As the girlfriend of an admitted sloth obsessive, the Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, was a non-negotiable visit. While it may not have otherwise topped my list, my visit here has been the most unique event of my Costa Rican trip so far.
A Mecca for lovers of these adorably slow creatures, the sanctuary is home to around 150 sloths of both the two and three-toed variety. Experts conduct a two-hour tour (leaving on the hour between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.) filled with all of the sloth knowledge you would ever need to know, and then some. Everything is extremely interesting and the tour includes a canoe ride in a river running through the sanctuary, but it’s the actual face-to-face sloth time that makes the $25 dollar cost seem much more worthwhile.
Throughout the tour we met around 10 different sloths (including babies) and got to see them up close and personal. While you can’t hold the sloths for their own safety, seeing their surprisingly human faces up-close was absolutely amazing. Each sloth’s unique personality shines through when you meet them personally. The most personable of all of the sloths is the grand dame of the Sanctuary, Buttercup. This friendly lady is the sanctuary’s founding sloth, as it began with three young girls dropping her off at Judy, the sloth whisperer’s, door. Judy nursed her back to health and has since done the same with hundreds of injured or sick sloths. Now Buttercup makes you feel welcome from the hanging basket where she holds court as soon as you step into the room.
The sanctuary is about 15 minutes north of Cahuita or 45 minutes north of the popular destination of Puerto Viejo (which I would highly recommend.) From either destination, just hop on the hourly bus that heads north on Highway 36 until you reach the sloth crossing signs. The ticket costs less than $2 each way.
The Sloth Sanctuary should not be missed by any sloth fans. However, if you are just casually interested, note between travel time and waiting for the tour to begin you may be in for close to five hours from Puerto Viejo. But for anyone who wants a guaranteed sloth sighting, especially a close-up encounter, this place is a must-see. If anyone needs inspiration, check out these Animal Planet “Too Cute” clips, filmed on-site.