Airport in Costa Rica
There are two main Costa Rica airports, one in San José and one in Liberia. Here’s how to choose your primary destination when you travel to Costa Rica.
Juan Santamaría International Airport (San José Airport) (SJO)
There are two international Costa Rica airports. We flew in to Juan Santamaría International Airport located in the Alajuela province. (At 20 minutes outside of San José, it’s also commonly called the San José Airport).
Juan Santamaría is a national hero in Costa Rica, and every year Costa Ricans commemorate his death on April 11.
Most Costa Rica vacations start in San José and it’s a great choice to start your trip. From its central location, the entire country is accessible within a 6-hour time frame. We chose it as our jump-off point because we figured on traveling north up to Monteverde and Arenal, down the Pacific Coast to Manuel Antonio, and then working our way back to San José.
|The approach into San José. Look at those lush, green, rolling hills!
We flew in via United, but San José Airport services all the major US and some European carriers. There’s a food court with a handful of fast food restaurants (Burger King, Church’s Chicken, Cinnabon), a number of souvenir shops, and some cafes. Duty free shops are also on the premises.
(Prepare for sticker shock if you plan to eat at the airport! Uncool. There should be laws against that sort of thing.)
Upon arrival, all signs are bilingual (English and Spanish) so you won’t have rack your brain figuring out where to go just yet. They’ll guide you to immigration and where to pick up your luggage downstairs. We didn’t experience much of a wait at either stop.
San José is where all of the rental car agencies are based. So if you are planning on driving in Costa Rica and picking up a rental car, you may have to fly into San José Airport, depending on the rental car company you go with.
|Just outside the airport, waiting for our hotel shuttle at the taxi pickup location.
If you’ll be staying in San José upon arrival, grabbing a taxi outside the airport is pretty easy. Taxi drivers will accept colones or dollars, so if you haven’t exchanged currency yet (don’t do it at the airport!) you’ll be fine as long as you have some US funds handy. We already had a hotel booked in San José for our first night so we hitched a ride with the hotel’s courtesy van (free!)
Keep one thing in mind: when departing the international airports in Costa Rica, you’ll have to front a $26 departure tax before leaving. You can pay by cash or credit card, and often you can take care of it at a local hotel before you leave. Doing this will allow you to skip the line once you arrive at the airport. I highly recommend skipping this line if you can, it was pretty long when we had to go through.
The newer of the two Costa Rica airports is the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in the city of Liberia. Consider this airport if you plan to start or end your vacation along the North Pacific coast.
The airport was the vision of Daniel Oduber Quirós when he was president of Costa Rica from 1974-1978.
Located in the province of Guanacaste in the upper northwest quadrant of the country, popular destinations such as the Nicoya coast, Tamarindo, the Gulf of Papagayo, Playa Flamingo, and other nearby beaches are just an hour away from the airport.
If you’re going to be visiting Monteverde and Arenal first as we did, it’s kind of a wash as to which airport you should fly in to. Monteverde is about the same distance from both Costa Rica airports. Arenal is closer to San José, however. I’d recommend hitting Monteverde first and then Arenal if coming from Liberia. From San José, check out Arenal and then make your way to Monteverde.
The $29 departure tax also applies at Liberia International airport as well.
Domestic Costa Rica airports
If you decide to hop around the country via domestic air travel, you’ll have two local Costa Rica airlines to choose from, NatureAir and Sansa Regional. I have zero experience with either since we are four-wheeled our way through the country. If we had more time we might have flown out to the Caribbean coast.
Both airlines fly out of San José to the following airports in Costa Rica:
- La Fortuna Airport, Arenal (NatureAir only)
- Drake Bay Airport, Drake Bay
- Golfito Airport, Golfito
- Daniel Oduber Internatioal Airport, Liberia
- Juan Santamaría International Airport, San José (Sansa main hub)
- Nosara Airport, Nosara
- Palmar Sur Airport, Palmar Sur
- Puerto Jiménez Airport, Puerto Jiménez
- Punta Islita Airport, Punta Islita
- Quepos Managua Airport, Quepos
- Tobías Bolaños International Airport, San José (NatureAir main hub)
- Tamarindo Airport, Tamarindo
- Tambor Airport, Tambor
- Tortuguero Airport, Tortuguero