Flights to Costa Rica: The Ultimate Guide

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Now you’ve seen how great a vacation to Costa Rica will be, it’s time to look at some logistics. The most important logistic, of course, is getting to Costa Rica. What’s the best way to get here anyway? For most of you, getting to Costa Rica means flying to Costa Rica. And we have you covered with all aspects of that in our Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica Flights.

Whether you’re looking for the cheapest flights to Costa Rica or the quickest, most convenient way to get to the Land of Pura Vida, we can help inform you. We hope the info on this page will get your vacation juices flowing with the knowledge that finding airfare to Costa Rica that suits your schedule and budget is now easier than ever. Let’s get started.

Airlines that Fly to Costa Rica

Scoping out which airlines fly to Costa Rica in the first place is a good place to start.

After all, you might have your own airline preferences based on where you live, or have miles through a particular loyalty program. Here’s a list of all the current carriers flying in and out of Costa Rica’s two international airports.

We’ll list the airlines in alphabetical order, noting in parenthesis (…) which country that airline comes from. It’s an easy-to-scan list to let you know if your favorite airline even comes to Costa Rica or not. We can look at specifics later.

The 27 airlines listed above all sell flights to Costa Rica but before you jump online and start booking away, it’s worth breaking the list down a little. Not all of them are operating right now due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Let’s take a closer look at them.

The airlines in question are Air Canada, Air Transat, Sunwing, and WestJet (all from Canada); Venezuela’s Albatros Airlines; UK carriers British Airways and TUI Fly; and Condor from Germany. You’ll see these airlines marked with an asterisk next to them in the list above.

In January 2021, as part of its effort to combat the spread of SARS-CoV-2, Canada announced its airlines would not fly to and from “sun destinations”, meaning vacation spots in Latin America and the Caribbean. This ruling was originally meant to last until the end of April 2021, but apart from a few small exceptions, as of September 2021, it’s still in place. We expect it to remain in place until Canada rolls back its travel restrictions.

Air Canada offered direct flights to Costa Rica from Toronto, Air Transat operated between Costa Rica and Montreal, and WestJet serviced cities in Western Canada. For now though, unfortunately, these airlines are all on hiatus as far as flights to Costa Rica go.

Venezuelan carrier Albatros Airlines is still out of action on its pre-pandemic route between San Jose, Costa Rica and Caracas, Venezuela. The last communication from this airline in late July 2021 (through social media) was that they would continue honoring tickets for another year and that they hope they can return to operations soon.

Pre-pandemic, British Airways flew twice a week direct from London to Costa Rica.                             

After Costa Rica closed its borders to tourists, outside of a few repatriation/rescue flights, that service stopped and never resumed. Costa Rica is now on the UK “Red List” for international travel, and all bets are off as to when British Airways flights to Costa Rica from London will resume.

The same goes for TUI Fly which took over the space left when charter company Thompson went out of business. They flew from London to Guanacaste (LIR) before COVID. Watch this space for them both.

Condor is a subsidiary airline of German carrier Lufthansa and used to run a low cost service between San Jose, Costa Rica and Frankfurt, Germany via the Dominican Republic. The COVID pandemic scuppered that service, although Condor expects to resume operations in the summer of 2022.

The future looks uncertain for all these airlines, depending on their governments’ pandemic travel restrictions over the coming months. We feel it’s still worth keeping them on our list of airlines flying to Costa Rica until we definitely hear different.

Some airlines we do know about, which is why they’re no longer on the above list. InterJet, for example, used to fly between Costa Rica and Mexico before they went under in December 2020. The gap they left has been filled by Aeromexico and Volaris.

Elsewhere in Latin America, LatAm no longer operates its Costa Rica-Peru route and Air Panama never resumed its pre-pandemic schedule between San Jose and Panama City. It’s unknown whether these routes will return, but it’s worth noting San Jose’s Juan Santamaria Airport no longer lists them in their airline directory on their website.

So much for airlines that used to fly to Costa Rica and now don’t or won’t.

Let’s take a look at the other airlines in the above list, the ones operating right now for travelers flying to Costa Rica. Here we’ll get more under the hood of things, looking at each airline’s schedules and linking to their sites directly.

We list the airlines below in alphabetical order:

Aeromexico:

Aeromexico is Mexico’s national carrier and largest airline. It flies thrice-weekly (Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays) direct from Mexico City (MEX) to San Jose (SJO). The return leg from SJO to MEX departs on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The Flight time from Mexico City to San Jose, Costa Rica is around three hours.

Air France:

Air France, the French national airline, operates a direct service between Paris, France, and San Jose, Costa Rica. This 11.5 hour flight operates between the two cities on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Note that when flying from Costa Rica to France, you arrive a day later (on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday).

Alaska Airlines:

Alaska Airlines is a U.S.-based carrier servicing the West Coast. It operates service from Los Angeles (LAX) to Costa Rica, primarily daily to San Jose (SJO) but also to Guanacaste Airport (LIR) four times a week.

American Airlines:

U.S. carrier American Airlines is one of the biggest players in the Costa Rica market. The American Airlines Costa Rica routes connect both San Jose and Guanacaste airports directly to numerous American cities multiple times per day. Below, we list the current American Airlines routes operating to Costa Rica plus future routes opening later in 2021:

Expanding a little further on American Airlines in Costa Rica, in November 2021, they’ll resume their direct services from JFK to Costa Rica, and also add a thrice-weekly flight to San Jose from Chicago, complemented by a weekly service from the Windy City to Guanacaste Airport. Travelers from New York will have a daily option to both San Jose and Guanacaste. November 2021 will also see a new route opened up between Guanacaste Airport and Austin, Texas, flying four times a week.

Avianca:

Colombian carrier Avianca is Latin America’s second-largest airline and its routes to Central America, including Costa Rica, have expanded in recent years. Avianca provides direct services into San Jose, Costa Rica from the following cities:

Bogota, Colombia (BOG): Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays; 1.5 hours

In August 2021, Avianca announced it would be opening up new direct flights to San Jose from Mexico City, Cali and Medellin (Colombia), and Managua (Nicaragua). Further details on these routes are still pending.

Copa:

Copa is Panama’s national airline. It offers five direct flights per day between San Jose (SJO) and Panama City (PTY). Copa offers an extensive range of flights to the United States and Latin America from Panama City, so if you don’t mind a layover on your trip to Costa Rica, this could be a good option. Copa also runs a daily flight between San Jose and Guatemala City.

Delta:

Delta Airlines is another U.S.-based carrier offering direct flights to Costa Rica. It’s main hub is Atlanta, Georgia (ATL), from where it operates a direct flight each day to both San Jose (SJO) and Guanacaste (LIR). If you’re traveling from the U.S. west coast, you can book Delta flights to Costa Rica from LAX (Los Angeles). Delta flies from LAX to both Costa Rica airports as red-eyes through the night. To summarize Delta’s Costa Rica operations, see below:

Edelweiss:

Swiss airline Edelweiss offers a varying schedule of direct flights to San Jose (SJO), Costa Rica from Zurich (ZRH), Switzerland depending on the time of year. In August, September, and October, Edelweiss flies once a week between Zurich and San Jose, on Fridays. Then from November to April, it increases its service to three times a week – Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays – before dropping to a twice weekly (Tuesdays and Fridays) for May, June, and July. This direct route is about 12 hours flying time.

Frontier Airlines:

Low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines operates cheap flights to Costa Rica from Florida, flying twice a week (Mondays and Fridays) to San Jose (SJO) from Miami (MIA) and Orlando (MCO) on Thursdays and Sundays. Frontier plans to add another twice weekly route (Thursdays and Sundays) between Orlando and Guanacaste (LIR) Airport in November 2021. Pre-pandemic, Frontier operated direct from Denver to Costa Rica. That route still appears off the table for now.

Iberia:

Spanish national carrier Iberia offers direct flights to Costa Rica from Europe, with a Madrid (MAD) to San Jose (SJO) service operating once per day. This is the only European airline offering a daily flight to Costa Rica. Flight time is around 11 hours for this route.

Iberojet:

Iberojet is another Spanish carrier offering direct flights between Madrid (MAD) and San Jose (SJO). This airline began its Costa Rica operations in July 2021 and flies twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

JetBlue:

JetBlue is a low cost airline based in the United States. It offers daily flights to Costa Rica from Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, New York, and Los Angeles. Check out your JetBlue Costa Rica routes below:

During the December-April high season, JetBlue also offers twice weekly direct flights to Costa Rica from New York City (JFK).

KLM:

Dutch carrier KLM operates a triangle-service connecting Costa Rica with Schiphol Airport (AMS) in Amsterdam. By triangle-service, we mean KLM departs Amsterdam and flies directly to San Jose (SJO). It then hops up to Guanacaste Airport (LIR) and flies back to the Netherlands from there. Flight time between the two countries is around 14 hours and it flies this route three times per week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Lufthansa:

The national airline of Germany, Lufthansa flies direct from Frankfurt (FRA) to San Jose (SJO) on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The flight duration takes around 12 hours.

Southwest:

For a while it looked like Southwest would be among those airlines listed above that haven’t made it back to Costa Rica yet, but they finally arrived in June after an absence of almost a year and a half.

This U.S. airline operates a daily service from Houston (HOU), Texas to both San Jose (SJO) and Guanacaste (LIR) airports. It also operates a weekly (Saturdays) service to Guanacaste airport from Baltimore / Washington (BWI) and plans to start another Saturday flight from Denver, CO to Guanacaste (LIR) in November 2021.

Spirit:

Love’em or hate’em, low cost carrier Spirit is now a solid feature in aviation between the United States and Costa Rica, offering ultra-low fares. Spirit offers daily routes from Florida to San Jose (SJO) Costa Rica, with a flight each from Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. In November 2021, Spirit plans to start a new daily route direct to San Jose from Miami (MIA).

Sun Country Airlines:

Sun Country Airlines is another low cost airline out of the United States. It offers seasonal (December to April) direct flights from Minneapolis (MSP) to Guanacaste (LIR). This route operates one to four times a week during the Costa Rica high season, depending on the month. Saturdays are the one constant with Sun Country. Flight time is about 5.5 hours.

United Airlines:

U.S.-based United is one of the world’s major airlines and operates a number of different routes from various American cities to Costa Rica. See below the current direct routes into Costa Rica offered by United:

United plans to start flying a direct route from San Francisco, CA (SFO) to Guanacaste (LIR) in December 2021.

Volaris:

Volaris is a Mexican low-cost airline operating between Mexico, North America, and Central America. It operates flights into San Jose (SJO) from Cancun (CUN), Mexico twice-daily and from Mexico City (MEX) on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Volaris also operates a direct flight from Guatemala City (GUA), Guatemala daily except for Tuesdays.

Wingo:

Another Latin American low-cost airline, Wingo flies into San Jose (SJO) from Panama City (PTY), Panama twice a week on Mondays and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, Wingo arrives in San Jose from Bogota (BOG), Colombia.

Now you know the airlines that fly to Costa Rica and when.

Time to look more at where you are. Where are you coming from and how easy is it for you to get to Costa Rica from your hometown? Are you a direct flight away from San Jose or Guanacaste? Or will you need to travel with layovers? Below, we’ll make things easier for you to figure all this out by listing the top twenty busiest airports in the United States, followed by the top ten each in Canada, Europe, and Latin America. This will give you a better idea of the closest airport with direct flights to Costa Rica to you.

We’ll simply label these airports with a “yes” or “no” to start with (plus airlines), and then delve a little deeper as to which of the two international airports in Costa Rica (San Jose or Guanacaste) receive flights from them. Cross referencing this info with the airline info above should make it super easy for you to nail down the most convenient flight to get you to Costa Rica. Let’s go!

United States Top Twenty Busiest Airports:

  1. Atlanta: Yes (Delta)
  2. Los Angeles: Yes (Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, United)
  3. Chicago O’Hare: Yes (United)
  4. Dallas/Fort Worth: Yes (American)
  5. Denver: Yes (United)
  6. New York JFK: Yes (American, JetBlue)
  7. San Francisco: Yes (United)
  8. Seattle: No
  9. Orlando: Yes (Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit)
  10. Las Vegas: No
  11. Charlotte: Yes (American)
  12. Newark: Yes (United)
  13. Phoenix: No
  14. Houston: Yes (Southwest, United)
  15. Miami: Yes (American, Avianca, Frontier, Spirit)
  16. Boston: Yes (JetBlue)
  17. Minneapolis: Yes (Sun Country)
  18. Detroit: No
  19. Fort Lauderdale: Yes (JetBlue, Spirit)
  20. Philadelphia: No

Of the top twenty busiest airports in the United States, only five (Seattle, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Detroit, and Philadelphia) do not operate direct flights to Costa Rica at this time. The other 15 airports all offer direct flights, some with multiple airlines. The cities with the most direct flights into Costa Rica are Los Angeles, Miami, and Orlando.

Now let’s look at Canada:

As we mentioned above, right now, no airlines operate flights into Costa Rica from Canada at this time. We’re going to list the top ten busiest airports in that country and use pre-pandemic info from 2019 to show you which ones have (had) direct flights.

  1. Toronto: Yes (Air Canada, Sunwing, WestJet)
  2. Vancouver: No
  3. Calgary: Yes (WestJet)
  4. Montreal: Yes (Air Transat)
  5. Edmonton: No
  6. Ottawa: No
  7. Winnipeg: No
  8. Halifax: No
  9. Kelowna: No
  10. Victoria: No

As you can see from the above list, direct flights into Costa Rica from Canada were thin on the ground even before the pandemic. Unless you live near Toronto, Calgary, or Montreal, chances are you’ll need to layover someplace (either in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Panama or elsewhere) to get to Costa Rica. The Canadian city with the most connections to Costa Rica (pre-pandemic) is Toronto.

Next stop, Europe:

  1. London Heathrow: No
  2. Paris: Yes (Air France)
  3. Amsterdam: Yes (KLM)
  4. Frankfurt: Yes (Lufthansa)
  5. Istanbul: No
  6. Madrid: Yes (Iberia, Iberojet)
  7. Barcelona: No
  8. London Gatwick: Yes (British Airways)
  9. Munich: No
  10. Rome: No

Five of the busiest airports in Europe offer direct connections to Costa Rica, and as of this moment, only one of those connections (British Airways) is out of action due to Covid travel restrictions.

All the others – Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and Madrid – operate as per usual right now for anyone trying to get to Costa Rica from Europe. The European city most connected to Costa Rica by air is Madrid, Spain.

And finally, Latin America:

  1. Mexico City: Yes (Aeromexico, Volaris)
  2. São Paulo Guarulhos: No
  3. Cancun: Yes (Volaris)
  4. Bogota: Yes (Avianca, Wingo)
  5. Santiago: No
  6. Guadalajara: No
  7. Brasilia: No
  8. Lima: No
  9. São Paulo Congonhas: No
  10. Campinas: No

Looking at the list above, you can see that only three of the busiest airports in Latin America offer direct flights to Costa Rica. Two of them are in Mexico (Mexico City and Cancun) and one is in Colombia (Bogota). This somewhat highlights how much Latin American aviation has suffered since the pandemic started.

Other Latin American cities with direct flights include some of Costa Rica’s Central American neighbors – Panama City, Guatemala City, and San Salvador, but none of these rank as the busiest. Four of the top ten busiest airports in Latin America are in Brazil. And there have never been direct Brazil to Costa Rica flights in operation.

If you’re traveling to Costa Rica from Latin America, your best bet is to either fly though Bogota, Panama City, or Miami.

So now let’s double down further on this and look at some direct, nonstop routes to San Jose, Costa Rica.

San Jose (SJO) is the biggest and busiest out of the two international airports in Costa Rica. It serves the capital city of San Jose, although it’s located outside of town in Alajuela. In this section of our Ultimate Guide to Flying to Costa Rica, we wanted to highlight what we’ve already mentioned above, but this time show you clearly what exact direct routes fly into San Jose.

From the United States, you can fly directly into San Jose from the following cities:

That works out at 13 U.S. cities in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Texas. Elsewhere around the world, Canada, Europe, and Latin American send most of their direct flights into Costa Rica to San Jose. Below, find the other cities outside of the United States with nonstop flights to San Jose, Costa Rica:

Looks a little thin on the ground, doesn’t it? That’s because, for now, we’re keeping London and various Canadian cities out of the list because they’re not operating flights to Costa Rica at the moment.

We hope, though, to add more cities to this list soon. Indeed, according to Avianca, flights from Cali, Medellin, and Managua are on their way. Now let’s look at Guanacaste Airport.

Direct, nonstop routes to Liberia, Costa Rica (Guanacaste Airport):

Until July 2021, Guanacaste Airport was called Liberia Airport. The rebranding was part of an effort to make the airport appear more inclusive to the whole province of Guanacaste in northern Costa Rica, rather than the city of Liberia – Guanacaste’s capital – itself. And there was also the small matter of avoiding confusion between the West African country of Liberia and the Costa Rican city of Liberia.

The official name of Guanacaste Airport is Daniel Oduber International Airport, named after a popular president in the 1970s. Everyone calls it Liberia (and now, Guanacaste) Airport, though. The airport code remains LIR for Liberia.

Putting aside that bit of important detail about names and branding, Guanacaste Airport is Costa Rica’s second-largest and second-most important after San Jose. It’s the only airport in Costa Rica outside of San Jose that accepts commercial jet airliner traffic from abroad.

In this section of the guide, we’ll show you the cities from where you can fly directly into Guanacaste Airport from the list of routes we’ve already given you.

From the United States, you can fly direct to Guanacaste Airport from the following cities:

What’s interesting here is that although Guanacaste is a smaller airport, it actually receives direct flights from more U.S. cities than San Jose does, 15 compared to 13.

That said, some of the Guanacaste flights are seasonal vacation flights rather than regular schedules. But as it stands, you can get to Guanacaste Airport directly from cities in the states of California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Texas.

Below, find more cities from around the world offering direct flights into Guanacaste Airport:

For now, Amsterdam is the only other international city with a service (via San Jose) to Guanacaste, and the only European airline offering a transatlantic connection to LIR. In more normal times, Air Transat and Westjet offered direct flights to Guanacaste from Toronto, Montreal, and other Canadian cities, while TUI flew direct from the UK. Copa also offered a service from Panama City. We’ll update this info if and when these flights return.

Private Charter Flights to Costa Rica

It might not be the most ecologically sound way to get to Costa Rica, but it’s certainly the most comfortable. And if you’re in a large enough group, it might not even be as expensive as you think, either. Yes, if you’re so inclined, you can certainly travel to Costa Rica on a private flight. And your last name doesn’t need to be Kardashian to do so, either.

In this section, we’re going to talk a little about chartering a private plane, rather than buying one. If you’re interested in buying your own private jet or already have one, there’s not much advice we can give you on this page other than which Costa Rican airport to fly into (see below). Outside of that, it should be us asking you for advice rather than the other way round!

But if you’re considering chartering a private plane, we can offer you some information about flying to Costa Rica.

First, though, why would you hire a private flight in the first place?

We’ve already seen there’s a lot of airlines flying in and out of Costa Rica nowadays, from all over the world. What are the advantages of going private?

There’s the luxury factor, of course. A private plane offers more comfort, more style. That’s a given. But it also offers more convenience. You can pick your own departure time, without the need to deal with airline schedules. If you’re traveling with young children or pets, flying private offers you no end of extra convenience. And in these days of Covid, flying in a plane without being surrounded by total strangers in your space can also offer you peace of mind.

You know all this already, of course. Everyone knows the benefits of flying private, even if most people have never had the pleasure of doing so. What you really want to know is the price, right?

How much does it cost for a private charter flight to Costa Rica?

Private flights charge by the hour, so it depends where you’re coming from. They also charge by the size of the aircraft. A smaller plane with a smaller passenger capacity will cost less than a larger plane. So you’re looking at two factors: length of flight and size of plane.

When considering these factors, you also need to consider the range of your plane (how far your plane can travel before having to refuel). Smaller planes have lower ranges, while larger planes can fly further.

For a short journey of less than three hours (say, 3.5 hours at the absolute maximum), you can get away with a smaller light jet or turboprop, as long as you have a maximum of six passengers and aren’t going crazy with the luggage. Three and a half hours in a light jet or turboprop would cover some southern Florida, maybe some parts of the extreme south of the United States, and the Caribbean.

Prices for a flight like this would start at around $4,000 per hour, rising to around $5,500. But again, here, you’re limited by the small number of passengers in your group. If you took a midsize jet, carrying eight or nine of you, you’re looking from around $7,000 to $9,500 per hour.

A midsize jet can also travel further, increasing your range to around seven hours flying time, enough to cover much of the United States. But again, here, it depends on the plane.

If you’re a larger group, or traveling from further afield, you’ll need a heavy jet capable of long distances. These planes carry from around 16 people up to 50 and prices range from $11,000 to $20,000 per hour.

So, say you’re four people coming from Miami in a Cessna Citation CJ3 (a light, six-seater jet). The cost of that will come to $5,500 per hour for a three-hour flight. That’s $17,500 in total, which works out at $4,375 per person (or $2,917 per person if you’re six people). Now, let’s look at the same flight on a midsize jet. This time, there’s nine of you on a Gulfstream G200. At $9,500 per hour for a three hour flight, that’s around $3,100 each.

Sure, these flights aren’t cheap. But neither are they multi-zillionaire prices.

You’re looking at a few grand per person, which could be doable or some of you. But bear in mind there are also landing fees to consider, based on the size and weight of the plane. These range from around $100 to $500.

One way to get the cost of flying private way down is to take out the flexibility and look at “empty-legging” it. This means you hop on the coattails of someone else’s flight – say, someone hires a private jet to Costa Rica for a vacation. That plane needs to travel back to the United States. If it’s going anywhere near your way, you can snag it for up to 75% off the regular price. There’s no flexibility here, and you have to go where the plane’s going, but it could be doable.

A final consideration with private flights is that you’re not 100% tied down to San Jose or Guanacaste Airports unless you’re on a larger jet. Smaller planes can use regional airports like Limon, on the Caribbean side. In San Jose, many private flights come in and out of Tobias Bolaños Airport in Pavas, a district of San Jose. Landing fees are less and you’re much closer to the city center than you would be with SJO.

When to fly to Guanacaste vs San Jose?

In this part of our ultimate guide to flying to Costa Rica, it’s time to stop looking so much at where you’re coming from, and start focusing on where you’re going.

We’ve rinsed out about as much as we can on airlines, routes, and cities with direct flights to Costa Rica. Now let’s look at Costa Rica itself and your final destination when you get here. This is the fun stuff!

As already mentioned in this guide, Costa Rica has two international airports, Guanacaste (LIR) and San Jose (SJO). Depending on where you’re going in Costa Rica, either LIR or SJO will be better for you in terms of travel time and convenience once you arrive in-country.

Here, we’ll look at Costa Rica’s most popular tourist destinations and determine which airport you should fly into for the easiest access to that destination. Please note, we’re only looking at the ease of transfer from SJO or LIR to a given destination in Costa Rica. We’ve already covered the ease of flights themselves to SJO or LIR, so this will have no bearing on what we’re saying here.

It could well be that you live in a city where it’s easier to travel to the other airport than the one we suggest for where you’re going. In that case, you’ll have a decision to make as to how to best get to your Costa Rica destination, but at least you’ll have all the info you need to make that decision.

We’ll start by talking about the differences between San Jose and Guanacaste Airports and then move on to which parts of Costa Rica are served best by each airport.

The official name of San Jose Airport is Juan Santamaria Airport, and it’s officially not in San Jose at all, rather in Alajuela, about half an hour outside of the capital. Its airport code is SJO, although old aviation hands still call it Coco, after the district of Alajuela where it was built in the 1950s. SJO is Costa Rica’s biggest airport, and the second-busiest in Central America after Tocumen in Panama City, Panama. In 2019, San Jose Airport handled over five million passengers.

Guanacaste Airport is the new name for Liberia Airport, and is Costa Rica’s second international airport. They rebranded Liberia to Guanacaste in July 2021 to make it more inclusive of the province of Guanacaste as a whole, rather than the city of Liberia. The airport code remains LIR. The official name of Guanacaste Airport is Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport and it handled almost two million passengers in 2019. This airport is part of the VINCI Airports Group and has won numerous awards in recent years, including Best Airport in Latin America and Best Airport for Customer Service.

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So why would you fly into SJO and why would you fly into LIR? What’s the difference?

There are two main reasons to fly into any airport, and Costa Rica is no exception. The first reason is convenience. Is your final destination in Costa Rica closer or easier to reach from SJO or LIR? For the most part, the rule of thumb is that if you’re flying into Guanacaste Airport, you’re staying in that province. Guanacaste and its “Gold Coast” is home to most of Costa Rica’s tourist expansion in recent years. This is where you’ll find most of Costa Rica’s larger beach resorts.

The communities of Tamarindo, Flamingo, Coco, and – in particular – the Papagayo Peninsula are all close to Guanacaste Airport, no more than an hour max. These places have seen the bulk of tourist development in Costa Rica, and Guanacaste Airport aims to make it far easier to reach them than ever before. In years gone by, before the LIR Airport expansion, it took at least five or six hours to get to these areas from San Jose. That’s no longer a necessary journey if you fly into Guanacaste Airport instead.

If you’re staying in any of the Guanacaste resorts, you’re far better off flying into Guanacaste Airport.

Now let’s look at San Jose.

SJO Airport is more central, and more or less covers the rest of Costa Rica. Obviously, if you’re spending time in the capital city of San Jose or around the Central Valley, SJO is more convenient. Also, you’re better off using SJO if you’re heading to the southern Nicoya Peninsula (via ferry from Puntarenas), the Central Pacific coast (Puntarenas to Quepos/Manuel Antonio), and the Southern Zone (Quepos south to the Panama border including Uvita, Dominical, and the Osa Peninsula. Those travelers going to Costa Rica’s Caribbean side are also better off using San Jose Airport.

Please note, using San Jose to get to either coast of Costa Rica still involves quite long transfer times (the shortest being about an hour to Puntarenas, but mostly quite a bit longer than that). But for the places mentioned here, they’re still a lot quicker and more convenient to reach than from Guanacaste.

Another good reason to use San Jose over Guanacaste is if you’re planning on using an internal flight in Costa Rica.

Both SJO and LIR accommodate Costa Rica’s network of internal flights, commonly called puddle jumpers. These small planes take travelers to small airstrips all over Costa Rica and massively cut down travel time. But San Jose is the hub airport for these smaller airlines, and pretty much everything goes through there rather than Guanacaste. If you’re traveling around Costa Rica by air, you’re better off using San Jose as your international entry and departure point.

If you’re going to the Arenal Volcano area (and most travelers to Costa Rica do) or to Monteverde, then there’s not a great deal of difference between using Guanacaste Airport or San Jose. Both locations are about the same travel time from either airport (two to three hours). In that case, it comes down to convenience for you, and cost.

Which brings us to our next point.

Overall, you’ll find cheaper airfare to Costa Rica by flying into San Jose rather than Guanacaste. This is because more airlines use San Jose – it’s a busier airport with more competition. But don’t take that to the bank. You can often find great deals into Guanacaste, especially during the December-April period, when seasonal charters fly into that airport. And prices to Guanacaste have come down a lot in recent years, as the airport expands and attracts more airlines. The big price differences we used to see no longer apply.

And if you offset any higher price of airfare into LIR against the cost of the transfer from San Jose, you’re probably paying more to fly into SJO in the end.

When are tickets cheapest?

Once upon a time, before the internet, you used to use a travel agent to buy flights, or go directly through the airline. You’d give them a call or head down to their office and they’d hook up your flights for you through a computerized reservation system.

If you were in the office, the agent would sit on one side of a desk, and you another. They’d have access to airline, flight numbers, and airlines on their screens and give you some options. Prices would be similar, although they might vary depending on the airline. You’d then choose your flight, pay for it, and then come back in a few days to pick up your tickets (or have them mailed to you). There was no real way of determining when tickets would be cheaper or not.

There’s a reason for the history lesson. It’s to point out how things used to be compared to how they are now. Nowadays, it’s all changed. Airline ticket prices vary on a whim, and things can get confusing when you’re looking for a flight deal.

Going forward, we’ll assume you don’t have air miles, or belong to any individual airline’s reward program. We’ll also assume you’re not traveling standby or working for an airline. This is all about finding the cheapest airfare to Costa Rica as a regular travel with no perks in front of you at all.

Those of you with air miles, though, should know the value of your miles (or points, depending on the terminology) changes depending on the time of year. The busier travel times we talk about below can mean your miles drop slightly in value. Check with your airline.

Airline ticket prices vary on two fronts.

First, there’s the seasonal reason. It’s cheaper or more expensive to fly to Costa Rica depending on how popular Costa Rica happens to be during a particular time of year. And then there are the whims of the airlines themselves. Let’s take the seasonal reason first.

It makes sense to assume that nonstop flights to Costa Rica (or any flights, for that matter) will be less expensive when fewer people travel to Costa Rica. And Costa Rica has defined, definite tourist seasons, so it’s pretty easy to figure out when flights will be cheaper.

The tourist high season in Costa Rica runs in line with the dry season, when it doesn’t rain so much. Dry season (or “summer”) runs from around mid-December until the end of April, and you can expect flights to be more expensive during that time. Not always, but generally. The rest of the year, from May to early-December, is low season, or green season, and it’s wetter. Which means fewer tourists and lower airfare.

This is a general guide, and not always accurate.

You should also take into account school holidays in the United States, Canada, and other countries. Ditto national holidays like Labor Day or Thanksgiving, when lots of people travel. You can expect flights to be more expensive during the school summer holidays, even if that’s during the green season in Costa Rica. Plenty of people travel to Costa Rica in June, July, and August, because school’s out.

Flights to Costa Rica are most expensive over Christmas and Easter – school holidays coinciding with the dry season. They remain higher in January and February, dropping down in May before rising again in June, July and August. September and October are the wettest months in Costa Rica, with the least tourists, and the best flight deals. November is the same, before you get the Thanksgiving spike and a slight drop in early December before Christmas travel kicks in and prices shoot up.

Again, consider the above a general guide. You can certainly find deals during peak travel times and you can also find yourself shocked at high prices in the low season. But consider this an overall rule of thumb.

Check out our guide for the best time to visit Costa Rica for more info on the pros and cons (outside of flight prices) of each month.

Now let’s take an outsider’s look at the airlines and their whims.

We say “outsiders”, because we don’t work for the airlines and have no true insight into their pricing algorithms. They’re a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma as someone once said. But we’ll try anyway.

The first thing to know about booking flights online is that airfare opens up about a year in advance. So you can buy your tickets anytime from the same day of travel to a year in the future. Beyond a year, you have to wait.

The best thing to do when you’re looking for good flight deals is to get on it as soon as possible, once you know your travel dates. We recommend using an app like Hopper, which does a lot of the work of figuring things out for you.

Hopper is different from booking sites like Expedia in that its whole schtick is about finding the right time to book a flight. If you’re, say, looking for flights from Atlanta to Costa Rica, you’d download the app to your phone, enter in your route, and they’ll show you a calendar telling you the dates with the cheapest and most expensive fares. If your dates are flexible, this is the perfect way to get a deal.

There used to be a time when booking a flight on a Sunday at midnight was cheaper.

Or Tuesdays at 3:00 PM. Or whatever. Travel sites have torn themselves into pieces going nuts about this, trying to beat the algorithms. According to Hopper, though, it doesn’t really matter.

They say that booking no later than three weeks in advance of your trip is most important. Sure, there might be some changes before that, but they’re negligible. Booking within three weeks, though, pretty much guarantees a more expensive flight.

One note on booking three weeks in advance. Treat that as the latest time you should book. If you’re traveling to Costa Rica during the December-April high season, please book as far in advance as possible – like months. That especially goes for travel over Christmas, Easter, and February (Spring Break season).

So the general rules here, to summarize, are trying to avoid peak travel dates and booking over three weeks in advance (unless it’s high/peak season, when you should book as far in advance as possible). Now we’ll delve down a little further on this theme and look at the best days of the week to travel to Costa Rica.

What Days of Week Are Best to Travel?

Most people tend to travel at weekends, or failing that, on Fridays. It makes sense, after all. If you’re traveling to Costa Rica for a week, you want to make the most of your time and stretch it out if possible. Traveling on a Friday means you could eke out a couple of extra nights without losing work time. Your seven-night vacation can become an eight or nine-night one if you fly home on Saturday or Sunday. What’s not to love about that?

Well, one thing not to love is that you’re not alone and everyone else is doing the same thing. Which means that Fridays and Sundays are the busiest, most expensive days of the week to travel. If you can avoid these days, then do it, unless you don’t mind paying more money and dealing with more lines and crowds at the airport.

For those of you with flexible schedules who want the easiest, most stress-free flight that isn’t private, midweek is key.

It’s a long-known and famous old travel hack to fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays if you can. For the most part, airports are less busy on those days and planes are emptier. Plus there’s the question of price. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally cheaper.

Mondays and Thursdays are the next best days to fly for the same reasons, with Saturdays also coming in as a good second-best option if you can’t make Tuesday or Wednesday. It’s because Saturday is crammed in between those most busy Fridays and Sundays. Saturday is the heart of the weekend, and who wants to be traveling then?

As ever with flights, this is just a general guide. Holidays – in either your country of origin or Costa Rica – can throw the whole thing out of whack.

For example, a long weekend in the United States like Thanksgiving (always on a Thursday) can turn those normally cheap and peaceful Tuesday and Wednesday traveling days into chaos. Remember the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles?

It’s actually a myth, in fact, that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year, but it’s close. If you plan to travel that in November, why not on Thanksgiving Thursday itself? You’ll have the skies much more to yourself and get to celebrate turkey day on the beach if you’re early enough.

Same thing with July 4th, Christmas, and, well, just about any other holiday.

U.S. Independence Day is another super-busy time to fly. And if July 4 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, then either side of the weekend becomes tougher than it would normally be. Like Thanksgiving, try to travel on the 4th and avoid the crowds.

Christmas is another time to throw the established rules out of the window. Avoiding December 23rd and 24th is a good idea, ditto the 26th and the days around New Years. Bear in mind what we said earlier about flying to Costa Rica over this period, though. It’s the busiest time of the year for tourism, and so never completely ideal. But if you can, fly on December 25th, December 31st, or January 1st. You might find it slightly less hectic.

Tips & Tricks on Customs, Immigration

So, you’ve followed this guide and found some great flight tickets to Costa Rica from the city of your choice with the airline of your choice. You have a great direct connection at a decent price, midweek, with little stress. All you have to do now is show up to the airport, check in, board, take off, travel, and arrive. Now what?

Here, we’ll talk about what you can expect when on a flight to Costa Rica, especially now the Covid-19 pandemic has changed travel for the foreseeable future. Then we’ll walk you through the arrival process, getting you through immigration and customs, and out of the airport to enjoy your vacation.

Unlike many other countries, at this time, Costa Rica doesn’t require a Covid-19 test to enter.

You don’t need to worry about that at all, but if that ever changes, we’ll keep you updated. What you do need to do, however, is fill out an online Health Pass, one for every traveler in your group. You have to do this within 72 hours of your arrival in Costa Rica. Health passes filled out more than 72 hours before arrival will not be accepted.

Once you’ve filled out the online health pass, it’ll generate an automatic QR code that will display on your phone for Immigration to check upon arrival in Costa Rica.

Another factor of traveling to Costa Rica right now is the mandatory travel insurance.

Unless you’re fully vaccinated against Covid-19, you’ll need to buy insurance as a tourist in Costa Rica. This insurance must include a minimum of $50,000 of healthcare coverage if you use an international insurance company or $20,000 of healthcare coverage if you use a Costa Rican company.

Your insurance must also cover $2,000 for accommodations should you test positive for Covid in Costa Rica and need to quarantine. We recommend Travel Insured, who can provide the mandatory coverage needed to enter Costa Rica.

Fully-vaccinated travelers with either AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, or Moderna are exempt from the buying the travel insurance if they received their final vaccine (or in the case of Johnson & Johnson, their only vaccine) 14 days or more prior to arrival in Costa Rica. Note that only the four vaccines we mention here are accepted by Costa Rica. Travelers under the age of 18 are also exempt from the travel insurance.

Your insurance policy (or your proof of vaccine) must be uploaded to the online Health Pass you fill in.

You won’t receive your QR code without uploading one or the other. Technically-speaking, it’s enough just to do this, but we strongly recommend bringing your paperwork with you just in case. If you get your QR code, it means everything’s in order, but it’s better to have your insurance policy or vaccination card with you in case someone asks than not to have it and cause yourself immediate stress upon arrival.

Since Costa Rica reopened to tourists in August 2020, the entry process has become more streamlined, and nowadays most tourists breeze through as long as their QR codes are valid. Same goes at the front end of your flight, when departing for Costa Rica. When checking in, most airlines will just ask for the QR code and you’re good to go.

So that’s the covid travel part out of the way. What else?

Of course, you need your passport to travel to Costa Rica (valid for at least three months after your arrival date). You’re going nowhere without that.

Upon arrival, the norm used to be to give travelers 90 days in the country, which is the maximum allowed. The official rule for immigration is to give tourists UP TO 90 DAYS, and anything from zero to 90 is up to their discretion.

As an obvious tourist on vacation, you’ll be fine, although you’ll now see they give you the exact number of days you’re insured for, or for when your flight home departs, as opposed to an automatic 90 days. You’ll see how long they give you by the number they write over your entry stamp in your passport.

Once you’re stamped into Costa Rica, it’s over to baggage claim and customs. Try to travel as light as possible to avoid waiting around baggage claim, but if you can’t do that, mark your cases to make them distinguishable and easy to notice on the carousel. Pick up your bags, head to customs, put them through the x-ray, and you’re out the door onto the street.

Remember that in Costa Rica, mask-wearing is mandatory inside both San Jose and Liberia Airports. You’ll also need to wear a mask on your flight at all times (other than eating or drinking), and (most likely) in your departure airport before you board.

As a client of Costa Rican Vacations, we offer a special concierge service to help you through the arrival process, from the moment you come off the plane. We’ll take you through immigration, baggage claim, customs, and out to meet your driver to take you to your hotel. Ask us about this. It’s a great perk to have, especially during these strange times.

So that’s your ultimate guide to flying to Costa Rica.

Now all you have to do is enjoy your vacation and then do it all again in reverse on the other side. One thing to remember when traveling home is that you might well need to take a Covid-19 test to enter the country you live in.

The United States, for example, currently demands a PCR or antigen test taken within three days prior to travel. You will not be allowed to board without this.

Our team on the ground here will help you out with all aspects of getting your Covid test, so don’t hesitate to ask them. In the meantime, you can find a list of testing centers around Costa Rica in this link.