Flying Into the Costa Rica Airports: San Jose and Liberia
For most of the countries in Central America, there is one airport that every international traveler flies into, fanning out from there to various places across the destination. That’s not true for the most popular country though. You can fly into two Costa Rica Airports: one in the capital of San Jose and one up north in Liberia.
This can make a big difference in your vacation plans if you’re headed to one of the many luxury Costa Rica resorts that are dotted around the Guanacaste region and the Nicoya Peninsula. Sure, you can get to those spots from San Jose since Costa Rica is not a huge country, but it’s going to means hours more in a car or van after you’ve already flown a few hours in a plane.
There are good reasons to fly into San Jose for other parts of the country though, either because they’re closer to the capital or because you’re going to need another flight to get to where you’re going, such as to the Osa Peninsula in the south.
Here is a rundown on the Costa Rica airports with which airlines fly into them and where you can go after landing.
Flying into Liberia Airport, North Costa Rica
I have flown in and out of Liberia several times now and it has always been an easy, hassle-free experience. The actual name is Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport, in honor of a former president who pushed for it an supported development of the region for tourists. Remember, there is a country named Liberia so make sure you don’t book a flight to Africa by mistake! (The price will probably give it away anyway.) The symbol is LIR.
Liberia is the capital of Guanacaste province and is around 200 kilometers (124 miles) from San Jose. From this airport you only have to travel around 30-40 minutes to get to the Four Seasons Costa Rica, for example, on good roads. It’s a shade less to the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo. If you flew into San Jose though, you’d have a three-hour drive in front of you before you got your welcome drink at check-in.
You’re also only about an hour and a half from Cala Luna Hotel, W Costa Rica, and Tamarindo Beach. You’d fly into here to head to surf beaches in the Nicoya Peninsula or to stay at the low-key Florblanca Resort.
It’s worth noting that Liberia Airport has one other redeeming quality you might want to check out before returning from your vacation: a nearby brewpub. As we highlighted in our article about craft beer in Central America, Numu Brewing is just across the road from the runways. There’s only one restaurant at the airport, plus some of the terminal is not air-conditioned, so it’s not a place where you want to show up too early for your flight and just hang around unless you have Priority Pass or another way to get into the one lounge there.
Who Flies to Liberia Airport?
As this article was going up, there were 18 direct flights to Liberia Airport, plus a couple more from Canada that are seasonal. That includes three from Europe: from Amsterdam on KLM, from Zurich on Edelweiss, and a charter flight run by TUI from London.
A total of four Canadian airlines fly from Calgary, Montreal, and different Toronto region airports.
All the big U.S. carriers fly to Liberia from at least one of their hubs, so you can get there on United, Delta, American, and Southwest. It doesn’t stop there though. At least one or two days a week from different cities you have options on JetBlue, Alaska Air, and Frontier. Just understand that some of these only run in the high season, so you might have fewer options during the rainy season when most North American families have school break vacations. Check from your airport here.
San Jose Airport, Costa Rica
San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica, but of course there’s more than one “Saint Joseph” city out there, so make sure you’re searching for this one when you go to Kayak or Skyscanner. The official name is Juan Santamaría International Airport and the airport symbol is SJO.
San Jose International Airport is not really in San Jose itself. It’s closer to the town of Alajuela, in the province of the same name. So if you have an early flight, you’re actually better off staying at an airport hotel or taking a big step up to Xandari Resort, an artistic hotel with a view. The airport is well above the middle point of Costa Rica, much closer to Nicaragua than Panama.
By road, it’s fairly easy to get to some of the greatest hits of Costa Rica. On the southern coast it’s a straight shot out on highways to reach Jaco, Quepos, Manuel Antonia National Park, and eventually Uvita. That last one is the home of some excellent small hotels perched on the hillside: Rancho Pacifico and Kura Boutique Hotel. Heading north, you can reach the Monteverde Cloudforest and the adventure playground of Fortuna/Arenal Volcano. In the latter you’ll find some of the country’s best inland luxury resorts, such as Nayara Springs.
To reach more far-flung areas, you’ll need to take a domestic prop plane flight and this presents a whole host of complications. First of all, these are small planes that can get filled up easily, so book well ahead if you’re not on a Costa Rica tour where someone else is handling those details. Second, they have luggage and weight restrictions, so you’ll need to pack lighter than you may have wanted. Last, these Costa Rican domestic airlines tend to come and go with alarming frequency, so you’ll have to dig around to see who is serving which destinations.
The largest and longest-established domestic carrier is Sansa, which covers the most far-flung areas you would want to get to. You can even go international with them, flying to Bocas del Toro in Panama. I can’t promise that this map is correct (especially considering where they placed Managua), but it’s straight off their website:
One big hassle of domestic flights is gone now though: the need to travel to a different airport. The domestic terminal for Costa Rica is now next to the international terminal, so you don’t have to make a journey out of it after landing.
The San Jose International terminal, meanwhile, is a modern facility that is much-improved from when I first visited the country and it took an hour and a half just to get through immigration, in a hot corridor with no facilities. I’ve had hit-and-miss experience with the WiFi, but there are multiple places to eat and drink and you have three VIP lounge options by the departure gates. None of the three are affiliated with any particular airline, but you can get into both VIP Lounge Costa Rica and VIP Santamaria with a Priority Pass membership.
Flying into Costa Rica: San Jose International Airport
In peak times there are 38 destinations served by the largest of the Costa Rica airports, not counting all the many others you can get to with a stop or two.
The official airport website lists 23 international and three domestic airlines flying into Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO). The international ones include major carriers from the USA and Canada plus Spirit, JetBlue, Alaska, and Frontier. Aeromexico and Volaris fly from Mexico, then there are a few large and small from South America. European carriers flying to Costa Rica include Air France, Arajet, British Airways, Condor, Edelweiss, and Iberia, and Lufthansa.
As with Liberia, many of these flights are direct from the carrier’s hub city or cities, but understand that they don’t all run all year. The ones that do keep flying during the off-season will often reduce the number of days per week (or month) that they fly the route in order to adjust to lower demand. So it can sometimes be cheaper to fly to Costa Rica in the high season of December through April than it will be when it’s pouring rain every day in some locations.
Search flights here to see prices from your airport to either of the Costa Rica airports: