Departing from SJO: Airport Info

If you are departing from Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) and wondering what the experience will be like, this post is for you. Here, we will cover how the airport is set up, shops and restaurants at the departure gate, and some other information to help you plan.

Departing SJO

Overview

Costa Rica has two international airports. LIR is in Liberia, in the Guanacaste region, and SJO is near the capital city of San Jose. In this post, we are covering SJO, which is Costa Rica’s largest and busiest airport.

Even as the country’s largest airport, SJO is still fairly small. There are only about 20 departure gates. The airport continues to expand to accommodate more flights, and new gates will be added over the years.

The airport is highly accessible, with features like ramps, elevators, escalators, handicap bathrooms, and more.

SJO Airport has free Wi-Fi with a strong signal in all areas.

Currently, a mask is required at all times while inside the airport due to Covid-19.

Airplane at Gate SJO

Drop Off & Parking

The departure area at SJO Airport is located on the upper level. When arriving at the airport, follow signs for departures/salidas. Your ride, shuttle, or taxi will be able to go up the ramp and drop you off right near the entrance doors.

If you are driving yourself, 24-hour parking is available in the lot across from the entrance doors (also on the upper level) for $2.50 per hour, $35 per day, or $200 per week.

Luggage handlers are available right near the entrance doors. Luggage wrapping is available just inside the entrance. 

Check In

Once you enter the airport, you’ll see all the different airlines along the back wall, like you would normally see at any airport. Each one has its own set of kiosks with roped off waiting areas.

Most airlines suggest arriving at the airport three hours in advance for international flights.

Be sure to remember to check in for your flight online beforehand. You can usually do this 24 hours in advance. We have been bumped off flights because we hadn’t done this, even when showing up several hours early. 

Check in Area SJO
The Check In area at SJO

Covid Pre-Screening

Many countries require a negative Covid-19 test be taken in advance before reentry. The airline will request proof of this during check in.

If you need to get tested, there are many locations around the country. See our post, Where to Get a Covid Test in Costa Rica, for information on all your options. 

If you would prefer to wait and do it at the airport, there is one testing facility outside SJO Airport. It takes about one hour to get results, so they recommend arriving four hours before your flight.

Departure Tax

Costa Rica’s departure tax is now included in ticket prices, so you no longer have to wait in line to pay the tax.

Amenities in Check-in Area

In the main entrance/check-in area, there are several bathrooms, a money exchange, and a BAC bank.

For food and drinks, there is a small cafeteria up the escalator.

Security Check

After receiving your boarding pass, you’ll walk to the left and enter the security checkpoint. Sometimes there is a line, but it usually goes fairly quickly.

Boarding Gates

After security, you will walk up a short ramp into the boarding gate waiting areas. Before you get there, you’ll pass through a larger mezzanine with several big shops. There are two large souvenir stores with clothing, stuffed animals, wood carvings, chocolates, coffee, and much more.

Cafe Britt Shop SJO

There is also a toy store, cell-phone accessory store, and jewelry shop.

After passing through the shopping area, you will be at gates 8 & 9. To the left are gates 1-7 and to the right are gates 10-20.

Amenities at Each Gate

Each gate has plenty of seating and usually a cell-phone charging station (free). Bathrooms are located between gates, but if you walk to the left or right, you’ll be able to find one within a few minutes. Remember, it’s a small airport.

There are several duty-free shops scattered throughout the different gates. These offer alcohol, perfume, and sometimes things like jewelry and watches, all tax free. 

Like we mentioned before, free Wi-Fi is available throughout SJO Airport.

Restaurants and Shops at Each Gate

As of our last departure (mid-2021), these were the shops and restaurants at each gate. They may change over time, so feel free to leave us a comment below if you find something different.

Gates 1-2

Small pharmacy

Duty free shop

Medium-sized gift shop

45 Gastro Pub – Serves sandwiches and craft beer on tap (sit-down restaurant with a small bar)

Gastro Pub Restaurant SJO

Gates 5-7

Starbucks Coffee

Money/currency exchange

Gates 8-9

Very small food court and sitting area. Food options are burgers, make your own bowl, and sandwiches/bakery.

Off this area is where the larger shops are that you walk past to enter the gates. 

Departure gates SJO

Gates 10-11

Malinche Restaurant – Typical Costa Rican food (sit down). Has been around for years. Good option.

Malinche Restaurant Departure Area SJO Airport

Gates 12-14

These gates are located downstairs and don’t have any shops or restaurants.

Gates 15-16

Duty-free shop

Duty Free SJO Departure Area

Gates 17-20

Britt Cafe & Bakery

Smaller gift shops

Bar Imperial (small bar with a few seats)

Where to Pass the Time?

If you have a long wait, and who doesn’t when showing up three hours early, a couple of good spots to pass the time are Malinche Restaurant (Gates 10-11) or 45 Gastro Pub (Gates 1-2). Both have sitting areas where you can have a meal or drink and hang out a bit.

The food court (Gates 8-9) is also good, but a little noisier and busy.

If you get lucky, there may even be some free entertainment near gates 8 and 9. Sometimes there is a man playing typical Costa Rican music on a large xylophone.

Seating SJO Departure Gates

Conclusion

We hope that this post has given you a better idea of what to expect when departing Costa Rica’s SJO Airport. While it is always sad to leave, remember that most people end up coming back again and again. So, until next time, Pura Vida!

Have a question about departing from SJO? Leave us a comment below.

Looking for more information to help you plan? Check out these posts:

Best Hotels Near SJO Airport – This post offers some great options that are located near the airport but still have a warm feel. Many include a free airport shuttle.

1-2 Days in San Jose – Looking to spend a couple of nights in the city before you go? See what sites we recommend in this post.

Preflight Departure Covid Testing – This post covers the requirement that many countries, like the US, Canada, and most European destinations, are asking for before re-entry.

Related Posts

Covid Vaccination Rates Costa Rica
Covid Vaccination Rates in Costa Rica
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Arriving at SJO Airport in Costa Rica
Driving in Rainy Season Costa Rica
Rainy Season Driving in Costa Rica
Naturalist Guides Costa Rica
Naturalist Guides in Costa Rica: When You Need Them and How to Find One

10 Comments

  1. A couple more things that could have been included in your article.
    Navigating the toll booths and exits to the airport – i circled back through the toll booth a couple of times before getting out of the circle on the right exit to the airport. Also, rental car drop off was a nightmare at SJO! I picked up in Liberia and all my paperwork said drop off at SJO airport. With help from someone at departures entrance, I located a group of rental car companies near the airport – mine not among them! Eventually trying not to panic, I went to a big chain hotel and they called the rental company who sent a shuttle for me to follow through that nightmare traffic to the rental return, a long way from the airport. I had driven alone for 3 weeks around Costa Rica north and south, and this car return was the only bad part of a wonderful trip! Thanks for all your great articles! I look forward to receiving them!

    1. Hi Lynne, That’s a good point about returning a rental car. It can be confusing since none of the rental car companies have full offices at the airport. You always have to drop it off at their office nearby and then take their shuttle to the airport after. We will add a note about this to our post next time we do an update. Thanks!

  2. Thank you for the info. We have an early 6:00 am flight our of SJO, what time are the ticket kiosks and security open? I know you suggest arriving 3 hours early, but assuming that can’t be the case with this early of a flight. Thanks!

    1. Hi Allison, You should be fine arriving 2 hours hours early since that’s super early and the airport is not likely to be busy. We recently arrived 2 hours before an 8:00 am flight and everything was fine. Just make sure to check in online in advance.

  3. We will be arriving on Christmas Eve and I am wondering if the rental car agencies and shuttles to get to them will be on pen on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Do you know?

  4. Your site is a WEALTH of information, thank you. How about the LIR airport? I am looking for a hotel near there with an airport shuttle (the obvious Hilton Garden Inn is full!). Any recommendations? Is there a post somewhere that i cannot find 🙂 I was hoping to stay near LIR airport to drop off my car, get an antigen test, and then stay the night before flying back to the states.

  5. We will be heading to Costa Rica in January 2022 for close to 3 months and can’t wait! Your blog has been and continues to be a wealth of information for us… thank you thank you thank you!!! My question is let-related: we will be travelling with our small 13 yr old Shih Tzu, is there a pet relief area once inside the SJO terminal? I fear being stuck inside and my dog being unable to relive himself after so many hours (plus a 5 hr plane ride!).
    Also, I have been told that there are many stray dogs in Costa Rica so am wondering how the general population feels about them? Are leashed dogs accepted in stores, restaurants (or on terraces), national parks, etc? I would love any information you could provide! Again, thanks so much for sharing your great CR experiences!

    1. Hi Carri, We’ve never noticed a pet relief area in the airport but aren’t sure. Sorry! Maybe someone else will know and chime in.

      Yes, there are a lot of stray dogs but people still love dogs here. Some locals do think of them differently, more as guard dogs than a part of the family, but this isn’t true for all Ticos. Lots of people bring their dog to the beach. You can bring them in hardware stores but I don’t think in grocery stores. Definitely not national parks. You’ll see dogs at some outdoor dining restaurants, just ask. Hope that helps!

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