Determining habitat requirements for threatened primates is critical to implementing conservation strategies, and plans incorporating metapopulation structure require understanding the potential of available habitats to serve as corridors. We examined how three groups of golden-headed lion tamarins Leontopithecus chrysomelas in Southern Bahia, Brazil, used mature, swamp, secondary and shade cocoa (cabruca) forests. Unlike callitrichids that show affinities for degraded forest, Leontopithecus species are presumed to depend on primary or mature forests for sleeping sites in tree holes and epiphytic bromeliads for animal prey. In this study we quantified resource availability within each habitat, compared the proportion of time spent in each habitat to that based on availability, investigated preferences for sleeping site selection, and determined how golden-headed lion tamarins allocated time to foraging behaviour in different habitats. Each group preferred to range in certain habitats during the day, yet patterns were not consistent across groups. In contrast, all groups preferred to sleep in mature or cabruca forest. Golden-headed lion tamarins spent a greater proportion of time foraging and eating fruits, flowers and nectar in cabruca than in mature or secondary forests. Although the extent to which secondary and cabruca forests can completely sustain breeding groups is unresolved, we conclude that both habitats would make suitable corridors for the movement of tamarins between forest fragments, and that the large trees remaining in cabruca are important sources of food and sleeping sites. We suggest that management plans for golden-headed lion tamarins should focus on protecting areas that include access to tall forest, either as mature or cabruca, for the long-term conservation of the species.