Every vacation has to start somewhere, and for most people visiting the country, it begins at one of Costa Rica’s airports.
More than 3 million tourists came here in 2018, and the majority of them flew into one of Costa Rica’s two major airports: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) near the capital of San José, or Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) in the province of Guanacaste. And within Costa Rica, it’s often easier (and faster) to fly across the country rather than brave long drives on unfamiliar roads.
Planning travel is complicated, especially in a foreign country. We’re here to help you learn about flying in Costa Rica.
Where to fly into Costa Rica
Costa Rica has two major international airports with scheduled service. If you are flying to Costa Rica from abroad, choosing the right airport has its benefits.
Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is Costa Rica’s largest and busiest airport. While technically located in Alajuela, it serves San José and the capital’s greater metropolitan area, which is home to about 50% of the country’s population.
Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) in Liberia has grown in popularity as tourism to the Nicoya Peninsula and Guanacaste province skyrockets. Today, the airport receives more than 1 million passengers each year — up from fewer than 100,000 in 2003.
Despite the Liberia International Airport’s growth, more airlines fly to San José from more destinations. As a result, Juan Santamaría International Airport is usually Costa Rica’s cheapest airport. And, as you’ll read later, San José offers more domestic flights as well.
While not close to the beach, San José is the closest airport to Irazú and Poás Volcanoes. SJO is also the closest international airport to popular Pacific Coast destinations like Jacó, Manuel Antonio National Park, and the Osa Peninsula.
But if you want the closest airport to the ocean, flying to Liberia means you’ll land near some of the best beaches in Costa Rica — and not far from volcanoes and Guanacaste’s other natural attractions.
Both airports have modern terminals and amenities. And no matter where you fly, remember you’ll need a valid passport to enter Costa Rica.
Which airlines fly to Costa Rica?
Most major U.S. airlines fly to Costa Rica, as do several airlines from across Europe and the Americas.
Here is a list of airlines that fly to Costa Rica and whether they offer routes to San José (SJO) or Libera (LIR):
- Aeromexico (SJO)
- Air Canada (SJO, LIR)
- Air France (SJO)
- Air Panama (SJO)
- Alaska Airlines (SJO, LIR)
- Albatros Airlines (SJO)
- American Airlines (SJO, LIR)
- Avianca (SJO)
- British Airways (SJO)
- Condor (SJO)
- Copa (SJO, LIR)
- Delta (SJO, LIR)
- Edelweiss Air (SJO)
- Iberia (SJO)
- Interjet (SJO)
- JetBlue (SJO, LIR)
- Latam Airlines (SJO)
- Lufthansa (SJO)
- Southwest Airlines (SJO, LIR)
- Spirit Airlines (SJO)
- Sunwing Airlines (LIR)
- Thomson Airways (LIR)
- United Airlines (SJO, LIR)
- Volaris Costa Rica (SJO)
- Westjet (SJO, LIR)
Airlines usually offer more frequent flights to Costa Rica during the dry season, which correspond with the busiest months for international tourism.
Which airlines fly within Costa Rica?
Vacation time is precious, and flying to smaller domestic airports in Costa Rica can help you make the most of your visit. For example, a flight from San José to Puerto Jimenez, a town in Costa Rica’s biodiverse Osa Peninsula, takes 45 minutes. Driving that same route would take six hours.
Once you’re in Costa Rica, several domestic airlines offer flights to tourist hotspots across the country.
Domestic airlines in Costa Rica include Skyway, Sansa, Aerobell, TAC, and Green. All of them operate from Juan Santamaría International Airport’s domestic terminal or from nearby Tobías Bolaños International Airport (SYQ) in Pavas — about 20 minutes from SJO via taxi or shuttle.
Flying from Juan Santamaría International Airport can be more convenient, especially if you’re connecting to a domestic route on the same day as your international arrival. But Tobías Bolaños International Airport is smaller and significantly less crowded, even on the busiest travel days.
Flying domestic airlines in Costa Rica
Flying within Costa Rica is often the easiest way to reach scenic destinations like Drake Bay or Tambor from San José. The journey would otherwise involve a time-consuming ferry or boat ride.
Flying over Costa Rica can also be a unique way to appreciate the country’s beauty, so try to snag a window seat!
Some of the most popular domestic airports in Costa Rica are: Quepos (near Manuel Antonio National Park); Drake Bay (near Corcovado National Park); Tambór, Tamarindo and Nosara (on the Nicoya Peninsula); and Golfito (in the South Pacific).
Recognizing the growing popularity of domestic aviation, the Costa Rican government has invested money for modernization projects at several of the country’s regional airports.
While Costa Rica’s domestic airlines offer service to more than a dozen popular tourist destinations, their route networks aren’t especially developed. That means the majority of routes are either to or from San José. If you are flying from Arenal to Guanacaste, for example, you may have a long layover in San José.
But domestic aviation is a growing industry in Costa Rica. The number of routes continues to increase, making all of Costa Rica’s beauty even more accessible.
Popular Intra-Country Costa Rica Flight Paths
- San José > Drake Bay > San José:
- Airports used: SJO or SYQ to Bahía Drake Airport (DRK)
- Top Airlines: Aerobell, SANSA, Skyway
- Attractions / What to Do: Corcovado National Park, Caño Island, mangrove tour
- San José > Liberia > San José:
- Arenal > Manuel Antonio > Arenal:
- San José > Caribbean coast > San José:
Summary: Flying into and within Costa Rica
No matter what your Costa Rica itinerary entails, chances are it’ll start with a flight into one of the country’s two major international airports.
If you want the closest airport to the beach and Costa Rica’s beautiful Guanacaste province, Liberia International Airport may be the better choice. If you plan to vacation elsewhere, San José receives more airlines at cheaper prices, and there are better domestic connections options as well.
Once you’re in Costa Rica, you’ll be surrounded by natural beauty whether you drive or fly. And while the destinations in this biodiverse isthmus are worth writing home about, so is the journey.
John Rabenau has been working in the eco-tourism & adventure travel industry in Costa Rica since 2002. He has worked in a variety of capacities from Outdoor Educator & Principle Guide to Itinerary Design Manager & Business Owner for numerous organizations. He has grown Costa Rica Escapes into one of the most reputable Costa Rica travel agencies since its creation in 2006, hosting more than 5,000 people with custom vacation itineraries.