Although nothing can compare to seeing pre-Colombian ruins firsthand, you know like the one that’s on top of a mountain, I still like a good museum that’s on the world renowned level and the Museo Larco in the Peruvian capital of Lima definitely fit that criteria. Founded in 1926 by Rafael Larco Hoyle, the collection highlights ceramic works from a variety of pre-Colombian tribes that most people have probably never heard of (myself included in that category). How about the Chimu or the Cupisnique?
The Museo Larco was the last stop on our privately guided, whirlwind tour of Lima and unfortunately, it was in hindsight the most disappointing stop. The disappointment had nothing to do with the museum, quite the contrary. It seemed incredible. I say seemed because we were barely there. Between our tour of the Lima cathedral running over and the traffic in Lima not cooperating, we arrived slightly late to the time we were supposed to have lunch at the museum’s cafe (more on the cafe below). So, after a rushed lunch we then began our private tour with one of the museum’s guides.
When it comes to museums, unless the signage is bad or nonexistent, I really prefer to go on my own. And this was definitely the case at the Museo Larco. Our guide was very nice and from the brief time we were with him, obviously knew a great deal, but he spent so much time explaining, standing in front of a smattering of objects, that we missed out on seeing much in the museum. He would say his piece, it would seem like we would be moving on but then he would start on something else. He repeated himself a couple of times as well. What was most annoying, though, was that he actually took out his phone a couple of times to show us pictures, whether it was a map of the region he was discussing or a video of a ceremonial reenactment. I was standing in one of the most highly regarded museums for pre-Colombian art and I was having to look at a smart phone. So yes, the tour part was a major disappointment.
But from what he told us, I did find it fascinating that in the scheme of things, the Inca civilization was only around for a couple of hundred years. Compared to the Maya civilization, 200 years is nothing. And also interesting was that the majority of the art found inside the Museo Larco was not Inca. One hears the name Peru and automatically thinks Inca, but there were dozens of other pre-Colombian tribes that existed in Peru long before the Inca ever came about.
Walking through the rooms of the museum and gazing at the various pieces, it was incredible to see that the majority of them were completely intact. Our guide explained that this was due to weather conditions in Peru which helped to preserve them even though they were thousands of years old. You would think they were reproductions but no, they were the real thing. Everything from jewelery to head pieces to pottery to even mummified remains can be found at the Museo Larco. We also went into the “storage rooms” in which thousands and thousands of artifacts are behind glass cases simply because there is no room to display them in the museum. And once again, these are not reproductions.
While the museum’s collections are incredible, the building that it’s housed in is also quite stunning. It dates from the 18th century and was once the home of a viceroy. The gardens and grounds were bucolic and honestly it felt more like they belonged in the quiet and serene Sacred Valley and not chaotic Lima.
On site at the museum is a cafe, although it’s really more of a restaurant (nothing like the museum cafeterias one would find in the United States or even Europe in which everything is under plastic wrap). As I said above, we had so little time and really couldn’t enjoy the lunch, even though the setting was utterly charming and the food quite tasty, between having to continually check my watch and worry that the food wouldn’t arrive in a timely fashion. I didn’t even bother taking pictures of our meal since I was just so physically worn out with everything. D ended up ordering French onion soup and an empanada, I went with the home-style chicken soup and tequeños with Andean cheese (pastry rolls that were filled with pastry cheese). Should you get the tequenos, know that you will receive an absurd number of them and it’s really better to split them.
Also on display at the museum is its collection of pre-Colombian erotic pots (i.e. Kama Sutra on pottery). While I felt naughty taking photos, I do plan to have a separate post with those photographs.
If you’re in Lima, I highly recommend visiting the Museo Larco. Just go with plenty of time and also on your own as the English signage was quite sufficient to be able to understand what you’re looking at.
Tips for visiting!
-The Museo Larco is located in the Pueblo Libre neighborhood, not really convenient to walk or take public transportation from the more touristy areas. Just plan on taking a taxi.
-Admission is 30 soles for adults/15 soles for children under the age of 15
-The museum is open 9 AM-6PM (7 days a week)
-Check out the gift shop. As museum gift shops tend to be, it looked like the one at the Larco had some unique pieces for purchase.