Monitor lizards are emblematic reptiles that are widely distributed in the Old World. Although relatively well studied in vertebrate research, their biogeographic history is still controversial. We constructed a molecular dataset for 54 anguimorph species, including representatives of all families with detailed sampling of the Varanidae (38 species). Our results are consistent with an Asian origin of the Varanidae followed by a dispersal to Africa 41 (49-33) Ma, possibly via an Iranian route. Another major event was the dispersal of monitors to Australia in the Late Eocene- Oligocene 32 (39-26) Ma. This divergence estimate adds to the suggestion that Australia was colonized by several squamate lineages prior to the collision of the Australian plate with the Asian plate starting 25 Ma. © 2012 The Royal Society.