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When creepy is cute: Visiting a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica

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You may go about your day never once thinking about a three-toed sloth, or a two-toed sloth, for that matter. The minute you arrive in Monteverde, Costa Rica, however, talk of sloths is everywhere, and while it is possible to take tours which involve spotting these slow moving creatures, the truth is this is not necessary. Sloths are present here, so much so, in fact, that right in front of our hostel in Monteverde, which was next to the appropriately named ‘Sloth’ hotel, all us guests poured out onto the street to see a sloth doing a bit of a very slow tight rope act along the electricity wires leading across and along the street.

The next day, after deciding to walk back the seven kilometers from the Monteverde Cloud Forest to the village of Santa Elena, a brand-new building marked ‘Sloth Sanctuary’ caught our eye. After our first sloth encounter we were fascinated by these funny-looking creatures and decided to pop in for a visit.
friendly sloth in Monteverde Costa Rica

The Monteverde Sloth Sanctuary is the actually the second such sanctuary in Costa Rica, the first having been founded in the Caribbean town of Cahuita by animal-lover and American Judy Aroyos, who, many years ago, adopted one baby sloth whose mother had been killed. Taking in more and more injured sloths, Aroyos and her husband founded Aviarios del Caribe, to cope with sloths who had been bit by cars, bit by dogs or hurt by climbing electric cables. The more the country’s infrastructure developed, the more the sloth’s natural environment has been endangered. Not surprisingingly, these animals have been slow to adapt to the change.
Three fingered sloth in Monteverde Costa Rica

Both Avarios del Caribe and the Monteverde Sloth Sanctuary are run by Aroyos, treat injured sloths and returning them back to the wild once they’ve recovered, although some have been raised here since birth and can never adapt to living in the jungle. While Avarios is home to more 100 sloths, we spent about an hour goggling over a dozen three and toe-fingered sloths (first learning that the correct term is three-fingered not three-toed sloth).
two fingered sloth in Monteverde Costa Rica

The creatures are unlike any other we’ve seen, and while they can actually appear quite human like at times, the sloth biologically resembles marsupials more than humans. While sloths seem to be quite large as these eternal loungers lie up in the limbs of trees, they are actually light as a feather relatively at only 12lbs or 6kg for a grown male.
friendly sloth in Monteverde Costa Rica

We fell in love with these little creatures and are certain that if everyone had the chance, they would, too! Both Costa Rican sloth sanctuaries are privately managed rescue and research centers and rely entirely on donations. Volunteers are always welcome as well, to take care of the baby sloths, feeding them, cleaning the cages, providing medical treatment and spreading the world about the importance of these creepy but cute Costa Rican creatures. Have a look for yourself by watching this clip on the as the owners of the sanctuary discuss the animals and the importance of helping to save the sloth population.
Three fingered sloth arm Monteverde Costa Rica

More volunteer info here.

Tags : costa ricamonteverdesloths

23 Comments

    1. Dudes! Sorry it took us so long to reply to you! At first they look so creepy, but then you get used to them, and they become really cute. Until you look again for too long and you’re like – you guys are actually really weird! 🙂 Hope you guys get to see a lot of them on your travels, too! Oh, and can you give Jaime a hug for us? 🙂 Thanks!

    1. Scott, glad we brought sloths to your attention!! 🙂 They are strangely cute and super sweet. They are not aggressive in any way, and obviously really slow, both of which make them susceptible to predators in the wild. That’s why their natural habitat is so important and why these sanctuaries are also so important. Thanks for reading!!!

    1. Hi Jill! They really are fascinating. We really did a lot of staring at them. They have these super long nails that curve around, and make this clicking noise when they walk across a hard surface. They kind of look like people, but also hang like monkeys. We really fell in love with the little guys!

  1. This sanctuary definitely wasn’t there when I was about 5 years ago, or I would have been there for sure. Sloths are hilarious to me, just look at your third picture… it looks like an old lady too funny. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Brendan, hilarious! I always think they look like funny-looking people, too! Like some long lost tribe or something. The sanctuary was new, opened by the family that runs the Caribbean side, and it was really touching just how passionate everyone who worked there was. Really inspiring! Go for sure if you ever get another chance! Thanks for stopping by…

  2. I love these guys! I was in Costa Rica about 6 years ago and saw one in the wild with a baby on her back. So cute! Did you know that the locals call them “lazy bears”? Very appropriate 🙂

    1. Isn’t it so cute when they have the tiny baby on their backs?!!! You’re right, they call them ‘oso perezo’ in Spanish, and even though they moved faster than I thought they would, they sometimes sleep 20-23 hours per day!!!

    1. So…you might be able to pet them at the sanctuary on the Caribbean side, they do field trips with kids etc and are more equipped for that sort of thing. You can get super close tho even in Monteverde, they are not in cages but on trees, just hanging out and sleeping!!

    1. Hi Ekua, I hope the sloth made it across the road!!! That is one of the ways the poor guys die in Costa Rica is crossing the road, and in Monteverde and on the Caribbean coast there are “sloth crossing” signs! 🙂 Trust me, if you go to Costa Rica, you will see more than one!

  3. We got to see a sloth in a park in Monteria, Colombia. It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. We fell in love with the sloth. We’re planning on returning to Costa Rica next year and this will definitely be on our not to miss list.

    1. Yay for sloths! Glad you think they’re cute, too! These poor little guys really need more protection and a better reputation…

  4. Hi Guys! Thank you so much for posting about sloths! They’re so amazing… my friend and I have been quite obsessed with them for about a year now… We’re planning a trip to South and Central America next year (we’re from Sydney, Australia) and it would be a dream come true to cuddle and get some photos with a sloth. Can you tell me if this is possible? and if so, where a good place to do this would be? We would definitely consider volunteering for a few days too if it is at a sanctuary. Any information you could impart would be amazing!

    Thanks,
    Kim

    1. Hi Kim, what an awesome trip you’ve got planned! You should be able to see sloths in Costa Rica. Here are the three places I’d recommend: we saw sloths in Manuel Antonio, where you’ll also see monkeys for sure, and you should also be able to see some sloths in Cahuita if you take a guide (they’re worth the money, they just know where all the animals hang out) http://globetrottergirls.com/2011/06/costa-ricas-national-park-manuel-antonio-vs-cahuita/. We also saw a sloth in Monteverde, right outside our hostel: http://globetrottergirls.com/2011/03/costa-rica-monteverde-hotel-tip-cabinas-el-pueblo/. We also went to the sloth sanctuary in Monteverde (it had just opened), but I think their main sanctuary down at the Caribbean coast (http://www.slothsanctuary.com/welcome/) is better – that’s where you can volunteer, and where they have all the baby sloths, and every time I see pictures of that one people seem to be able to actually touch the sloths (that wasn’t possible in Monteverde). If you decide to volunteer at that one, you’ll definitely get your cuddles and photos 😀

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