Located mid-way between Gecko Rock Resort and Mazunte, Oaxaca is an off-the-beaten path tourist site that you might miss if you happen to blink as your car hops over the speed bump next to the “Iguanario” sign.
The sign marks the entrance to the iguana sanctuary that runs just along the east side of the Cozoaltepec River. There’s a small parking area just after the sign on the right-hand side, or you can park on the opposite side of the road in front of the small restaurant.
A family of conservationists.
Mario, the man in charge, has been working with iguanas ever since he was a kid. His parents got the idea of building the sanctuary after seeing the cruelty inflicted upon the iguanas sold at their local market in Pochutla.
Their hands were tied behind their backs. Their nails were pulled out. And their mouths were stitched up to prevent the terrified animal from defending itself while being butchered alive.
The family purchased as many iguanas as they could afford from the market and returned with them to their modest home alongside the river. They released the iguanas from their shackles and let it be known in their neighborhood that these iguanas were with them. And so it began more than twenty years ago, Mario’s Iguanario.
Over the years veterinarians and biologists have helped Mario to do even more for the local iguana population.
Animal professionals taught them how to build structures to help the iguanas to breed more successfully. Today, he has a 100% breeding success rate.
The baby iguanas are kept in holding pens till they are nine months old. When they’re big enough to look after themselves they are released into the nearby forest.
What will you see at Mario’s Iguanario.
The best time to visit the iguanario is in the morning, around 9 o’clock at their feeding time. Iguanas generally like to warm themselves in the sun for a couple of hours before their bodies are ready to digest.
You’ll be able to see iguanas all day, but when they are feeding literally dozens upon dozens of iguanas descend from the trees. It’s awesome. There are both black and green iguanas, the black iguanas live in the rocks and green iguanas prefer it up in the trees.
Mario, or another worker, will give you a tour of the grounds, which includes the breeding area where the females lay their eggs. They’ve also got a protected incubation area, and if you’re lucky enough to be there at the right time you can watch baby iguanas hatching from their eggs.
The entrance fee is only a few bucks, so it’s a good idea to leave a tip at the end of your tour to help out with the conservation project. The iguanario’s budget is entirely funded by entrance fees.