THE COLCHAGUA MUSEUM, Santa Cruz, Chile: From Shark Teeth and Pre-Columbian Pottery to Old Maps and Automobiles

Pre-Columbian sculpture from the Chancay Culture on the central coast of Peru at the Colchagua Museum, Santa Cruz, Chile
I never expected to find the giant jaws of megalodon, model ships, or the piano played Bernard O’Higgins, the founder of Chile, at a museum in a part of Chile otherwise known for its agriculture. It turns out that the Colchagua Museum, in Santa Cruz, Chile, is the largest private museum in Latin America and is packed with thousands of objects ranging from cowboy gear and weapons, to religious artifacts and pre-Columbian pottery and more. Founded by controversial tycoon Carlos Cardoen, the museum includes something for everybody.
The Colchagua Museum is located in the small city of Santa Cruz in the Colchagua valley, 110 miles from Santiago.
We visited as a day trip from Rancagua (about an hour and a half away), where we were visiting our son-in-law’s family. As we drove to Santa Cruz from there we passed orchards, vineyards, and ranches that are the heart of  this verdant valley and one of Chile’s several wine growing regions.
In the fossil and paleontology room
After purchasing our tickets at the museum entrance, we watched a short video and then set off to view the exhibits, listening to our English language wands for key explanations in each room. As you make your way from the entrance you pass through rooms containing fossils and exhibits of the early history of world, and then move forward in time through archeology of Chile, Peru and Columbia, then to the period of the conquest by Spain, to national independence, influence of the church, and up through life in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The last rooms on the main level feature old carriages, cars and farm machinery. A recently added exhibit, The Great Rescue, honors the men who were trapped and rescued from a copper mine in northern Chile 2010.
Portrait of Bernard O'Higgins, Chile's liberator, and his piano, which he imported from Europe
Every room was filled with so many fascinating objects that it is impossible to describe them all. Here are some of my favorites.
Fossil teeth in the jaw of the giant extinct shark, Megalodon. When a tooth fell out, a new one was always ready to rotate up and replace it. Megalodon could grow more than 50 feet long!
A small reptile (gekko) trapped in amber; from the Dinosaur Age
Ceramic vessel decorated with a bean design. (From the Nazca culture in Peru.) Beans (frijoles) have been a staple in South America for centuries.
Stone figure from the Pucara Culture, which developed in Peru in the area near Lake Titicaca.
Knotted strings called quipu, from the Inca culture. The knots were part of a counting system used in trade. The cords had different colors for each product and the spacing of the knots indicated the quantity sold.
Silver cup for tea (mate)and jewelry from the Mapuche culture of southern Chile.
Carvings and artifacts from Easter Island (Isla de Pascua). Easter Island, which gets its name from the day of its "discovery" by a Dutch sea captain in 1722, is part of Chile.
Our reflection, in the room at the museum displaying farm implements
We should have allowed more time to spend in the museum and to visit the associated Automobile Museum, located in a nearby vineyard, and the Chilean Craft Museum, located in a restored house in the nearby town of Lolol, featuring traditional crafts of Chile (stone carving, basket making, wood crafts, pottery, metals, naval and textiles.) As it was, after visiting the Colchagua Museum we took a walk through the center of Santa Cruz with its beautiful colonial era architecture around the main square and visited a few of the local shops before having ice cream at a favorite local restaurant. Someday we’ll have to go back to Santa Cruz to see the other museums and tour some of the vineyards.
For information about and directions to the Colchagua Museum, click HERE.
The Colchagua Valley


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