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  • Writer's pictureLisa Cappello

How to See Sloths when you visit Costa Rica

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

"I want to see a sloth!" We hear this a lot, and we get it! We love these little slow pokes with their smiley faces and bandit eyes. Costa Rica is home to two of the six species of sloths, the brown-throated three-toed sloth, and Hoffman's two-toed sloth. And while you don't see them every day, we have some tips for spotting them!

Let’s start with some sloth basics. Are they little bears, a type of monkey, a sort of raccoon? Sloths are mammals, but they are neither primates nor marsupials, though they share some similarities. And to geek out for just a second here, sloths belong to the superorder Xenarthra and the order Pilosa, and their family tree includes anteaters and armadillos! But back to the things you really want to know!

Why are sloths so slow? One of a sloth’s most distinguishable traits is the slow-motion way they move. The reason for this lies in their diet and metabolism. They have a leafy, low-calorie diet and a super slow metabolism. So their slow movement is a biological strategy to conserve their energy use. Fun fact: it can take a sloth two weeks to digest a meal! They also tend to have small home ranges. This is good news for sloth seekers. If you can figure out where a sloth might be living, chances are you can spot them regularly, as they never wander far from home.

They look so friendly – can I hug one? You may be tempted to want a snuggle should you be so lucky as to come face-to-face with a sloth while visiting Costa Rica. But there are so many reasons this is a bad idea (and actually illegal). While slow, they are surprisingly strong, and will use their 4-inch long claws in defense if needed. You also might notice, if you get close, that their fur often has a greenish hue. This is because a sloth’s fur is coarse and is home to a species of blue-green algae. This symbiotic relationship gives the algae a home, and provides the sloth with a bit of natural camouflage. Many other unhuggable critters make their homes in a sloth’s fur, including beetles, ticks, and moths. So let’s agree that hugging is out of the question! Also – please never pay to pet or hold a sloth. According to the Sloth Foundation, there are tourist traps that promote wildlife petting, but this is never good for the sloth. And the sad truth is that these animals are illegally trafficked and exploited.

Where can I see one? Sloths are found in places where they have access to food constantly – specifically in the lush and tropical rainforests. Guanacaste province, where many people vacation, is too dry to provide adequate food supply. So, you'll need to travel a bit to see sloths if you are vacationing in the beach towns of Guanacaste. Some of the best places to see sloths in the wild are:

  • Manuel Antonio National Park

  • Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula

  • Tortuguero National Park (on the Caribbean side)

  • Monteverde Cloud Forests

  • Bijagua - Heliconias Rainforest Reserve

  • La Amistad National Park (on the Caribbean side)

We offer a vacation package to the Osa Peninsula which includes hiking in Corcovado National Park, one of the most likely locations for spotting sloths, along with numerous other wildlife species. Check out the itinerary here!

Our #1 best tip for spotting sloths in the wild is to hire a naturalist guide. Guides are very skilled at spotting sloths and will travel with binoculars and/or telescopes to make sure you get a good look. There are guides who work independently, and often can be found through word of mouth, and some who work through tour companies. Often your hotel front desk can make a recommendation. Facebook groups about Costa Rica are a good resource as well. A guide in Costa Rica must complete courses through the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT). A certified guide has completed more than 1,000 hours of study.

Animal Sanctuaries. Another way to get your sloth fix is to visit one of the animal sanctuaries in Costa Rica. Our recommendations:

  • Diamante Eco Adventure Park which has a sanctuary for two-fingered sloths. We offer a great excursion from most areas in Guanacaste to Diamante (click for info).

  • La Paz Waterfall Gardens has the largest animal sanctuary in the country, and is a short drive from the San Jose area.

  • Selvatura Park in Monteverde which has a sanctuary with about 20 sloths.

Some of our vacation packages include visits to Diamante, Selvatura Park, and Manuel Antonio National Park. Check out the itineraries for them:

And if sloths are a big priority for you, we can even put together a custom itinerary that includes the best possible chances for you to get your fill of sloth love! Just fill out the custom itinerary form on our website and we'll get to work!

Happy sloth spotting!


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