When it comes to traveling, one advantage of having a flexible itinerary is the opportunity to participate in unanticipated activities that end up becoming a trip highlight. For me, that highlight was cuddling iguanas.
Yes, you heard correctly. I was absolutely obsessed with these prehistoric creatures upon meeting them. I completely understand that reptiles aren’t for everyone. In fact, some may see these photos and react with complete disgust. I, however, happened to be part of the 4H ‘Reptile Club’ growing up (surprise!). So, as you can imagine, my eyes lit up when I spotted my first Iguana in Unitedville, Belize. It happened to be wild, and also completely dangerous. But the opposite was true for the friendly fella’s at the Green Iguana Conservation Project in San Ignacio, Belize.
The Green Iguana is not an endangered species according to the IUCN, however those at the GICP believe it to be threatened due to hunting in Belize. Hunting these creatures is a cultural tradition in Belize during the months of March and April, as the eggs are a delicacy and the meat is cooked and consumed.
The GICP has made it their mission to conserve and look after the species, educating visitors and eventually releasing the iguanas back into their natural habitat.
I traveled to Belize during the off season, so when I arrived at the GICP, I was the only visitor. The price to hang out with these reptiles is $18 BZD ($9 USD) and well worth it. Especially when you get them all to yourself (mwah ha ha).
My guide (Nigel) was a complete legend. We entered the iguana hut and immediately he began educating me about the iguanas. He explained how friendly they were, and how it was safe for me to pet, hold, and cuddle the iguanas. Okay, he didn’t mention cuddling them, but cuddle them I did.
I felt absolutely confident that these creatures were well looked after. The GICP raise the iguanas from the point of hatching, and care for them until they reach adulthood. I will say one thing. I do wonder about the amount of human interaction they receive, and how this affects them once released back into the wild, but Nigel seemed to keep a positive outlook about the process as a whole.
It wasn’t long before Nigel suddenly left me alone with the iguanas. Uhh… I casually perched on a wooden bench, petting a couple lizards within my proximity.
He returned moments later with a few huge leaves. I was instructed to sit on the ground with my legs crossed and the large leaves sprawled across my lap. Within seconds, the small and large (Green Iguanas reach between 5-6 feet long) reptiles began approaching me. That’s when I became their jungle gym, and I didn’t hate it.
As they demolished their meal, Nigel was right there playing the role of Instagram Husband. He would get shots on my DSLR from all angles, then grab the GoPro and pan around to get video footage for me. Finally he picked up my phone to get shots to share with social media. And I didn’t even have to ask! “I’ve done this many times Rachelle… I understand” he said with a wink. Like I said, legend.
But that was only the beginning. From there Nigel brought out the babies! Yes, tiny little iguanas mounting my shoulders, head, and body. They were so small and fragile, I could hardly stand it. And then, it was time to bond with the alpha male. Nigel picked up the largest of the male iguanas and placed him in my arms (as if that was a standard gesture I was prepared for). “Will this iguana bite off my earlobe?” was the only thing running through my mind. And then Nigel left again, this time without warning. Good lord.
So I stood there, alone, holding the largest iguana I’ve ever seen. And realized: Wait a minute, I am standing here, alone, holding the largest iguana I’ve ever seen! I contemplated how effing awesome the moment actually was. Then it became a cuddle fest with Mr. Alpha. By the time Nigel returned I was practically baby-talking to this thing. Nigel insisted on capturing the very last shot of the day, because Mr. Alpha was actually smiling.
Overall, my time at the Green Iguana Conservation Project was spectacular. I highly recommend visiting the GICP if you ever find yourself in San Ignacio, Belize.
Reservations? Yes, you can reserve by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org . Alternatively, walk-ins are welcome depending on the time of year. I visited in September and was the only guest during my time slot.
Location: The San Ignacio Resort Hotel, San Ignacio, Cayo District, Belize. You can easily walk here from the main bus station in San Ignacio.
Toll Free: (855) 488-2624 Local: (501)824-2034/2125