Costa Rica Wildlife Guide: Two-Toed Sloth
Two-toed Sloth Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to a diverse array of wildlife, but few animals are as iconic and imagination-capturing quite like the two-toed sloth. This charming and enigmatic animal, known for its shaggy coats, relaxing demeanor and unique adaptations, is a highlight of any eco-tourism adventure in Costa Rica. Many visitors come to our country with the hopes of seeing these wonderful mammals in their natural habitat. If planning to see the two-toed sloth during your time in Costa Rica, it is best that you understand their ecology, behaviors and habitats so that you may be able to spot them during nature walking tours or when exploring areas where sloths can be found. Join us as we explore the fascinating world of the two-toed sloth and discover where to find them and why this slow-moving treasure is a must-see on your next visit.

Two-toed Sloth In Tree
Two-toed sloth hanging upside down in tree.

What Makes the Two-Toed Sloth Unique?

The Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) is one of two sloth species found in Costa Rica, the other being the brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus). Two-toed sloths are found primarily in Central America, northern parts of South America, and specific regions of Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. Distinguished by its two toes on each forearm, two-toed sloths are primarily nocturnal, unlike its three-toed counter part, and spends most of its life high above in the forest canopy. It also possesses a shaggy coat without any distinctive patterns which can help when differentiating it from other species, especially when viewing from afar. It possesses a slow metabolism and unique physiology that allows it to thrive in the treetops, moving at a leisurely pace to conserve energy. It will come down from the trees on to the ground for two reasons: to find another tree or to defecate and urinate, which happens about once a week. Scientists still don’t know why sloths relieve themselves in this way, as doing so makes them vulnerable to predators.

Manuel Antonio Birds-eye View
Dense rainforests like those found in Manuel Antonio are perfect habitats for sloths.

Habitat and Distribution in Costa Rica

Two-toed sloths are typically found in the lowland and mountainous rainforests of Costa Rica, particularly in regions such as the Caribbean rainforests, northern Alajuela province and the Osa Peninsula. These sloths prefer dense, mature rainforests where they can find ample foliage to feed on and sufficient cover to hide from predators. Your best bet if searching for these unique animals is Manuel Antonio National Park, Tortuguero National Park, La Fortuna/Arenal National Park, Monteverde, Corcovado National Park and along the rainforests in the south Caribbean. Be sure to have a chat with local guides on the best place to spot two-toed and three-toed sloths in these areas. As mentioned, two-toed sloths are mostly nocturnal so night tours are usually the best time to see them foraging, but they are often spotted snoozing in trees during day walk tours.

Sloth Sleeping
Sloth enjoying a snooze in the canopy.

Diet, Behavior and Reproduction

Two-toed sloths are folivores, meaning they primarily eat leaves as well as fruits and flowers. Their slow digestion process can take up to a month to fully process their food, which is why they move so slowly as they need to conserve energy. This leisurely lifestyle helps them avoid detection by predators such as jaguars, ocelots and harpy eagles. Sloths also possess an incredible gripping strength, thanks to their long, curved claws, which helps them hang securely from branches even while they sleep. They are mostly solitary. Even though you may spot several sloths in the same area, they tend to be alone with the exception of mating and females with young. Males have even been known to fight with each other when competing over females. Unlike three-toed sloths, two-toed sloth are known to mate all year round with sexual maturity happening between 2 and 4 years of age. When ready to mate, females will let out a high pitch scream to attract males in the area. After mating, the females will give birth in the treetops or on the ground after around 12 months of gestation. Newborn sloths mostly cling onto their mothers body during the first months, but can eat solid food after 15-27 days and are fully weaned by 9 weeks.

Baby Two-toed Sloth
Baby Two-toed Sloth in rehabilitation centre on the Gulf of Dulce, Costa Rica

Conservation Status

While the two-toed sloth is listed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List and is not currently listed as endangered, it faces threats from habitat loss and deforestation from all over the world and Costa Rica is no exception. It is actually difficult to estimate the total number of wild populations as current data is deemed unreliable. Efforts to conserve Costa Rica’s rainforests are crucial to ensuring the survival of these gentle animals. There are rehabilitation centers in Costa Rica for all sloth species, but many of these centers have faced controversy and scrutiny for malpractices in recent years. Ultimately, governing bodies and eco-tourism play a vital role in the conservation efforts of sloths in Costa Rica, as responsible tourism supports local economies and encourages the protection of natural habitats.

Two-toed Sloth
A young two-toed Sloth grasped to a branch in Manuel Antonio National Park.

Spotting the Two-Toed Sloth: Tips for Eco-Tourists

  1. Join Guided Tours

    One of the best ways to see Hoffmann’s two-toed sloths is by joining a guided eco-tour which explores their natural habitats and allows for observers to see sloths while having a minimal impact on their environment. Knowledgeable, trained guides can help you spot these elusive animals and provide fascinating insights into their behavior and habitat.

  2. Visit National Parks and Reserves

    National parks like Manuel Antonio, Tortuguero, and Corcovado are excellent places to observe sloths. These protected areas offer prime sloth habitats and increase your chances of a sighting. We recommend that you avoid sloth sanctuaries in Costa Rica. Though theses sanctuaries house many sloths, they have also been the at the center of many controversies and bad practises over the years.

  3. Bring Binoculars

    Sloths are arboreal animals meaning they mostly stay high in the canopy, making them difficult to see with the naked eye. Binoculars can help you get a closer look at these fascinating creatures without disturbing them. When on guided tours, usually your guide will bring a viewing scope so that you can get an excellent look at the animals high above the canopy.

  4. Be Patient and Quiet

    Sloths are well-camouflaged so as to avoid predators and thus are difficult to spot. Patience and a keen eye are essential. Move quietly to avoid startling them and give yourself the best chance of a sighting. Avoid whistling as well, as high pitched screams and whistles are how females attract males for mating. The last thing you will want to do is force a male to spend so much of its time and effort travelling down from its tree just to find nothing waiting for them. If you are lucky enough to see a sloth on the ground, try your best not to disturb or frighten it and keep a respectable distance.


Encountering a sloth in the wild is a highlight of any eco-enthusiasts experience in Costa Rica. These unique animals embody the tranquility and beauty of Costa Rica, which is why the sloth is the chosen mascot for the country and a champion of successful eco-tourism. By choosing eco-friendly tours and supporting conservation efforts, you can help protect these remarkable creatures and ensure that future generations can enjoy their slow-moving charm.

If you would like to know more about which of our tours offer the best opportunity to see the two-toed sloth, then be sure to get in contact with one of our professional tour agents today:

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