Where to Hang Out with Sloths in Costa Rica
I did literally zero research before going to Costa Rica. In my defense, my friend Iris, a food writer, contacted me only a few days before she was set to arrive. She explained that her original travel companion had bailed on her and asked if I would by chance be available to meet her in Costa Rica in 5 days.
At that time I knew two things: The food would be amazing and there are definitely sloths in Costa Rica.
So really, what else did I need to know? I bought my ticket immediately, and Costa Rica did not disappoint.
The food was incredible, everything from the traditional breakfast to chocolate from the rainforest was delicious, but the true highlight of my trip was hanging out with sloths. While Costa Rica seems to be lousy with these slow moving and adorable creatures, getting close to one proved to be more difficult than I thought. This is definitely an area I should have researched before showing up and expecting to hang out with sloths on my balcony while I sipped on mimosas. So if you want to know where to go, I’ll save you the trouble.
I want to hug all the sloths in Costa Rica
The internet is full of amazing sloth videos. Adorable fuzzy creatures just crawling all over people, being the cuddly balls of awesome that sloths are 24/7. So, I assumed that once I got myself into some sort of sloth rescue center, I would be able to just bury myself in sloths. I learned two very important things.
- Sloths have super long claws and if you scare them in the wild, they will totally tear you up. The sloth in this photo is being freaking adorable and using its huge claws to tuck itself in for a nap, but for real, look at those claws. You don’t want to wake her up unexpectedly.
2. Most animal rescue organizations have now changed their rules and do not allow any physical contact with the sloths. This is more for their health than for your safety as rescued sloths are obviously used to some human contact from their caretakers. However, exposing the sloths to unnecessary human contact could be harmful to their health.
I’m not going to lie, I was pretty devastated that no one would let me hug any sloths, but I was still quite determined to see some up close.
The most well known place to visit sloths in Costa Rica is the Sloth Sanctuary, which is a good 5 hours from where I was staying, a fact I did not know until I was already in Costa Rica, and thus unable to make any reservations to get there. I’ve read and heard nothing but good things about this place, but if you want to go there, you will need to organize your trip around getting to that area. I only had 5 days in Costa Rica and the hotels we had booked were no where near this place. It just wasn’t possible for me to see the Sloth Sanctuary on this trip.
Luckily, Iris realized how crucial it was for me to see some sloths up close and personal, so she did a lot of Googling until she discovered The Toucan Rescue Ranch, which happened to be about an hour from where we were staying (Alajuela). The ranch is an easy trip from the San Jose airport, so it’s much more accessible for anyone staying in that area.
It’s so much more than toucans
The name of this animal rescue center is a bit misleading because it started as a rescue center only for toucans. However, in a country like Costa Rica where road closures and transportation issues can be a problem, injured animals tend to end up in whatever place can provide any semblance of care for them. Slowly, the Toucan Rescue Ranch became home to owls, then some parrots, and then it expanded outside of the bird realm and ended up with a wide variety of animals, everything from their playful otter, Emma, to a couple of adult sloths and a forever changing population of baby sloths. I could write an entirely different article about all the different animals they work with, but for now, I want to tell you all about sloths.
Sloths belong in the wild
What I loved about the Toucan Rescue Ranch is that the dedicated employees and volunteers do their very best to return as many animals as they can to the wild. If an injured animal is delivered to them, they assess the situation and determine whether the animal can be released back into the wild after receiving treatment. This is why they only had 2 adult sloths when I visited. The two adults were not fit for release, so they will live out their days at the Toucan Rescue Ranch.
Save the baby sloths!
The baby sloths that end up at the ranch needing treatment are taken care of and raised with the intention of being released back into the wild. This was another reason we were allowed to get very close to them, but not quite touch them. These little guys are going to have to fend for themselves someday, so they can’t get too attached to humans.
That did not, however, stop me from getting incredibly attached to them.
These people know their stuff
I was very impressed by the staff’s knowledge of and dedication to the animals. Each time an unexpected animal arrives, they rush to figure out the best way to care for it. Over the years they have custom built many different enclosures to house their animals. Their sloths are left alone to be lazy, sleep, and eat. While they will attempt to coax them out with things like their favorite treat, a hisbiscus flower, they will never force the sloths or any other animal to visit with guests. The animals’ happiness and comfort come first, the visitors are just there to observe. The staff have videos, photos, and plenty of stories to share, so you will learn a lot about the different animals they house there.
How to visit or help
If you are interested in visiting the the Toucan Rescue Ranch, you have to make a reservation in advance, so contact them via their website or give them a call. Don’t be confused by the Nevada address, that’s just where the business began. I assure you, they are in Costa Rica, and a reasonable distance from the San Jose airport.
You can also work as a volunteer (long term volunteers are preferred) or donate to help their cause. The people at this ranch are incredible, and the animals are definitely worth visiting!