Antigua Exotic Serpentario looks like a place straight out of a Robin Cook thriller novel. Located a little less than four kilometers from the center of La Antigua, in San Felipe de Jesús, this place appears from seemingly nowhere. The Antigua Exotic Serpentario is a result of one man’s passion to bring two worlds together – that of humans and that of scaly reptiles and slithery amphibians.
The serpentine world of the Mazariegos
Dr. Roger R. Mazariegos Pinzon had a small personal collection of snakes and amphibians. Gradually, that hobby developed into a passion and transformed itself into this beautiful museum of reptiles called Antigua Exotic. A dentist by profession and a fire fighter for 20 years, Dr. Mazariegos’s passion for reptiles and amphibians has continued to grow. At first his abilities were known only to the people around San Felipe, then gradually people from far and wide came to know of Dr. Mazariegos’s reptile-handling, -preserving, and -bite-treating skills, and they started calling him when in trouble. In April 2006, Dr. Mazariegos, his wife Flor De María, and their son Danny formally opened the first reptile and amphibian rescue center in Guatemala. Being the only one of its kind in the entire country, their hands are quite full.
Their work includes rescuing animals that are brought in or are being taken out of the country illegally, as well as those from the wild which slither their way into houses and shops. They also treat injured or sick reptiles, and release healthy adults back into the wild. Dr. Mazariegos tells us that his work, “involves the three R’s of conservation: Rescue, Recovery and Relocation. We rescue and recover reptiles and amphibians that have entered someone’s house, that have been found on the streets, or have been confiscated during illegal trafficking of conserved or prohibited species. This is followed by keeping the animals in quarantine for some time and ultimately releasing them back to where they came from – to the wild where they belong.”
Says Dr. Mazariegos, “We also train locals in the handling of these reptiles. But we have to be extra cautious about who attends these training workshops.” Unwilling to mention any specific incidents, he says with a word of caution, “We really have to make sure no animal smugglers attend these workshops, so we have to research the eligibility of the people attending well in advance.”
Antigua Exotic provides tours of the reptile museum. If you choose, you can take a lazy dip in the swimming pool after your tour. The pool is located within the compound. For interested visitors, a wholesome and sumptuous lunch can be provided.
And, if you dare, the staff will drape a couple of non-venomous snakes around your neck, for a great photo op.
[When I first visited the serpentario, the experience was published in Que Pasa, a bilingual (Spanish and English) travel magazine published in Antigua, Guatemala. You can give it a read here]