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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Duty free shop
Medium-sized gift shop
45 Gastro Pub – Serves sandwiches and craft beer on tap (sit-down restaurant with a small bar)
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.
Malinche Restaurant – Typical Costa Rican food (sit down). Has been around for years. Good option.
These gates are located downstairs and don’t have any shops or restaurants.
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.
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:
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.