• Claire

Sloth-Spotting in Costa Rica | La Fortuna

Updated: Jun 16

When planning my trip to Costa Rica, there was one must-do right at the top of my list. Above zip-ling through the Cloud Forest, lazing by the beach and exploring spectacular national parks, I wanted to see a sloth. There's just something about their hilarious smiling faces and supreme laziness that made me want to see these unique animals in real life.

When sloths aren't being featured in online videos or Facebook memes, they are hanging out in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. Conveniently, Costa Rica is the perfect place to spot sloths in their natural habitat. Home to 5% of the world's biodiversity, there are lots of places in the country to see sloths year-round.

My quest to see sloths began in La Fortuna at the Sloth Watching Trail. To my surprise, you don't need to venture deep into the rainforest to see these incredible animals. The Sloth Trail is located an easy 15-minute walk from the centre of La Fortuna town.

You have the option to peruse the two kilometres of rainforest trails on your own or pay a little extra to hire a guide. I would highly recommend hiring a guide - the sloth's slow, infrequent movements and canopy-coloured fur make them difficult to spot. I honestly don't think I would have seen anything if it wasn't for my knowledgeable guide with his trained eye.

Two species of sloths live in Costa Rica - the Brown-throated 3-toed sloth and the Hoffman's two-toed sloth. The 3-toed variety has the well-known 'smiling face' and the 2-toed has more of a pig-like nose. Both can be found on the Sloth Watching Trail.

Fun Facts About Sloths:

  • Sloths move so slowly (up to a maximum of 200m per hour), that algae grows on their fur.

  • The algae helps the sloth hide from predators by blending into the rainforest canopy.

  • They have the slowest digestion system of any mammal - it can take them two weeks to fully digest a meal!

  • Sloths can spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping to conserve energy.

  • It is rare to see sloths on the ground - they only leave the treetops once per week to defecate because of their slow metabolism.

  • Their weekly adventure to the forest floor can often be deadly - exposing them to predators like jaguars or anacondas.

  • Sloths are related to anteaters and armadillos.

You can imagine my excitement when less than 5 minutes into the tour our guide stopped and pointed up into the trees at a massive 3-toed sloth above us. There's something so special about seeing such incredible animals in their natural habitat. Sloths are famously lazy and sleepy but we were lucky enough to see an active male juvenile (very slowly) moving through the trees. My favourite, however, was a mum and her 5-month-old baby nestled sleeping in the fork of a tree - so cute!

A sloth high up in the trees

3-toed sloth

Mum and baby sloth

Mum and baby sloth

Our guide had a telescope with him which he expertly positioned on the sloths high up in the trees so we could get a good view. You can use your phone camera to take a picture of it through the telescope. All up, we must have seen 6 sloths during our two hours walking the Sloth Trail. Our guide also pointed out species of birds, poison dart frogs and beetles that lived alongside the sloths in the area.

How to Guarantee a Sloth Sighting

  • Go with a guide - sloths are great at camouflaging and are often high up in the trees, guides have finely-tuned sloth-spotting skills and will help you find them.

  • Visit during good weather - sloths tend to curl up into a ball and hide when it's raining.

  • Be quiet and patient - listen closely for leaf rustling and scan the canopy tree tops.

  • Wear neutral-coloured clothing - to blend into your surroundings.

  • Bring a camera with a good zoom lens - to capture that perfect travel memory!

If you are visiting La Fortuna I would highly recommend visiting the Sloth Trail and taking a guided tour. Our guide was super knowledgeable and happily answered all my sloth and Costa Rica-related questions. The Sloth Trail is a convenient, affordable and ethical way to tick 'see sloths in Costa Rica' off your bucket list.

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I visited the Sloth Trail as a guest of theirs however, all opinions are my own.

You can read about my adventures in Costa Rica here on my blog or see my travels in square-form on either of my Instagrams: claire_brack / chasingafterclaire