Chile’s top four archaeological and anthropological museums

The best places to go to discover the many reminders of this country’s long and mysterious past.

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As well as being blessed with stunning natural beauty, Chile has a wealth of historical treasures dating back thousands of years. In the centuries before Spanish settlement, several indigenous groups occupied the thin stretch of land between the rugged Andean peaks and the Pacific Ocean, leaving behind many invaluable artifacts that have stood the test of time.

The country’s archaeological treasures are as diverse as its climate, ranging from the ancient mummies of the Atacama Desert to the enchanting moai stone figures of Easter Island.

For those wanting to get a glimpse of Chile’s ancient past, there are a number of high quality museums in some of Chile’s most popular tourist centers with a broad range of exhibits from the past. Here is an overview of four of our favorites.

Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Santiago

Situated in the stately former Palacio de la Real Aduana, just one block from the capital city’s bustling Plaza de Armas, this is one of the best maintained museums in all of Chile. Divided into six different regions throughout Latin America, the museum’s permanent exhibition contains an impressive collection of pottery, intricate handicrafts fashioned from silver and copper, stone carvings and wooden statues. Highlights include a 5,000-year-old Atacameña mummy, a group of larger-than-life wooden Mapuche statues and an impressive textile room featuring richly colored mats and woven fabrics. The museum has an excellent gift shop and a charming outdoor café.

Address: Bandera 361, Santiago Centro
Opening hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Tue-Sun
Admission: Adults: CLP 3,000 (US$6.75); Students: CLP 1,000 (US$1.90); Children under 13: free

Archaeological Museum of La Serena

Founded in 1943, this gem of a museum contains over 12,000 painstakingly compiled archaeological pieces and a mind-boggling amount of information. While it may not be very fancy at first glance, it’s a treasure trove for history buffs. The museum contains tools and handicrafts from all over Chile with a particular emphasis on the pottery of the Diaguita people from Chile’s northern desert. Some of the standouts of the permanent display are the collection of ancient sea-faring canoes, the marine fossils and an authentic moai statue that stands proudly in its own dedicated room. If you can’t make it to Easter Island, it’s the next best thing! The museum is located in a restored colonial home with an impressive stone entrance, around the corner from La Serena’s famous La Recova markets.

Address: Francisco de Aguirre, 260, La Serena
Opening hours:  9:30 a.m.-5:50 p.m. Tue-Fri; 10 a.m.-1 p.m. & 4-7 p.m. Sat, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sun
Admission: Adults: CLP 600 (US$1.15); Children: CLP 300 (US$0.60); entrance free on Sundays

Gustavo Le Paige Museum in San Pedro de Atacama

Set in the rugged northern tourist town of San Pedro de Atacama, the RP Gustavo Le Paige SJ Archaeological Research Institute and Museum contains an extensive collection of treasures and artifacts from Chile’s Atacameña desert culture with more than 300,000 pieces dating back 11,000 years. Begun in the 1950s by Gustavo Le Paige, a dedicated Belgian Jesuit priest, today the museum is run by the Universidad Católica del Norte. Among the many items on display are ancient ceramics, pieces of clothing and everyday utensils from the long forgotten culture. Highlights include a collection of ceremonial metal busts and animal-shaped earthenware jars.

Address: Gustavo Le Paige 380, San Pedro de Atacama
Opening hours: 9am-12pm & 2-6pm Mon-Fri; 10am-12pm & 2-6pm weekends
Admission: Adults: CLP3,000 (US$5.90); Children: CLP1,000 (US$1.90)

Mapuche Museum of Pucón

Family owned and run, this museum in the popular southern tourist town of Pucón pays tribute to the local Mapuche people, the largest of Chile’s indigenous groups. On display are a broad range of stone-crafted sculptures, ritual masks, musical instruments and hand tools along with local pottery and textile artifacts. When you visit, make sure to take in the intricate silver jewellery and the ceremonial stone-carved pipes. It’s also worth checking out the native flutes and bamboo horns.

Address: Caupolicán 243, Pucón
Opening hours: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. & 3 p.m.-7 p.m. (winter); 11 a.m.-1 p.m. & 6 p.m.-10 p.m. (summer)
Admission: Adults: CLP 1,500 (US$2.90); Senior citizens & children: CLP 1,000 (US$1.90)