Parque Seminario, Guayaquil’s Iguana-Inhabited Garden

An iguana perching on the rim of the park’s pond

photography by: Omri Westmark

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One of the world’s most biodiverse countries, Ecuador boasts thousands of animal species, including 300 types of mammals, 1,600 kinds of birds and roughly 350 different reptiles. While more often than not, these wild animals are found within the country’s expansive pockets of nature, a lone park in Guayaquil is home to some rather unusual residents – dozens of green iguanas that roam freely throughout its verdant premises.

Widely known as the main gateway to the Galapagos Islands, Guayaquil is often eclipsed by the famed archipelago, globally renowned for its copious endemic species and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Surprisingly though, Ecuador’s largest city also has its own population of wild animals, found right at the heart of its hectic downtown.


The oldest park in Guayaquil, Parque Seminario went by various names throughout its history, but it is the moniker “Parque de las Iguanas” that truly resonates with the present-day character of the place. Whoever visits this small garden will come across tens, if not hundreds of American iguanas basking under the Ecuadorian sun, wading through the murky pool, taking a nap on a grassy lawn or perching atop a tree branch.


Alongside its scaly dwellers, the park holds great historical significance, dating back to as early as the 17th century, when Guayaquil was still at its infancy. It was originally created in 1693 as Plaza de Armas, a common term for a public square across the Spanish-speaking world. During wartime, these piazzas underwent a swift transformation into large military bases that facilitated the supply of armaments, hence its name.


As the city around it evolved into the populous metropolis it is today, the square was reshaped and renamed multiple times. In fact, in 1868, the place was known as “Parque de la Estrella” (the park of the star) due to a large eight-pointed marker within its cobblestone pavement, while later that century, an equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar, the liberator of many South American nations, was installed in the middle of the square, aptly earning it the name “Plaza Bolívar”.


The park’s current reincarnation, however, can trace its origins back to 1895, when Don Miguel Suárez Seminario, a local wealthy philanthropist, donated a sizable fortune to redesign the place as a French-style garden, naming it Parque Seminario. Soon thereafter, the lush enclave was adorned with a gazebo, a small lagoon and several sculptures, the most notable of which depicts a pair of fighting boars.


It is not entirely clear when iguanas were first introduced to the park, but since their arrival, these lizards became the sole lords of their new home, so much so, that according to some figures, their current population can be as high as 350. Well-fed and pecked by parasite-eating birds, the iguanas lost their fear of humans over the years, making them easily-photographable animals. Aside from the article’s protagonists, the park features a small pond that provides a habitat for a colony of aquatic turtles and koi fish, the former typically sunbath over the multi-jet fountain.


Competing with the winsome reptiles for attention is the nearby Guayaquil Metropolitan Cathedral, which in spite of its ornate, neo-Gothic façade, is a relatively new addition. However, its predecessor – Iglesia Matriz, was among the city’s first buildings. Originally constructed in 1547 as a wooden church, the edifice was ravaged by a massive fire a century and a half later.