My family visited on March 26 and I’ll start with the positives first. As many of the reviewers have noted, the work that is being done by the owner, Carol, is admirable and commendable and as a guide she is remarkably knowledgeable about the animals and her tour of the sanctuary is as educational as people say.
About the sanctuary itself, my family loves to see and interact with animals in a variety of settings (it’s the primary reason we visited Costa Rica), but the sanctuary isn’t the must see attraction that many are making it out to be. The spider monkey (Sweetie) that accompanies guests on their tour does put on quite a show – asking to be scratched in specific spots and interacting quite expressively with the visitors. Carol waking up the sloths and then feeding them is interesting to behold, and guests do get to feed almonds to a macaw (more on that later). Beyond that, there really aren’t that many animals and the interaction with them is very limited. Caged animals we saw on our tour were a toucan, a tayra (a weasel-like animal), two capuchins, two peccaries (similar to wild pigs), and another breed of monkey (I think squirrel monkeys). I don’t think I missed any other animals and apologize if I did. We’ve had several other “animal-encounter” experiences that were richer / more varied than what we experienced at the sanctuary (although as noted, the educational quality of what we were told was higher than at other places).
So why the 1 star rating?
First of all, Carol clearly states up front this is an animal sanctuary, not a “zoo” of any kind and I felt it was pretty clear that the main reason we were allowed in the sanctuary at all was that the donations are needed to continue on with the work being done there. When you are there, you are on the animals’ territory and abide by their rules. Ok, fine… but realize that this means that you don’t carry anything into the sanctuary that Sweetie the monkey might want to grab and you certainly won’t be permitted to pull back. This did in fact happen as a bag containing food and water was brought in by another family and when Sweetie pulled at it, it needed to be set aside for the duration of the visit. In fact, you can’t carry water with you, which you should be well aware of when taking kids on an hour and a half tour in the very hot and very humid Osa. You also must do nothing that can in any way be seen as antagonistic to her or any of the other animals (like picking up one of your kids to give them a better look at something). Carol has a very stern demeanor and isn’t particularly gentle in pointing out transgressions, or in very emphatically telling you that you mustn’t look one of the capuchins in the eye or point at it because it finds such gestures upsetting. After two children were scolded for incorrectly offering almonds to the macaw, “remarkably” it was difficult to find a third volunteer to try to do this.
But there was one egregious, and in my opinion, inexcusable issue. Sweetie the spider monkey has a rather large lesion in the middle of her belly. After Carol encouraged our children to indulge Sweetie's requests to be scratched (and they had obliged), someone asked what the lesion was. Carol told us that it was an infection that was in a stable state, and mentioned the name of the bacteria / parasite that Sweetie was infected with. A member of our group was in the medical profession, and was visibly taken aback / a bit shaken. A bit of discussion ensued and it became clear that Sweetie is infected with what we know as “flesh eating bacteria”, and after some discussion about how cases of these have been treated in the US, Carol mentioned (somewhat disdainfully) that the treatments that are approved to be administered in the US really don’t work, but that there are effective medicines used outside of the US. In addition to the large lesion which Carol had told us not to touch, we noticed that Sweetie has other much smaller ones on her body which Carol had failed to mention. Not trusting that Sweetie’s infection is as stable as Carol believes it to be, unsure if one of our kids had already touched an infected area, and extremely unhappy at our children being potentially put at risk without our being given any choice or forewarning in the matter, this experience put quite a damper not just on the day, but on our trip.
As a result, I very much wish that we had never visited the sanctuary, and I would suggest that if Sweetie must accompany Carol on the tours, that at the very least Carol is up front about Sweetie's infection and her assessment of its stability BEFORE any kids have touched Sweetie, and then let the parents decide what they want for their family. To not do so is either highly irresponsible or indicative of a very unappealing level of hubris.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.