Ever since we moved to Costa Rica we have wanted to see a sloth. They’re weird looking, in a so ugly they’re cute kind of way, they move at the speed of molasses and you rarely get to see them in the wild due to their ability to climb up high and blend into the treetops. Plus they’re just cool. So even though it was a mission to get there, we knew we had to visit the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, located in Penshurt on the Southern Caribbean side of the country.
Visiting the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica
After making the 12 hour bus trek across mountains and big cities and winding forests, we found a nice place to stay in Puerto Viejo and took off for the Sloth Sanctuary, about a 45 minute bus ride away. When you see the huge yellow sloth crossing signs out front, you’re there.
The Sloth Sanctuary was founded by Judy Avey-Arroyo from Alaska and her Costa Rican husband, Luis Arroyo. After falling in love with the area and buying 320 acres near Penshurt, they moved to Costa Rica full time in 1986 and started offering boat tours of their jungle and island property. After a 1991 earthquake destroyed their home and boat, they rebuilt a home and added a small hotel. Shortly after, they were brought an orphaned, three-fingered baby sloth by some neighbors. Not knowing what to do or how to take care of it, they contacted zoos in Costa Rica who all said they didn’t know what to do either and good luck, essentially.
So after successfully feeding the baby sloth leaves that were found in the nearby forest and being brought a two-toed sloth a couple years later, they were known as the experts on sloths and became an authorized sloth rescue center in 1997. They have rescued over 500 two and three-fingered sloths and Buttercup, the very first baby sloth that was brought in by neighbors, is now in her twenties and happy as can be in her wicker chair.
Sloth Sanctuary Tours:
- Special Insider’s Tour for $150, which includes a canoe ride down the Estrella River Delta, breakfast or lunch with Buttercup, behind the scenes info with a private guide and a visit to the incubator babies nursery
- Buttercup Tour for $25, which includes a canoe ride, behind the scenes info with a guide and a visit to see the adult sloths and baby sloths
We chose the Buttercup Tour, which was really excellent and the best deal for a tour that we’ve found in Costa Rica, period. If budget is not a concern, definitely go for the Insider’s Tour since you get to see the infant babies and hang out with Buttercup a little more, but know that the basic Buttercup Tour is still wonderful.
What’s even cooler is that the tour was run by Jeff, who happens to be the grandson of the owner and therefore very knowledgeable about the culture and life of the sloths. He grew up in Las Vegas and moved here 9 years ago to work at the Sanctuary. The tour started off with a visit to see five of the resident adult sloths, who were all brought to the Sanctuary because of injuries.
“Millie” the sloth was brought in because she was electrocuted. Now she is healthy and happy in her wicker chair. She let Jeff pick her up and carry her around and even let all of us pet her back.
This is “Toyota” the sloth. He was brought in because he was electrocuted, survived a 90 foot fall, and larvae were living in his open wounds. He only has one arm, but he is still an excellent climber. Jeff said it only took about three weeks after the amputation for him to begin climbing normally again.
“Johnny Depp” was brought in because he got tangled in barbed wire, which led to larvae living in his wounds that almost ate him alive. Luckily they were able to save him and place him with another two-fingered female sloth, which he has grown up and lived with for the last several years. They have never had any babies together, which Jeff thinks is because they see each other as brother and sister.
We were also told that almost 80% of the injured sloths they receive are returned to the wild once they recover. Some of them, like most of the ones pictured above, were brought in as infants and cannot be released because they do not know which leaves to eat on their own.
The next part of the tour was my personal favorite, the baby sloths. Jeff explained that lots of baby sloths are captured in Panama and Nicaragua and sold illegally as pets to people all over the world. The problem with people keeping sloths as pets is that most people have no idea how to care for them, including what to feed them and where to find their food, not to mention that vets don’t know what kind of medicine they need and can end up killing them with the wrong medicine.
“Ubu” is a three year old, two-fingered sloth who is paraplegic. Since he has no use of his lower legs, he has become a strong climber with the top half of his body and gets around just fine. He also loves to hold on to his stuffed teddy bear, which they give to each of the baby sloths who miss the warmth and comfort of their mother. As they grow up, the sloths slowly ween themselves off of their stuffed animals. Adorable.
This is “Linus” the baby sloth. He began sucking on one of his claws, similar to a little kid and their thumb, which caused his mouth to always stay open. It doesn’t cause any health problems, although they have to feed him milk laying on his back. Baby sloths are given goat’s milk, which they have to order specially from the U.S. and Canada because it is more consistent than the goat’s milk found in Costa Rica.
One of the coolest things we learned is that the Sloth Sanctuary holds free tours for schools from all around the country. By spreading the message about sloths and giving people a resource to get information about them, they are helping to promote respect for the species as well as expanding research efforts.
The last part of the tour was the wonderfully peaceful canoe ride down the river in the back of the property.
And as we were pulling back in to end the tour, we even got to see this wild sloth up close, doing what they do best, being slothy and climbin’ stuff. We also saw lots of wild, native birds and howler monkeys. So awesome!
If you happen to be in Costa Rica, I would highly suggest visiting this place. This is one of the coolest things we’ve done and seen here and it’s also one of the most inexpensive. You can even stay here for $115/night.
Also, this is how big sloths used to be. Umm… say whaaaaaaattt?!?