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Screaming Mummies of Guanajuato: Mexican Death Museum

The smallest mummy in the world is an almost perfectly-preserved six-month old fetus.

It’s on display in central Mexico at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum – alongside dozens of other human mummies, their corpses dried and contorted in chilling poses.

Visit Mexico, and you’ll discover amazing things to do at every turn.

One of the most unusual is to see these mummies in the Guanajuato museum.

We stayed in Guanajuato as part of a six-week journey exploring Mexico’s colonial cities – and we spent one afternoon at the museum.

Read on to discover the sometimes-gruesome story behind the screaming mummies of Guanajuato – and to find out what it’s like to visit the surprisingly popular museum.

Guanajuato Mummy Museum, Mexico
The Museo de Las Momias is filled with preserved mummies dug up from a nearby Guanajuato cemetery

Mummies of Guanajuato

Built next to a cemetery, the famous (and macabre) museum has more than 100 mummies – the largest collection in the western hemisphere.

Many mummies still have their hair and are wearing their shoes and tattered remnants of clothing.

Unlike the Egyptian mummies at the British Museum, though, these mummies are not thousands of years old.

History of the Guanajuato mummies

Gravediggers exhumed the first mummified body in 1865.

More human bodies were soon disinterred.

The story goes that a new law required relatives of the deceased to pay a burial tax to keep their loved ones buried forever. If they couldn’t pay, authorities dug up the preserved corpses, which were mummified naturally by the dry mineral-rich soil.

Mummies of a mother and child at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum, Mexico
Mummies of a mother and child

By the late 1880s, curious people started coming to see the mummies, sometimes even breaking off pieces as souvenirs.

Eventually, the local government established a museum to house the mummies.

Today, dozens of the disinterred mummies of Guanajuato – their skin looking like parchment paper – are displayed behind glass cases.

Many look like they’re screaming through open mouths, as if they’d been buried alive. And indeed, some may have been…

More than 100 mummies are on display at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum.
Dozens of mummies are on display at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum

Mummies of Guanajuato buried alive

So how did the people die?

Most of the Guanajuato mummies were people who were victims of a cholera epidemic that raged through the area in the early 1800s.

To help control the spread of the disease, bodies were buried immediately.

Tragically, it’s thought that some of the sick and dying were buried alive.

A mummy in a coffin at the Mexico Mummy Museum in Guanajuato
One of the Guanajuato mummies in a coffin

Particularly haunting is the mummy of Ignacia Aguilar.

One arm covers her face, her open mouth drawn back in what looks like a horrified scream.

She suffered from a heart ailment that made her heart beat very slowly at times.

It’s believed that her family, mistaking her for dead, hastily buried her.

When she was exhumed, it looked like she’d been trying to push open the coffin lid from the inside. We hope this isn’t true – because the alternative is ghastly to contemplate.

Other Guanajuato, Mexico, mummies

The first mummy to be dug up was that of Dr. Remigio Leroy in 1865. He was an immigrant and there was no one to pay the local tax for his burial.

You’ll see this French doctor dressed in a suit.

Mummy of Dr. Remigio Leroy at the Mummy Museum, Guanajuato, Mexico
Mummy of Dr. Remigio Leroy

And the world’s smallest mummy?

Another victim of the cholera outbreak, this mummy is the fetus from a pregnant woman who also died of the disease. It’s a particularly poignant exhibit.

Chamber of Death

More grisly is the museum’s “chamber of death.”

An open coffin contains a mummy with spikes piercing right through the body and skull.

The plaque explains in Spanish that this was the unfortunate man’s punishment for offending the Catholic church.

Guanajuato Mummy Museum, Mexico
A mummy in a coffin with spikes through the body – ugh!

Fiction and fact

Science fiction author, Ray Bradbury, may have been the first person to write about the Guanajuato mummies.

After visiting Guanajuato, he was quite tormented by the sight of the mummies.

In a cathartic exercise, he wrote a short story called “The Next in Line” about an American couple who visit Guanajuato for the Day of the Dead (published in The October Country), saying this of his time in Guanajuato:

The experience so wounded and terrified me, I could hardly wait to flee Mexico. I had nightmares about dying and having to remain in the halls of the dead with those propped and wired bodies. In order to purge my terror, instantly, I wrote ‘The Next in Line.’

Several movies and films have also been made about the mummies.

For example, a horror movie was made in 1970 called “Las Momias de Guanajuato.” It features the masked Mexican wrestlers, Santo and the Blue Demon, battling resurrected mummies.

What’s it like to visit the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato?

Visiting El Museo de Las Momias de Guanajuato (the Spanish name for the museum) is one of the top things to do in Guanajuato.

It’s a hit with both local Mexican tourists and foreign visitors. According to National Geographic, the Guanajuato Mummies Museum is the biggest source of income for the city after property tax!

Still, some visitors prefer to skip it, feeling it’s too morbid.

Mexico Mummy Museum
A female mummy – what her story is, we don’t know…

We have to remember, though, that death in the Mexican culture is viewed differently than it is by North Americans and Europeans. Take Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday, where death is embraced and celebrated as part of life.

Certainly, this extraordinary mummy exhibit gives pause for reflection.

Who were these people when alive? What were their stories – their dreams and hopes?

For us, it was with some relief when we finished our tour of the museum, with its well-preserved mummies, and rejoined the land of the living outside in the sunshine.

Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato

Hours

The museum is open seven days a week, from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm Monday to Thursday, open later until 6:30 pm Friday to Sunday.

Cost

The entrance fee is 110 pesos ($5 USD) p.p. to visit the whole museum.

More information

The website for the Mummy Museum, Guanajuato, is in Spanish, but Google can offer a translation for you.

Guanajuato isn’t just about Mexican mummies

Now you know about the Museum of the Mummies of Guanajuato.

It may be the biggest tourist attraction, but there’s more to Guanajuato than this!

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city of Guanajuato is absolutely enchanting. It’s a little like San Miguel de Allende, but with a more Mexican feel.

Its center unfolds across various hills. On top, the cobblestone streets are too narrow for cars, so they drive through tunnels underneath. Pedestrians get to walk about freely through the heart of the city on top, without worrying about traffic.

Guanajuato overflows with colonial plazas, Baroque churches and historic buildings begging to be explored.

One such building? The beautiful and ornate Juarez Theater, built in 1873.

In Guanajuato, we also visited the Diego Rivera Museum – lots of cool art there! And it wasn’t at all disturbing…

Experience more of Mexico!

Zihuatanejo: Want a great beach vacay? See the best beaches in Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa.

Mexico City: Check out our 3-day Mexico City itinerary to make sure you hit the best attractions and eat at the best restaurants in this splendid capital.

Puerto Vallarta: Where to stay? You’ll love these beautiful boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta.

Cabo San Lucas: Check out our ultimate Los Cabos travel guide. It’s packed with info on where to play, stay and eat.


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Guanajuato Mummy Museum

Photo credits: © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase 


About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

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Ally

Monday 30th of June 2014

I can't believe i missed this when I was there last year, weird but very cool!

Sophie

Sunday 29th of June 2014

I haven't seen nearly enough of Mexico yet; another very interesting town here then. I'm weirdly fascinated with mummies, even the not-so-old ones.

Kevin and Ruth

Tuesday 24th of June 2014

We visited this museum as well. I won't say that we enjoyed it but it was interesting. It's really unbelievable how perfectly preserved the mummies were. Both Kevin and I felt weird about the museum though and thought that it didn't seem right to put these mummies on display like this, it seemed sort of disrespectful to the dead to be put on show like that. Having said that I am glad that we did visit but I wouldn't do it again. You did a great job on the story along with the photos.

Ruth

Janice and George

Tuesday 24th of June 2014

It was a spontaneous, last-minute decision we made at the end of a full day of exploring to zip into this museum. We're glad we did, but the experience did stir up lots of emotions. Sadness for the little children and babies who died too young. A morbid curiosity. Horror over the woman who apparently was buried alive. We actually weren't going to visit this museum - we thought it would just be too "touristy" since it's one of Guanajuato's most famous and popular attractions (probably the most well-known).

Jenn Smith Nelson

Tuesday 24th of June 2014

Have to admit I am a bit creeped out. But also fascinated.

Noel Morata

Monday 23rd of June 2014

Yikes these are grisly, the kind of stuff that would really give me nightmares. I think I would pass on this place.