Which Costa Rica Airport to Fly Into

Costa Rica is a small country, but it still takes a while to get from place to place. When designing an itinerary, choosing the right airport to fly in and out of can be crucial to saving hours of travel time. In this post, we’ll tell you about Costa Rica’s two international airports. We’ll cover their locations and give you an idea of which destinations they’re convenient to.

Which Airport to Fly Into Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s International Airports

San Jose International Airport

The largest airport in Costa Rica is Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO).

Check in Area SJO
Inside SJO, Costa Rica’s biggest airport

SJO is located in the city of Alajuela near San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital.

San Jose is the middle of the country, in the mountains, in a region known as the Central Valley. The majority of the population lives and works in this area. San Jose and its surrounds are the economic center of the country and not known for tourism, though there still are plenty of things to do for visitors.

Plaza de la Cultura
Plaza de la Cultura, in the heart of downtown San Jose

SJO has the most flights coming and going and is the most popular airport. Often, it has the most economical flights as well, especially if coming from farther destinations like Europe.

Liberia International Airport

The other international airport in Costa Rica is Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport located in Liberia. Liberia is the biggest city in the Guanacaste region, though it is still relatively small.

Guanacaste is a large swath of land in northwestern Costa Rica. It stretches along the northern Pacific coast from the Nicaragua border south and goes inland through some volcanic areas.

Liberia Airport is small but several airlines do fly into it.

Liberia Airport
LIR, Costa Rica’s smaller airport in Guanacaste

Which Airport Is Best?

Overview

San Jose often makes the most sense for visitors to fly in and out of, as it is centrally located and allows you to travel in any direction. There are some destinations, however, where it makes a lot more sense to fly into Liberia Airport.

A great example is if you are planning to visit a beach town in Guanacaste like Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, Playa Hermosa, or Playas del Coco. In this case, you should use Liberia Airport, which is much closer than San Jose.

Sometimes it is best to fly into one airport and out of another. This can really save on travel time.

Specific Regions/Destinations

Below, we give a list of popular destinations in Costa Rica and which airport is closest. For some destinations, the airports are about equidistant, making them equally good choices.

In general, if you’re planning to visit Guanacaste, Liberia Airport is closest. If you’re planning to go to the central or southern Pacific coast, San Jose Airport is best. For the Caribbean coast, San Jose is also the closest.

La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano

LIR or SJO (they are both about 2.5 hours away)

Arenal Volcano
Costa Rica’s most famous volcano, Arenal

Monteverde Cloud Forest

LIR or SJO (they are both about 2.5 hours away)

Jaco

SJO (about 1.5 hours away)

Herradura & Los Suenos Marriott

SJO (about 1.25 hours away)

Playa Herradura
Playa Herradura on the central Pacific coast

Manuel Antonio/Quepos

SJO (about 2.5 hours away)

Dominical

SJO (about 3.5 hours away)

Uvita

SJO (about 3.5-4 hours away)

Drake Bay (Osa Peninsula)

SJO (4.5 hours away + boat taxi tide). SJO is about 4.5 hours from Sierpe, where you catch the 1-hour boat taxi to Drake Bay. For more information, check out our Drake Bay post.

Hanging Bridge Agujitas
A hanging bridge over the Agujitas River near Drake Bay

Puerto Jimenez (Osa Peninsula)

SJO (about 6 hours away)

Tamarindo

LIR (about 1.25 hours away)

Playa Grande

LIR (about 1.25 hours away)

Playa Flamingo

LIR (about 1.25 hours away)

Potrero

LIR (about 1.25 hours away)

Playa Hermosa (Guanacaste)

LIR (about 30 minutes away)

Playa Penca Near Playa Hermosa
The light-sand Playa Penca, near Playa Hermosa (Guanacaste)

Playas del Coco

LIR (about 30 minutes away)

Papagayo Peninsula

LIR (about 40 minutes away)

Nosara

LIR (about 2.5 hours away)

Samara

LIR (about 2 hours away)

Santa Teresa

LIR (about 4 hours away). SJO is about 4.5-5 hours. If flying into SJO, the trip to San Jose includes a 1-hour scenic ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya.

Montezuma

LIR (about 3.5 hours away). SJO is about 5 hours, including a 1-hour scenic ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya.

Montezuma beach
Montezuma Beach

Bijagua/Rio Celeste

LIR (about 1.5 hours away)

San Gerardo de Dota

SJO (about 2.5 hours away)

Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui

SJO (about 2 hours away)

Poas Volcano Area

SJO (about 1-1.5 hours away)

Coffee fields Cafe Britt
Lush greenery at a coffee farm near Poas Volcano

Tortuguero (Caribbean Coast)

SJO (about 3.5 hours + boat taxi ride). SJO is about 3.5 hours from La Pavona, where you can get the boat taxi to Tortuguero. The boat taxi takes 1-1.5 hours. See our Getting to Tortuguero post for more information.

Cahuita (Caribbean Coast)

SJO (about 4.5-5 hours away)

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (Caribbean Coast)

SJO (about 5 hours away)

Itineraries

Here are some sample itineraries for a first-time visit, with which airports to fly in and out of.

Volcano and Beach

Suggested Itinerary: LIR or SJO Airport – La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano to Manuel Antonio – SJO Airport

For a breakdown of this itinerary, including what the areas are like and available activities, read our post, Costa Rica: Your One-Week Itinerary.

Best of Costa Rica – Volcano, Cloud Forest, and Beach

Suggested Itinerary: LIR or SJO Airport – La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano to Monteverde to Manuel Antonio – SJO Airport

Red hanging bridge Monteverde
The hanging bridge inside the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Rainforest, Guanacaste Beach Town, and Volcano

Suggested Itinerary: LIR or SJO Airport – La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano to Guanacaste Beach Town – LIR Airport 

For more about this itinerary, including different options for beach towns in Guanacaste, read our post, Family Itinerary for Costa Rica. Although it is focused on family travel, it covers activities that most travelers would be interested in.

Volcano, Beach, and Wildlife Viewing

Suggested Itinerary: LIR or SJO Airport – La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano to Manuel Antonio to Drake Bay (Osa Peninsula) – SJO Airport

Our post, Costa Rica: Your Two-Week Itinerary, has details on this option.

Volcano + Caribbean Coast Beaches and Wildlife

Suggested Itinerary: LIR or SJO Airport – La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano to Cahuita or Puerto Viejo de Talamanca – SJO Airport

Travel to Remote Destinations – Small Planes

Some destinations are remotely located and far from both international airports. These include Drake Bay and Puerto Jimenez on the Osa Peninsula, and Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast.

Costa Rica does have small plane carriers that connect the international airports to airstrips around the country. These can save travelers a lot of time.

Although most flights go on without any problems, we are still reluctant to recommend taking them right now for safety and reliability reasons.

What we usually recommend is that you strategically plan your itinerary to limit the amount of driving to the remote destination.

For example, if you’re going to Drake Bay on the southern Pacific coast, you could stay in Manuel Antonio or Uvita/Dominical for a few days before to get closer to Drake. Itineraries usually can be designed in such a way that most drive times are manageable, especially with strategic stops to break up the travel day.

Conclusion

Although it has only two airports, SJO and LIR are convenient to most of the sights in Costa Rica. With some careful planning, you can easily limit your time in the car so that you can enjoy everything this country has to offer.

Have a question about which airport to fly into in Costa Rica? Ask us below.

Looking for more information to plan your trip? Check out these links:

Video Chat Service: It can be a good idea to plan your itinerary before buying plane tickets to make sure you’re choosing the right airport based on what you want to do. Our Video Chat Service lets you talk to us one on one about your plans.

Arriving at SJO Airport: What to expect when flying into San Jose Airport.

Traveling to Costa Rica: The Basics – More general information about visiting Costa Rica, including visas, climate, money, and lots more.

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