There are some important differences between Costa Rica’s two international airports at Liberia (Daniel Oduber, LIR) and San José (Juan Santamaría, SJO).
- Location, location and location – Depending on where you’re headed one airport may be far superior to the other. For the Caribbean, Central Pacific and all of southern Costa Rica SJO is your best bet. If you’re headed to the beaches of Guanacaste you’ll want to fly into LIR
- Cost – Airfares used to be higher for LIR but as the number of airlines serving the route has increased prices have dropped and bargains have popped up (we got tickets for $89 each way Denver – LIR, seriously…).
- You can probably be on the beach for an extra day when flying in or out of LIR – some beaches are half an hour away. If you’re arriving late or leaving early from SJO you’ll probably have to spend a night in San José because of traffic delays and the dangers of driving at night (especially in the mountains). Most people try to avoid the big, noisy, polluted city.
- Domestic flights are only available from San José. There are a couple of internal flights from Liberia, but for the most part if you want to fly elsewhere in Costa Rica you have to do it from San José.
Map of Costa Rica’s Airports
Plan a Sensible Itinerary
Creating an itinerary that loops back around to the airport you arrived at doesn’t always make the most sense. Often times you can save 4-6 hours of ground transportation or driving time by planning a one way route where you arrive at SJO and depart from LIR or vice versa.
Connecting to Local Domestic Flights
If you’re catching a domestic flight then you’ll want your international flight to land at SJO since all domestic flights originate there or from the nearby Tobias Bolaños airport in the suburb of Pavas.
NOTE: Ash from Turrialba volcano has sporadically interfered with airport operations at SJO for over a year. Most recently, some flights were cancelled at SJO in May 2016 due to a large ash eruption.
In March through May 2015 ash clouds from eruptions of Turrialba volcano closed Juan Santamaría Airport (SJO) for several days significantly disrupting flight schedules. Activity increased again in February 2016 but the prevailing winds directed the ash plume to the east and northeast away from SJO preventing additional closures.
Activity cannot be predicted with much certainty but scientist from the volcanology institute believe that intermittent activity at Turrialba will increase for several more months.
Liberia Airport (LIR) is unlikely to be affected because of the location of the volcanoes relative to prevailing winds.