Sloths, or “perezosos,” are quite common in Costa Rica, and can be found everywhere from the cool cloud forests of Monteverde to the steamy lowland jungles along both coasts. Regardless, they can be rather difficult to see.
A sloth’s key to survival in the forest canopy is camouflage. They move so slowly that they don’t catch the attention of big cats, circling hawks or would-be wildlife photographers. Their coarse, grayish or yellowish coat blends well with the rainforests palette, more so once greenish algae grows in their fur.
Thus, the first rule of seeing sloths, as with most Costa Rican wildlife, is to hire a naturalist guide in Costa Rica. They know where to look—and more importantly, how to see—sloths in their natural environment.
There are two types of sloth in Costa Rica. In the wild (perhaps right outside your hotel window), you’re more likely to see the larger three-toed sloth, famed for having the sweetest smile in the animal kingdom. Two-toed sloths are nocturnal, but easier to care for in captivity and therefore more popular in zoos and city parks. Both reside at the highly recommended Sloth Sanctuary (formerly Avarios), probably the world’s foremost sloth rescue and research facility.
The sanctuary is on the Caribbean Coast, just north of Cahuita and about 50 minutes from popular Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. It offers worthwhile tours. You’ll see a short film, enjoy an informative lecture and meet several adult sloths, most of them rescues who are no longer able to survive in the wild. If you’re lucky, you may see baby sloths, cared for by volunteers from all over the world.
You could also add a short, relaxed boat trip through the adjoining canals, where you’ll probably see more sloths—rescues who haven’t strayed far from the facility—hanging from the trees.
Keep an eye open for sloths throughout your visit to the Caribbean Coast. Not just the national parks; they could be next to your restaurant. While you’re most likely to see them hanging out in the trees, they’re also good swimmers and sometimes walk (awkwardly) on the ground. Even urban Puerto Limon’s central park is famously home to a handful of sloths.
On the Pacific Coast, you’re more likely to see sloths in the lush rainforests south of Jaco, much better for sloths than the dry savannahs of Guanacaste. During a tour of Manuel Antonio National Park and the Osa Peninsula is an excellent time for sloth-spotting. A trio of conservation areas in beautiful Monteverde—Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Children’s Eternal Rainforest and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve—are also home to sloths. It’s almost always worth hiring a guide, usually easy to find at the entrances of these popular parks and preserves.