The iguanas were clamoring on top of each other, pushing each other aside for the chance to nibble on a handpicked leaf.
They surrounded us, but far from being creepy or scary, it was an enjoyable part of our experience with the Iguana Project, an on-site conservation program for green iguanas at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel in San Ignacio, Belize.
The program started in 1996 out of a concern for declining numbers due to overhunting. It currently has 40 iguanas and 116 eggs.
"They are almost endangered, but nobody knows how many are left," said Nigel Velasquez, the tour operator for the project.
The nonprofit aims to release the injured iguanas back into the wild, repopulate the species and educate the public. Velasquez noted that some people in villages eat iguanas, so one tenet of the outreach program is to educate the public about the issue.
The Iguana Project enables guests to adopt an iguana prior to its release, which contributes to the success of the program.
"We've done scholarship programs for the project. We've done at least three scholarships," said Mariam Roberson, managing director of the hotel.
The project works closely with Belize's wildlife clinic, she said. "It's a really great relationship to bring their vet students to do hands-on learning. In turn, they will come and check on the iguanas."
The iguana project is just one of the many available offerings at the luxury resort, located in Belize's west, about 70 miles from Belize City. Tours, including visits to Mayan ruins, caving and tubing and jungle adventures such as horseback riding or visits to waterfalls, are also available through the family-run hotel, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.
"There's a little something for everybody," said Cruz Cembrianes, a tour guide from the San Ignacio Resort Hotel. Western Belize, he said, truly enables people to get out of their everyday routine and experience adventure. "There's so much to learn from the ancient Maya, their history and their architecture," he said.
The master suite at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel is a 26-room, family-run hotel in San Ignacio, Belize.
During my sponsored trip, I was able to take part in an adventurous spelunking tour of St. Herman's Cave. The strenuous guided tour allowed me to learn about the ancient Mayan rituals around the cave and spot Mayan pottery pieces. Later, a horseback ride through the jungle offered me the chance to learn about survival techniques. It was capped with an escapade at the Big Rock Falls, a 150-foot waterfall in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. We jumped into the open body of water and splashed under the waterfall.
Returning to the hotel each night, we were treated to delicious food and beverages at the Running W Steakhouse and Restaurant. It features meats from the family's own ranch along with international and Belizean cuisine all served with a wondrous view of the property, including the 24-hour outdoor pool.
To cap the evening, the spacious rooms at the hotel offered a respite from the heat and humidity. The property features 26 rooms and suites on the 17-acre private estate. My room, the master suite, was one of the largest suites on site. Featuring a king-size canopy bed, a sitting area, large sliding glass doors to a spacious balcony and the largest bathroom on site, it was easy to wake up refreshed after a relaxing evening in the room.
A honeymoon suite and a family suite are also available to guests as well as balcony rooms and garden rooms.
Prices range from $216 for a garden room during low season, which runs May through November, to $660 for the Royal Suite during high season. To learn more, visit www.sanignaciobelize.com.