Before I traveled to Central America recently, one of my biggest questions was: Can I see sloths in Panama City?
Sloths are those adorable, tree-dwelling mammals that sleep all the time, move incredibly slowly, and hang from branches most of the day. They’re fairly common in Costa Rica, but it seemed like they weren’t as plentiful in Panama – at least not in the capital of Panama City.
Still, there are a small number of places where you can see sloths in the wild inside Panama City, including Parque Metropolitano and Cerro Ancon, or “Ancon Hill.”
I visited them myself and was fortunate to see a few sloths, including a mother and baby!
Let’s answer all the questions about sloths in Panama, specifically in the capital of Panama City.
Are there sloths in the wild in Panama City?
Yes, some. But not many. Panama City is a very modern, well-developed city with numerous skyscrapers and the “concrete jungle” typical of big cities.
Sloths live in the tall trees of jungle forests, so you can see why they wouldn’t find Panama City to be the most hospitable habitat.
But there are a few forested areas of the city that are good real estate for sloths.
Where can I pet sloths in Panama?
Some folks would rather see sloths up close in a sanctuary environment than trying to find wild ones in a city park.
Your best bet is to book the Monkey Island & Sloth Sanctuary Tour. This guided tour includes a boat ride on Gatun Lake to Monkey Island, which has howler monkeys and white-faced capuchin monkeys. The tour then visits the Sloth Sanctuary, which hosts sloths in a safe environment.
You probably won’t get to pet the sloths, however, as they don’t let guests hold the creatures. But you will be close enough to see them up from a few feet away.
Where can you see sloths in Panama City in the wild?
Based on my experience, and the advice of local guides, I recommend two primary areas for potentially seeing sloths.
Parque Metropolitano is regarded by some as the top sloth spot on the city, but I put it number two, behind another, smaller park.
The top spots for seeing sloths in Panama City:
1. Ancon Hill
2. Metropolitan Park
Those are the two best spots by far. There isn’t much jungle habitat left within the city limits.
I’m partial to Ancon Hill. Here’s a complete recap of my visit, and how you can visit yourself.
Ancon Hill: The Best Place to See Sloths in Panama City
Cerro Ancon is great because it’s fairly small (106 acres), and it’s pretty close to Old Town (Casco Viejo), an area where many tourists stay.
It’s a 30-minute walk (650 feet elevation gain) from the base of the hill to the top of Cerro Ancon. Previously, it was possible to drive to the top, but the road is now pedestrian-only.
To get here, take an Uber and use Mi Pueblito as the dropoff spot. Mi Pueblito is a cultural attraction that features a mini-town designed to look like colonial Panama. It’s about $4 if you want to go in and explore Mi Pueblito.
If not, just arrive at Mi Pueblito and start walking up the hill. It’s a paved path that is easy to navigate. You will likely see other hikers or joggers around.
When you hit the red railing on the right, go up the steps and proceed up the hill.
If you need a bathroom, stop at the port-a-potty halfway up the hill.
Quirky sight: The “pedestrians walking” signs in Panama have ample backsides.
As you walk, keep your eyes up in the trees, not just for sloths, but for monkeys and birds. I saw two beautiful toucans in this area, one next to Mi Pueblito and one at the top of Ancon Hill.
Sloths are often difficult to spot. With their brown fur, they blend into the trees and the shadows of the canopy.
Can you spot the sloth in these trees?
One advantage of visiting Ancon Hill is that you will likely run into other English-speaking tourists. You can always ask them if they’ve seen any wildlife.
If you hear locals talking in Spanish, listen for the word “perezoso.” That’s the Spanish word for sloth. (Fittingly, it’s also the Spanish word for “lazy!”)
One tourist told us that a mother and baby sloth had been spotted at Cerro Ancon near the top of the hill, so we knew to keep our eyes open.
About two-thirds of the way up the hill, I spotted her. It took a minute to notice that she had a baby on her chest.
I never got a great pic because of the shadows, but that round bump on her chest is the baby’s head. My first sloth sighting in the wild!
We watched them for several minutes. Predictably, they didn’t do much but hang around.
Further up the trail, we spotted another sloth, on the opposite side of the trail, giving us a much better angle for photos with the sunlight facing that direction. Howdy, sloth friend!
This one was in a hurry, by sloth standards. He was scaling this small tree and eventually got himself up into a spot where he was hidden by leaves.
There are two-toed and three-toed sloths. The ones here are three-toed, as you can tell from looking closely at their limbs.
After watching the sloth for a while, we continued on to the top. Ancon Hill used to be owned by the United States, when the U.S. controlled the full Panama Canal Zone.
Panama reclaimed control of the hill in 1977 and immediately placed a giant Panama flag atop the hill. The flag can be seen from the city below.
Check out the cool views up here! You can see the Bridge of the Americas and the entire Panama City skyline.
You can also see the highway loop that was built out into the bay to avoid vehicle congestion in the cramped Old Town neighborhood.
You will also find a statue up here of Amelia Denis de Icaza. She was the first female Panamanian poet to publish her verses.
She wrote a poem about Ancon Hill in 1906 after the U.S. took over the area. Her poem lamented the loss of the land she knew from her childhood.
Look around for wildlife at the top of the hill. I saw a total of six agoutis on the hike. Agoutis are little rodents that look like guinea pigs. They wander in and out of the woods.
I also encountered several monkeys on the hike back down. These are known as Geoffroy’s tamarins, or Panamanian tamarins.
They have reddish spots on the back of their necks. They were super active and did a lot of jumping between trees.
Panama has so many colorful and beautiful birds. The black vulture does not fit that description. But it’s still interesting to watch.
Interestingly, this is the same species of vulture that attacks car windshield wipers in the Florida Everglades.
Other wildlife you may see while hiking Ancon Hill includes armadillos and coatis – small mammals with a giant tail. I didn’t see any coatis here, but I did see them elsewhere in Central America.
Here’s a coati I saw in Costa Rica, for reference:
Another Place to See Sloths: Metropolitan Park (Parque Metropolitano)
Parque Metropolitano is bigger and more popular than Ancon Hill. It’s more than double the size of Cerro Ancon, in fact, and it has a lot more hiking trails.
This park has a small entry fee here (a few bucks.) That means there are rangers here. Which means that you’ll be able to talk to them and ask if they’ve seen any sloths in the area.
I did not get to visit Metropolitan Park, but my friend did, and he saw a single sloth high up in a tree. It was too far away to get any good pics though. In fact, the only way he knew it was there is because he saw other people pointing at it.
This park has both two-toed and three-toed sloths. You could potentially see either variety.
Metropolitan Park is another good place to look for wildlife of all kinds, and to see the skyline of Panama City. You can’t go wrong if you visit either of these two parks.
Have you ever seen a sloth in Panama?
CHECK OUT MY OTHER WILDLIFE ARTICLES
• Rhino Walk in Zimbabwe – Walking with white rhinos in the wild
• The Cheapest Way to See Polar Bears – how to visit Churchill, Manitoba affordably
• Glacier National Park Mountain Goats – where to see them in the park
• Where to See Wolverines in Mount Rainier National Park – the elusive predators have returned to the park!
• My 25 Favorite Wildlife Encounters in America – including grizzly bears, wild horses, moose, sharks, bald eagles, wolves, alligators, and California condors