I Died and Went to Sloth Heaven

Last month, I died and went to sloth heaven.

Officially known as the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, this little place I call heaven is:

  • A “slothpital” that rehabilitates injured sloths
  • An orphanage that rescues baby sloths
  • A respected sloth research center
  • A bed and breakfast

Heaven, right?! Yes, heaven. Sloth Heaven.

When I died in Cahuita, Costa Rica, a local bus transported my body 11 kilometers up the Caribbean coast to the pearly gates of sloth heaven:

Fortunately, it was a Tuesday between the hours of 8am and 2pm Central Time, and heaven was open.

(Note to self: Don’t die on a Monday! The gates to sloth heaven are closed on Mondays.)

Ursula the gatekeeper checked me in to my private heavenly quarters, the Delilah Room. It would be the first and only air-conditioned place I treated myself to during my six weeks backpacking through Costa Rica. It was glorrrious.

I floated up the stairs and into the open-air dining room where Buttercup the Goddess was waiting.

Buttercup was the OG (Original Goddess) that started it all. Orphaned in the wild 22 years ago, she was brought to the animal-loving Arroyo family who would care for her and come to be known as the local sloth experts. Word spread of the Arroyos’ love and expertise of these animals, and the family eventually opened the Sloth Sanctuary. Click here to read their story in more detail.

Perched on her hanging throne, Buttercup basked in the regal glory of the attention being shined upon her by my wide-eyed self. I ooh’d and ahh’d, and burst into spontaneous giggle fits over the paralyzing cuteness of her highness.

Buttercup gave me a respectable head nod, and she said:
“‘Sup Thy? Welcome to sloth heaven. It’s dope here, I think you’ll like it.”

She was spoiled. She was smug. And she made sure I knew who was boss.

After feeling sufficiently admired solely for her cuteness, Queen B climbed out of her royal highness’ throne to show me there was more to her than good looks.

“Yo, check me out, look what I can do. That’s right. I’m a sloth. I climb and I hang on things.”

…and I can turn my head like 300 degrees. Yup! Fact.”

I continued to giggle and watch with fascination as Buttercup slowwwwwwly moved about and swung from her throne with a, well, sloth-like pace. It was almost too much cuteness for me to handle. I nearly died another death and went to some other higher heaven of cuteness (perhaps sloth/kitten “slitten” heaven? – seriously, check that out).

Buttercup returned to her seated princess position in the throne. Still basking in her glory of cuteness, she said, “Ok, you’re boring me. I’ma eat lunch now. Carry on with your fawning over me and feel free to stare at me for hours. Everybody else is doing it. *Yawn*”

I obeyed. I obeyed with DELIGHT. I just stared. And stared. And stared.

I stared with unwaning amusement until hunger struck. I managed to pull myself away from the cuteness that is Buttercup (I knew there was more to come!) and I meandered across the street. As if sloth heaven wasn’t enough, I came upon a roadside ceviche stand. Score!

In my best Spanish, I chit chatted with Flor, a sweet smiley lady who sold fish and prepared ceviche out of her humble home between an abandoned building and a pulperia (small convenience store).

Flor was elated to be serving her ceviche to a foreigner. This stretch of Highway 36 doesn’t get many foreign visitors, as most people go straight to the sanctuary across the street and whiz right by to get to the beach towns further south.

With a hop in her step and an enormous smile, Flor scooped out a generous serving of chopped white fish cooked in lemon and herbs into a container “para llevar” (to go), gave me a warm “abrazo” (a hug) — so sweet! — and wished me “buen provecho” (enjoy your meal).

I brought my fresh-made ceviche back to the sloth sanctuary and savored every flavorful, citrus-y bite. It was exactly what my taste buds wanted. I enjoyed this meal whilst sitting directly beside Buttercup who, by now, was slipping into a food coma induced by the leafy lunch she had just finished.

Meanwhile, I befriended an ultra cool couple from San Francisco, California (Hi Kiera! Hi Eric!). They were roadtripping through Costa Rica in a rented camper van that was superbly, inconspicuously decked out with a queen size bed, sitting room, kitchen and shower. You’d never know it by looking at it.

Next time I travel through Costa Rica, I am SO renting this van! Check out Costa Rider Campervan.

I clicked with this couple immediately and we sat for hours, admiring Buttercup and sharing travel stories. They were beautiful people, inside and out, and I loved their warm energy and adventurous spirits. My kind o’ peeps!

Also my kind o’ peeps was a solo traveler named Didi, who joined us as well.

He was from Belgium, and as we got to talking, Didi and I discovered we narrowly missed each other (by one DAY) back at the Corcovado Foundation. I had just spent a month doing sea turtle conservation work on the other side of the country, and turns out Didi had arrived at the foundation the day after I left! Whoa! We took this selfie and sent it to our coordinators at the foundation to say hi (Hi Rob! Hi Sara!) and marveled at what a small world it was. (That’s Buttercup sleeping behind us!)

The four of us hopped into Kiera and Eric’s amazing campervan (seriously, check out this van) and drove down to Puerto Viejo for dinner and drinks. At the end of the night, they drove me back to the sanctuary to drop me off (thank you so much, you guys!) and we parted ways.

The next morning, I had breakfast with Buttercup and three Aussie gals who’d also checked into sloth heaven the day before. Soon after, we embarked on the “Insider’s Tour” of the Sloth Sanctuary, which was essentially four hours of me going:

“Soooooooooo CUTE!”
“How are these reeeeeeal?”
“Stop it. Just stop.”
“Omigod I can’t.”
“I can’t.”
“I can’t.”

Seriously, are you seeing this photo?

It’s a baby sloth. A baby sloth in a bucket.

Are you dying yet?

It was too much cuteness in one place. I could barely stand it.

In case you’re wondering why the bucket baby sloth looks so different from Buttercup, it’s because they are different types of sloths.

  • Buttercup is a three-fingered sloth. Her arms are twice as long as her legs; she has short, dark blackish/grayish hair; and she sports raccoon eyes and that irresistible perma-smile.
  • The bucket baby sloth pictured above is a two-fingered sloth. These ones generally grow up to be a bit bigger; they have longer, lighter brown/blond hair and adorable pig-like noses.

(If you’ve ever heard of them referred to as two- or three-toed sloths, well…from what I observed, ALL sloths have three toes. It’s actually the number of fingers that distinguishes them.)

This here is Rocket, an orphaned baby two-fingered sloth.

I know.

So cute, right?

But wait. There’s more. Two short videos I shot for your viewing pleasure:

You’re welcome.

In a few years, Rocket will grow up to look like Millie and her friends pictured here:

In the meantime, Rocket will continue to be overwhelmingly adorable, and hang with his overwhelmingly adorable buddies on these baby sloth jungle gyms:

Sloth heaven, indeed.

It seemed to me that besides Buttercup, all of the rescued sloths here were of the Rocket variety, the two-fingered sloths – which, of course, I wasn’t complaining about! They’re freaking adorable.

But as I looked around, I discovered this lone little three-fingered cutie clinging to a teddy bear.

Gah! I…I can’t. I just can’t. I canNOT stand it. It’s tooooooo much cuteness.

This little orphan was new at the time – so new, she didn’t have a name yet. In fact, I didn’t even know if she was a “she” or not. Two-fingered sloths can usually be distinguished as male when they have an orange-colored patch of fur on their backs, but I think that patch develops as they’re older. I’m not totally sure. Plus, their private parts are private (nothing external) so I don’t think there’s a way to determine the sex when they’re babies.

Whatever the case, I decided this was a female. And she melted my heart. (She’s also the baby sloth pictured at the very top of this page.)

I lost all interest in the jungle gym and fell utterly in love with this baby. With her back to me, she slowly rotated her neck to one side to check me out. Then she rotated the other way, showing just how flexible her neck was. She then started to climb verrrrrry slowly over her teddy bear and up a tree.

(Sorry for the funky glare in these pics! The lens cover on my camera had a crack in it. Ug. But it’s ok. Cuteness ensues nonetheless.)

When she found her preferred clingy space on the tree, she posed for the camera.

She gave me a little squint.

She opened wide and made squealy, squeaky sounds.

She giggled.

She smiled that irresistible smile and said, “Thy, take me home.”

We had a little chat about her cuteness and my plot to take her home in my backpack. (It was unsuccessful, sorry.)

And I died. I died over and over and over again.

And I wondered, how could such cuteness be left alone to die in the wild? There were hundreds of sloths here.

According to the sanctuary, 34% of the sloths they rescue are simply abandoned – their mothers die or can’t care for the babies for whatever reason. This might be better explained by the other reasons sloths are brought to the sanctuary:

  • 14% of the rescues had been electrocuted after climbing power lines or a tree with a transformer on it. So sad! But read this amazing rescue story.
  • Some get hit by cars (7%), others are attacked by dogs (12%).
  • About 10% of the sloths here had injured themselves falling out of a tree.

Sometimes, sloths don’t survive a fall or attack or electrocution, but the babies clinging to them do. And if those babies are lucky enough, they’ll be found and brought to the sanctuary. Otherwise, without their mothers, baby sloths have little chance of survival in the wild.

The good news is, the Sloth Sanctuary takes wonderful care of these babies, as well as the adult sloths. The adults who arrive injured and are rehabilitated in the state-of-the-art “slothpital” are eventually released back into the wild. And some of them might even be monitored by wearing little sloth backpacks outfitted with VHF radio transmitters and GPS tags.

If at first I was hesitant to dole out the cash for the Insider’s Tour (a whopping $150), I was more than pleased by the end of the day. It was absolutely worth it, and I considered it my contribution to the Sloth Sanctuary’s care and research efforts. The other tour option is $25 for the Buttercup Tour which also allows you to meet the resident goddess, and I think you get to see some babies too.

For more information, visit the Sloth Sanctuary website.

They even had their own TV show on Animal Planet last year. It was called “Meet the Sloths” and you can check out a segment of the first episode below. There’s really great footage of Buttercup here!

Prepare to die of a cute attack. You, too, might end up in sloth heaven.


  1. Anonymous

    Can you hold the baby sloths?

    • Unfortunately for us (and FORTUNATELY for the sloths), no – we’re not allowed to hold them. Apparently, the more human handling there is of a baby sloth, the less chances of its survival. It’s super stressful for the animals. The sanctuary even had to shut down their volunteer program last year :( But don’t let that discourage you from visiting! Although you can’t hold them, you definitely get up close and personal with the sloths on the Insider’s Tour.

  2. Anonymous

    I’m in my own sloth heaven every time I veg out in front of the TV.

  3. Juniper Jagger

    Great post, Traveling Thy!

  4. Corey Feldman

    Can the sloths (slothae?) be taught to speak?

  5. Matilda Mathers

    It sounds like the sloth as a species is in danger. Sad.

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