If there’s any animal that visitors want to see in Costa Rica, it’s the sloth. The sloths in Costa Rica have become the symbol of the country due to its oh-so-adorable face, snuggly body and very pura vida lifestyle.
If it’s your life goal to see one of these precious perezosos during your trip to Costa Rica, it’s best to do a bit of research about them first. Sloths are common in Costa Rica but not so common that you’ll see them everywhere all the time. Since they camouflage themselves so well, you could walk past a handful of them and never notice!
So here I answer the question that many of you ask: where to see sloths in Costa Rica?
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Types of Sloth Species in Costa Rica: Hoffman’s two toed sloth and Brown throated sloth
There are two species of sloths in Costa Rica: the Brown throated sloths, a species of three toed sloth and the Hoffmann’s two toed sloth.
Did you know that the technically correct name for these sloths are 3-fingered and 2-fingered? This is because BOTH sloths have 3 toes on their hind feet but their fingers are different!
Two fingered sloth
This two-fingered sloth is largely nocturnal, so it’s harder to see them than the 3-fingered sloth. If you do see them, they will most likely be sound asleep.
Their two front feet have two toes, each with a set of long curved claws. However, their hind feet have three toes. They differ from the 3-fingered sloth by their longer snout, separate front toes, larger size and no hair on the soles of the feet.
The Brown-throated sloth is the most common of the 3-fingered sloth species. All of their feet have 3 fingers with long claws. They have a round head and a short nose.
They sleep around 15 hours and are active both day and night.
Where to See Sloths in Costa Rica
The best places to see sloths in Costa Rica are Manuel Antonio, Osa Peninsula, La Fortuna, Caño Negro (Northern Plains), Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, Dominical, Uvita, Ojochal, Monteverde and Bijagua. These are all year round rainforest areas so both sloths are found in these areas and always have food. This is the reason why it is nearly impossible to see sloths in Guanacaste because of its dry tropical forest. I’ll talk about Guanacaste more in a bit and how to see sloths if you are staying in places like Playas del Coco, La Cruz, Tamarindo, Papagayo Peninsula, Samara, Nosara, Santa Teresa and Montezuma.
Three fingered and two fingered sloths are found in the same places throughout the country. However, only two fingered sloths live in high elevation areas (above 1000 meters or so, 3000 feet in elevation). They have more hair and can survive in colder temperatures whereas the three fingered sloth cannot. You will find only two fingered sloths in places like Monteverde and Vara Blanca.
Costa Rica Sloth Sanctuaries and Wildlife Rescue Centers
If you absolutely have to see a sloth, then the best option is to visit a wildlife refuge or sanctuary. Please note that you cannot pet, touch or hold sloths in Costa Rica. No “sanctuary” or sloth tour should allow you to do this as it is extremely bad for the sloth’s health. They get very stressed out and humans can transmit bacteria and other harmful things to the animal.
In these centers, you will see mostly see only two toed sloths since they are easier to rehabilitate and keep in captivity due to their diet. Two toed sloths have a more variable diet (leaves, fruits, insects) whereas three toed sloths eat strictly leaves and are harder to keep in captivity.
These wildlife rescue centers work to rehabilitate and release injured and abandoned sloths back into their natural habitat. Visiting reputable wildlife refuges is a great way to give back to the community and help the animals. Many wildlife refuges also offer volunteer programs.
Jaguar Rescue Center: This rescue center helps and rehabilitates all sorts of animals, including sloths. Located in the Caribbean, part of the La Ceiba wildlife refuge by Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
Proyecto Asis: A wildlife rescue center a little outside of La Fortuna. Offers guided tours and volunteer opportunities and a dedicated sloth sanctuary tour.
Toucan Rescue Ranch: This rescue ranch is in Heredia and rescues and rehabilitates wildlife. However, many of their animals are permanent residents as they were too injured to be released or were unable to survive in the wild on their own. If you are staying in San Jose and have a couple days in the city, you can visit their wildlife sanctuary and rescue center.
Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary: This rescue center in Dominical rescues, heals and rehabilitates as much wildlife as they can back into the wild. They take care of any and all animals that are injured. You can take a guided tour to learn more.
These sloths are already rehabilitated permanent residents as they are unable to survive in the wild (kept as pets, handicapped, disabled, born in captivity, etc.)
Springs Resort & Spa: This hotel in La Fortuna has a small animal sanctuary with two toed sloths.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens: They have a couple two toed sloths in the waterfall park in Vara Blanca. (Get 7% off the gardens entrance fee in the link)
Diamante Adventure Park: This adventure park by the RIU Guanacaste (Gulf of Papagayo) has a animal sanctuary with two toed sloths. (Get 10% off the park entrance in the link)
Selvatura Park: Selvatura Park’s sloth sanctuary allows guided tours to learn more about the sloths.
Some of the rescue centers have permanent sloths in their care.
**Not a rescue center or refugee** The Sloth Institute: Non profit dedicated to conservation and education on sloths. Their main goal is to release sloths back in the wild. Though they aren’t open to the public, if you want to learn more about sloths, they are the place to ask. They do a sloth walk on the Tulemar property in Manuel Antonio every day which is only open to Tulemar guests (we saw 10 sloths when we were there!)
How to Guarantee Sloth Sightings
The best way to see a sloth in the wild is to hire a naturalist guide. They are trained for spotting sloths as they are masters at camouflage and are usually very high up in the trees. Guides will have binoculars and telescopes to find them.
The first time I ever saw a sloth in their natural habitat was in Manuel Antonio National Park, thanks to a guide. Sloth spottings were all thanks to the guide and their sharp eyes!
If you are on your own and want to try to find a sloth by yourself, look for this kind of tree with these leaves, called the Guarumo or Cecropia trees. This is the sloths’ FAVORITE tree and you will commonly see them sleeping and eating in this tree.
As sloths do not live on the forest floor, don’t look on the ground. Always look up in the trees. The only time sloths are on the forest floor is when they use the bathroom once a week.
Sloths in Guanacaste
It’s impossible to see sloths in Guanacaste on the Pacific coast as it is too dry for them being the dry tropical forest. There are no sloths on the beaches of the North Pacific Coast, you will need to go inland to the lush rainforests to see sloths in the wild.
La Fortuna and Bijagua are your best options to see sloths in the wild from Guanacaste. They are 3.5 hours and 1.5-2.5 hours from the Coco/Tamarindo areas. One of our partners runs a fantastic full day excursion to a rainforest hanging bridges reserve and sloth reserve in Bijagua to see the rainforest and sloths. Check the link to see what the tour is like and to request to book it!
If a full day excursion is a bit too much for you, then your next best option is the Diamante Eco Adventure Park which is just 30 minutes from Liberia International Airport. Visit their animal sanctuary to see their sloths and watch the sloth feedings.
Sloths in La Fortuna
There are a lot of sloths in the La Fortuna and Arenal area but not in the Arenal Volcano National Park. You will need to look in the primary and secondary rainforests in the area. It may seem like there aren’t any sloths there but you just need to know where to look.
La Fortuna Sloth Tour
The best way to see sloths is to visit the sloth walk reserves in town or take a sloth tour. On a tour, you’ll have a guide who will be looking for only sloths and they know the best places around town to see them since they don’t really live in Arenal Volcano National Park.
Additionally, a lot of hotels have sloths on their property. We saw sloths during our stay at Nayara Hotel, The Springs Resort, El Secreto and at our Airbnb right outside town.
Sloths in Monteverde
Only the 2-fingered sloth lives in Monteverde due to the cold climate. Since these sloths are mostly nocturnal, it is harder to see sloths in Monteverde.
You may be able to see one on a Monteverde night walk or in the forests in the area. A lot of people see sloths on the power lines in Monteverde too (sadly).
Sloths in Manuel Antonio
At Manuel Antonio National Park, there are a lot of sloths that live in those rainforests. As this national park is fairly small, you have a good chance to see a sloth on your own. We still recommend to hire a naturalist guide or book a tour to have the best chances. Get a discount off your Manuel Antonio tour including the national park guided walk here.
Many hotels in Costa Rica have wild sloths on the property. We have seen sloths at the Nayara Hotel in La Fortuna, The Springs Resort in La Fortuna, Hotel Cuna del Angel in Dominical, Hotel Banana Azul in Puerto Viejo, Evergreen and Aninga Lodge in Tortuguero, and Tulemar in Manuel Antonio.
So if you really want to see a sloth in the wild, you can also book a hotel that has sloths on their property! Read reviews to see what people say. This is how I found the Airbnb in La Fortuna because all the past guests said they saw lots of sloths right on the property.
Tips for Seeing Sloths in Costa Rica
- Do not touch them. If you see one, don’t touch it. A certain species of moth lives and lays their eggs in the fur of the three-toed sloth. A type of red algae also lives in their fur giving them an illusion of moss. Sloths also get stressed out when touched by humans.
- Always look up in the tree tops and through the trees. I’ve walked under a sloth that was literally 5 feet above my head but didn’t notice until someone told me to look up.
- Bring a pair of good binoculars or a long zoom lens for an up close look/photos. If you’re with a guide, many of them bring telescopes. You can use your cell phone camera to take a picture of it through the telescope
- If you see an injured sloth and you have a phone, you can call 911 and ask for the nearest wildlife rescue center. If there is a local nearby, ask them for the closest vet or ask if they can help (some locals may have had previous experiences with sloths especially if they are farmers or naturalist guides).
- Take tons of photos when you see one because they are just so darn cute!
- And please, do NOT hug sloths (and no “sanctuary” should ever allow you to). As awesome as it sounds, you should never touch a wild sloth or any wild animal. Please do not try to move it so you can get a selfie.
What Not to Do When You See a Sloth (Be a Responsible Tourist)
Do NOT hug sloths (and no “sanctuary” nor tour should ever allow you to). As awesome as it sounds, you should never touch a wild sloth or any wild animal. Likewise, do not try to move it so you can get a selfie.
Do not touch them. If you see one, don’t touch it. A certain species of moth lives and lays their eggs in the fur of the three-toed sloth. A type of red algae also lives in their fur giving them an illusion of moss. Sloths also get stressed out when touched by humans.
Fun Facts About Costa Rica Sloths
- Mammals that belong to two families: Megalonychidae (two-fingered sloth) and Bradypodidae (three-fingered sloth). There are 6 species within these two families.
- They are related to anteaters, which have a similar set of claws.
- Arboreal mammals, (tree-dwelling) in Central and South America.
- Leaves are their main food source but provide little energy, so they lower metabolic rates and body temperature to balance it out. Hence the sloooow movements.
- They cannot survive outside the tropical rain forests of C. and S. America.
- They defecate and urinate once a week when they climb to the ground.
- Life span of around 20-30 years.
- They are competent swimmers.
Now you know where to see sloths in Costa Rica and it’ll be an amazing moment I promise. Happy sloth watching!
More Costa Rica wildlife posts here!
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