Ellen and I are not much for museums. We’re more interested in current culture than in relics from previous ones, so usually we stay off the tourist trail of museums full of historical displays. However, in Popayan, we made an exception for the natural history museum that we spotted as we were wandering through the white city. It was closed on Sunday, but we returned Monday afternoon to explore in the brief window between the museum reopening after a lunch break and my dentist appointment.

Entrance to the museum was a steal at about $1.75 each, which included a guide. The museum was more of a university, with lots of small rooms off a main corridor – I half expected to see people in lab coats wandering down the halls. The lights were on motion sensors, so the entire museum was dark until someone entered, and we were almost the only people exploring it. The layout was much more geared toward education than entertainment – each room was labelled with the relevant branch of study, like geology, paleontology, or entomology. Our guide didn’t say much of anything, but she pointed us in the direction of a new room whenever we finished looking at one.

Hard to see stones in the dark

Hard to see stones in the dark

While we were exploring the crystals and stones in the geology room, the lights went out around us. At first we thought we hadn’t been moving enough, but it soon turned out there was a power failure, probably due to the thunderstorm going on outside. Luckily, after a ten-minute break in the hallway, the lights came back on and we were able to continue exploring. We saw precious stones in their natural form, as well as a variety of rocks and gems from around South America. In the attached paleontology room, we oohed and ahhed over tiny fossils of shells, huge mastadon teeth, and a rare fossilized mushroom.

Stuffed snake attacking a warthog? This is our kind of museum!

Stuffed snake attacking a warthog? This is our kind of museum!

By far the most impressive part of the museum was the stuffed specimens of birds, reptiles, and mammals on the second floor. We laughed at the mammals in awkward poses, marvelled at how life-like the snakes and lizards looked, and admired the birds, especially birds of prey displayed with smaller birds or rabbits in their talons. From there, we were pointed to the insects, which weren’t stuffed but were equally impressive specimens, from tiny butterflies to huge beetles. I’m sure we could have spent hours in the room, if we hadn’t wanted to see more of the museum before my dentist appointment.

Birds of prey eating a rabbit

Birds of prey eating a rabbit

The last room was historical artifacts, mostly pottery, found in the local area. We glanced briefly at the pots, and agreed this room wasn’t for us. Overall, we spent a pleasant afternoon at the natural history museum, and were able to examine all sorts of animals and insects that we had spotted in Latin America but hadn’t been able to photograph or see up close. The labels were all in Spanish, but occasionally an English common name was given. Luckily, we don’t mind reading in Spanish and figuring out what things mean. I’m glad we took the time to visit a museum. Who knows, we may do it again sometime!

Glass-winged damsel fly

Glass-winged damsel fly

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