Are You Feeling PhiloSLOTHical?
There are some animals that are on everyone’s “must see” list. Some may be tough to find. Others, though, if you are in the right place, with the right guide, they won’t be hard to spot, at all. One of these, is, the sloth.
There are three countries in Central America where you can see sloths: Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama!
Starting from the north, Nicaragua, though not as abundant with sloths as the two countries further south, has several varieties. Here you may be able to spot a brown-throated three-toed sloth or the lesser known Hoffmanns two-toed sloth.
You may find them in Refugio Bartola or Los Guatuzos Reserve, both located near the Rio San Juan, but we highly recommend going with a local guide who knows which trees the little guys will be hanging out in. Probably an easier place to spot them is at the top of Volcano Mombacho, between Granada and Nandaime. You’ll need to take a moderate hike to get up Mombacho, a hike that will increase your heart rate a little. But you can expect it to increase even more if you see a sloth at the top.
When someone mentions Costa Rica, sloth spotting may be the first thing that comes to mind. It’s a big marketing tool for Costa Rican tourism; they know that, in Costa Rica, you’ve struck sloth-spotting gold. Sloths are everywhere!
Manuel Antonio National Park, an easy three hours’ drive from the capital, San Jose, is a sloth hotbed, both of the two- and three-toed variety. We always recommend going into National Parks with local guides; in this park your chance of spotting a sloth with a guide is around 99.9%. In reality, without a guide it’s about 85%. An added reason, though, to hire a guide is because of the many other wildlife you’ll see on the same tour, some of which can only be found through the huge scope your guide will carry!
Sloths abound throughout the surrounding areas, as well. It’s not uncommon to see them in restaurants and above bars, crawling along the lines. Slowly. Don’t frighten them, corner them, or try to hug them, though; sloths may be slow but they will defend themselves. And have you seen their toes? Their massive claws will hurt you.
Across, on the Caribbean side of the country, one of the favorite place to see sloths is at Cahuita. Here, you’ll catch them literally hanging from the trees or lines like Dunlop Volley sneakers. Be sure not to annoy then when they come down from the trees! It only happens once a week and it’s because they need to poop. As you can imagine, with a sloth that takes time.
Other places in Costa Rica to spot sloths are Corcovado, Tortuguero and the area around Arenal. Like we said, EVERYWHERE!
So, you may be wondering, where can you hug them? Well, we hate to be the bearers of bad news but we also like to suggest responsible tourism. So, the answer is, Sorry, you can’t!
Sloths go through great stress when held or touched. We can also transmit diseases to them that they may not be immune to (similar to gorillas and pandas) and sloths don’t hold the same appreciation for us that we maybe have for them. They have no interest in becoming attached to us, they don’t form family units and they find a mate only to reproduce. So, despite their cuteness, we don’t suggest a selfie with a sloth–unless, of course, it’s in the wild and at a safe distance.
We can suggest, though, a fabulous sanctuary where you can get up close and personal with the little cuties, as well as with monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, anteaters, ocelots and more. The Jaguar Rescue Centre Foundation just outside of Puerto Viejo (around 4 hours from San Jose) is a superb project that is well worth the time and money.
The Center is a temporary or permanent home for ill, injured and orphaned animals, providing round-the-clock veterinary services, care and comfort to animals that would otherwise be unable to survive in the rainforest or the sea. They won’t let you hug their sloths or other animals, but the proximity is more than enough to make anyone leave the establishment with a grin bigger than a sloth’s permanent smile. Photos are permitted, without flash, and, of course, without touching the animals.
We urge you to use the highest ethics when visiting these sanctuaries. Those who market sloth-hugging may be involved in illegal interference with the sloths. One operator was caught disrupting the pygmy sloths, one of the rarest mammals on earth, in Panama.
Speaking of Panama, that’s our final stop on this expedition.
Near Panama City, itself, you can try your luck at the Gamboa Rainforest or Summit Municipal Park. Close to the city, these protected dense jungle areas provide homes to sloths, monkeys and plenty of bird life.
The departments of Bocas Del Toro and Chiriqui also offer plenty of jungle where sloths will be hiding out. Bocas Del Toro is the only place you would ever spot the endangered Pygmy Sloth. They may be hard to find but not impossible with the right nature guide.
Finally, here are a few cool facts you might not know about these magnificent creatures:
– all sloths have three toes, but the two-toed sloth has only two fingers;
– sloths are related to anteaters and armadillos;
– sloths are excellent swimmers;
– sloths have four stomachs and can take up to a month to digest a meal;
– sloths move so slowly that moss grows on them, it’s part of their camouflage;
– sloths come down only once a week to take care of their needs;
– sloths sleep for 15-20 hours a day.
West Adventures takes you to all three of these countries, but, if sloth-spotting tops your bucket list, we highly recommend one of the tours that highlights Costa Rica.