Getting to Know the Animals at the Puerto Viejo Jaguar Rescue Center

The Puerto Viejo Jaguar Rescue Center has attracted its fair share of publicity, and is listed in just about every guide book as a “must do” for tourists. Not being one for tourist-trap attractions or for potentially sketchy wildlife “rescues” I did my fair share of research before visiting, and what I found was a lot of happy tourists and animals alike. I took the bait, and forked over eighteen dollars (enough to pay for a night’s stay and a meal in the same town.)

And boy, am I glad I did.

A wild education at the Puerto Viejo Jaguar Rescue Center

After arriving a bit lake (despite it’s close distance to town via bicycle) Pablo, myself, and a few long-lost friends were whisked off to see our first enclosure: an open air habitat that was home to a handful of yellow eyelash vipers.

The center, we learned, prides itself on it’s snake collection not only for it’s large collection (it houses every venomous snake species in Costa Rica) but for it’s proven success in educating foreigners and locals alike how to identify and treat these animals when encountered in the wild. It turns out that far too many non-venomous snakes are killed every year simply because people don’t know how to identify the difference between the harmless and harmful . But the education doesn’t stop there.

The Puerto Viejo Jaguar Rescue Center is anything but a zoo; long-term volunteers often have biology and wildlife rescue backgrounds, and a private forest allows them to bring injured animals into their real habitat little by little until they are ready to be released. The goal for every animal is to be returned back to the jungle and as a result, animal guests aren’t always the same from one tour to the next (that’s a good thing!).

The animal’s handlers double as guides, giving you personal details of the animals lives and progress. Whether you are learning about the resident female owl who lost her partner and is recovering from chronic depression (which, you will learn, is common among these strongly-bonded pairs), a rattlesnake who can no longer defend himself because of a soggy rattler, or Tuki-Tuki, the beautiful but lethal Toucan – it is obvious that every animals story here is respected, and that every effort is taken to make sure you won’t be hearing any single resident’s tragic tale for too long.



Hands-on philosophy: Happy animals, happy guests.

Monkeys are social animals like humans which is why handler’s here believe in a hand’s on approach. The baby monkeys enjoy this interaction and you will too, especially when you get to the part of the tour that involves spending 15-20 minutes hanging out with the centers current guests. During my visit, an especially wild Capuchin baby was causing a ruckus and happily used us as his personal jungle gym while a baby howler monkey dozed in a volunteers arms. The long-term resident Spider monkey swung by to say hello and several other chewed on fresh watermelon that our guide brought in as a treat. After petting, playing, and being climbed on, we disinfected and headed on to the rest of the tour.

In addition to the monkey interaction, the Jaguar Rescue Center’s main attraction is it’s “sloth garden.” In the garden, guests are not allowed to touch the sloths since the oils from our skin can be harmful to the sloths, but the winding paths let you get within feet of the impossibly-adorable (yes, I said it!) creatures. Volunteers will feed you facts and happily accommodate photo-taking opportunities, and guests are given ample time to ogle at the Sloths since this is often the last stop on the tour.

Above all, Puerto Viejo’s Jaguar Rescue Center has done an excellent job at balancing it’s income source (tourism) with it’s mission (to rescue and rehabilitate animals.) The volunteers passion is contagious, and you will leave the tour with a wealth of knowledge as well as a fondness for the resident animals and their bright futures. I fully recommend this tour to anyone with a love for animals and wildlife in Costa Rica!


Getting There

From Puerto Viejo’s center, head towards Cahuita on the main road. You’ll see signs to turn right (beach is to the left) advertising the center. It’s located just off the main road. If you’re on a bike, it’s a leisure 15 minute pedal. Walking should take less than 30 minutes, and a cab is the fastest option.

Tour Times

Monday-Saturday (Closed Sunday) 9:30am & 11:30am – The tour is 1.5 hours long. There are also more expensive private tours available at different times.

Tour Cost

$20.00  (Children under 10 years old FREE) *Bring cash, credit cards not accepted *Prices may change by a few dollars based on high/low season and other factors.


Playing with monkeys, seeing sloths up-close, and learning each animals story. Also, if you’re in the area for a while and are passionate about animals – they have a volunteer program!


Skip the taxi’s in this town, and rent a bike instead! We rented bikes for $4.00 in the center of town, The Jaguar Rescue Center is a leisure 20 minute ride from downtown Puerto Viejo (If you are confused about which way to head, ask a local! ) It’s a great way to get around and we had them for the rest of the day to explore beaches and grab food along the way.

(506) 2750 0710 (Costa Rican local number)


Owner & Editor

Chelsey is a mid-20's traveler who is passionate about ditching routines, getting off the beaten path, and finding a way to make travel sustainable not only for herself - but everyone! She's a big believer in learning something new every day and never saying "no" to chocolate.

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