sound like a must-miss? Not for the dozens of people who queue up in lines snaking down the block!
Another curious museum, and one that is much harder for the general public to access, is a collection of paraphernalia seized from the country's drug cartels. The Museo de Enervantes (Narcomuseum) is housed inside the city's National Security department and displays the ostentatious possessions of Mexican kingpins. The 10-room museum contains gold-handled pistols with jewel inlays and cars with false compartments. But you will be hard-pressed to gain entry. National Security forces strictly control visitors, and those who have seen the collateral are mostly people with press passes, or police and military badges.
If the thought of drugs and violence makes you want to drink away the world's troubles, there is of course a museum for that too. The Museo de Tequila y Mezcal (Museum of Tequila and Mezcal) opened in December 2010. Though you can certainly wander through the exhibits that explain and honour these two Mexican liquors, you could also be forgiven if you headed directly to the museum's shop for a souvenir -- such as an artisanal, small-batch spirit. Either way, time your visit right and you will be serenaded by the mariachi groups that frequent the museum’s plaza each evening. It is be a fitting way to end your whirlwind visit through the city's niche museums -- from the kitsch to the killer.