Private Planes & Helicopters in Costa Rica
A thirty minute flight may save six or eight hours compared to ground transportation.
Chartering a plane might sound like something only the rich and famous would consider but in the right circumstances we recommend it as an easy, convenient, fast and surprisingly affordable.
Saving Money – Are Charter Planes Expensive?
An example flight comparison
After a trek across the Osa peninsula five of us spent about $400 (total price to charter the whole plane) to fly from Carate to Drake Bay with one passenger continuing on to Puerto Jimenez. At first it seemed pricy for a 22 minute flight but after comparing all the options we decided it was the most reasonable choice.
The ground transfer would have involved a collectivo truck from Carate to Jimenez (2 hours, $15 per person), bus or taxi to Rincon (1 hour and $2 or $18 per person), and finally a collectivo truck from Rincon to Drake (2 hours, $18 per person).
Add it all up and include the minimum waiting times for making the connections and it would have been at least seven hours and cost between $200 and $255 to do it on the ground using public transportation.
Another option would have been a private transfer (basically a long distance SUV taxi ride) which typically run about $2.00 a km in remoter areas. The trip was 116 km or $232 plus as much as $75 additional for the one way charge for the driver to get home to Puerto Jimenez for a total of about $300. Total time to drive straight through about 4-5 hours.
Boats can’t land at Carate due to the huge surf so that wasn’t an option although from other spots along the coast (Sirena ranger station for example) a lancha may be the best bet.
The plane was still the most expensive option but as much fun as it can be spotting monkeys out the window while jarring along a rugged Costa Rican road it gets old after six or seven hours. We thought the time savings and experience was worth the extra $15-30 per person.
Charter economy depends mainly on the number of travelers
Since charters are priced by the planeload the most important factor when considering the cost is how many passengers will be splitting the plane. We had the bush plane packed to maximum capacity when we flew across the Osa but other planes on other routes are different sizes and have different capabilities.
Generally if there are one or two people it will be very expensive, three or four people starts to make it reasonable and five to eight travelers may find it’s as cheap or even cheaper than the ground option or scheduled flights.
Another cost consideration is when and where you’re going
There are approximately twice as many airstrips where charter flights can land than airports and landing strips that are served by commercial flights so there may be one close to where you’re headed.
The travel between Carate and Drake described above is an exception. You won’t usually save eight to eighteen hours by flying since most popular tourist destinations have reasonable ground, small boat, scheduled airline or even horseback service all of which are much cheaper than a private charter.
Although it’s not necessary for most of Costa Rica there are a number exceptions besides the Osa & Corcovado where flying frequently makes the most sense including Tortuguero, the southern Nicoya, and at times Jacó and Manuel Antonio – more to avoid traffic than anything else for the last two.
It would be immensely complicated to try to list all the possible combinations of to and from and the most cost and time efficient way to get between them. If you contact us we’ll be happy to suggest an itinerary to link your destinations together and the best choices for transportation.
A well planned circuit can keep your feet on the ground, transfer times reasonable and costs down.
Saving Time with a Charter
The seven hour estimate for the collectivo option between Carate and Drake is optimistic even if you’re starting out in the morning because all three transports (except the taxi which will take off as soon as you track one down) only run a couple of times a day.
We wanted to leave Carate around 4:00 p.m. and the drive out to Drake isn’t something you want to do in the dark so realistically with either ground option we would have had to spend the night in Puerto Jiménez adding another $100 or so to the cost (for a couple of inexpensive hotel rooms) and making the total time around 18 hours.
For the five of us a $400, 22 minute charter flight was a no brainer and it would have been worth it just for the aerial views of Corcovado National Park and the coast of the Osa peninsula as the sun sank into the Pacific.