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Where to See Sloths in San Jose, Costa Rica

by Barbara Rogers

Jun 6, 2024

© Lura Seavey

Destinations / Latin America

Chances are high any trip to Costa Rica will bring you to the capital city of San Jose, home to the country’s largest international airport. While most family travelers come to see the natural wonders of rain forests, beaches and volcanoes, a night or two in San Jose typically bookends the vacation.


The city sits in the country’s Central Valley, a minimum two-hour drive from either coast, an unappealing prospect for anyone who has just spent (or is about to spend) most of the day in airports and on a plane with the kids.



© Lura Seavey

Seeing a sloth is usually at the top of every family’s to-do list, but thanks to the excellent camouflage and slow movements that help keep them safe from predators, it can be tricky to spot them in the wild. Even with the help of a keen-eyed guide, you may very well still need binoculars to get a good look since both two-toed and three-toed sloths spend nearly all their time in the safety of the highest branches of the rain forest canopy.


Visiting them at one of the rescue centers in and near San Jose is the perfect way to ensure everyone gets some quality sloth time. Refugio Animal de Costa Rica is the most convenient to get to, located only a five-minute drive from Downtown San Jose. It’s also the best place to see two-toed sloths from only a few feet away.


If you time your visit right, usually late morning, you can watch staff and volunteers hand-feed the resident pair before they nod off into a veggie-coma. They then hang out safely behind a low fence, allowing visitors to get unobscured views and plenty of great photos.



© Lura Seavey

The rescue center is open every day, and every visit helps fund the veterinary care of not just permanent residents but also many more sloths and other animals living behind the scenes in expectation of their returning to the wild. Walkways are fully paved for accessibility, and you can have a good meal at Croc’s, the open-air restaurant overlooking the lively spider monkey enclosure.


Another excellent animal rehabilitation center is Toucan Rescue Ranch in San Josecito, a half-hour drive from the city. You will need to reserve a timed tour in advance, but it’s well worth the effort. Although they started as a rescue center for toucans and other birds, they quickly rose to meet the needs of injured and orphaned sloths from around the country.


In addition to the permanent residents, which include several three-toed sloths, the ranch has an extensive rehabilitation program that allows nearly all the sloths there to eventually live free in the wild. The Slothies and Coffees tour is particularly good for those who want to learn all about these endearing creatures while taking plenty of unobscured photos (along with the coffee, they serve fresh juice for the kids).


You can see sloths at one more spot in San Jose, Simón Bolívar Zoo and Botanical Garden, but it’s relatively difficult to get a good look at their sloths. Unfortunately, this publicly-funded zoo has fallen into disrepair, so it may not be the best option for animal lovers.


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