Domestic flights can be a great way to see some of the more remote areas of Costa Rica.
Distances are short, flights from San José are under an hour to anywhere, and prices can be as low as $40-70 one way which is very competitive with renting an SUV or riding in a tourist transport bus for a couple of travelers.
Before booking any airfare check to see if your destination(s) make sense for flights within your planned itinerary – not all do.
Once you’ve decided to fly give the list below a once over so you won’t be caught unaware by some of the differences between international jet travel and small local propeller planes.
Note: Updated May 1, 2018 – Nature Air has been grounded since a fatal crash on December 31, 2017. General Directorate of Civil Aviation (DGAC) reinstated their permission to operate in February of 2018 but the airline did not resume operations. As of May 1, 2018 the DGAC has suspended Nature Air’s operating permit indefinitely due to “abandonment of assigned routes.”
There have been rumors of repossession of airplanes due to non-payment of loans, accounting irregularities and preferential government treatment of the national airline (SANSA) over the foreign owned Nature Air but whatever the reason it looks unlikely that Nature Air will ever fly again.
Note: Updated May 1, 2018 – The Quepos (Manuel Antonio) airport construction that was scheduled for completion April 25, 2018 is far behind schedule and some locals have predicted that flights will not resume before 2019.
Small Plane Flights in Costa Rica
- Make reservations well in advance in high season because most flights sell out and the cheapest seats definitely sell first. Occasionally there are some great last minute sales in low season (see schedules and rates NatureAir and SANSA) but these are usually limited to residents.
- Baggage weight is limited to 25 lbs. per passenger. This is about half of what international flights allow for a checked bag. (See the twenty five pound packing list). You must make advance arrangements for oversized items like surf boards, bicycles, and scuba and camping gear regardless of weight. It is also a good idea to arrive at the airport early if you have unusual baggage so you can get it on the plane before they decide it’s too big.
If the airline does not put your bag on the flight with you they will attempt to put it on the next flight.
- Some of the displayed flights are not available every day. Some of the flights are not available at all in the low season. Use the online reservation forms to make sure you can fly where you want to, when you want to before you plan your whole trip around the flight!
- Keep your camera with you. Don’t pack your camera away, the views are spectacular. In fact it would be easy to forget that you are flying for transportation and not on a sightseeing trip.
- Nearly all flights are to or from the San José area. SANSA uses a satellite terminal at Juan Santamaría International Airport and most NatureAir flights are now from SJO as well but a few from Tobías Bolaños Airport (Pavas – San José). See location map for details.
- SANSA has lockers in their terminal at Juan Santamaría airport, something the main international terminal at SJO doesn’t provide.
- Leave some extra time. These are small airlines, they don’t have the highest airspace priority in San José where all their flights originate, and heavy weather can be a factor (especially in the rainy season). Most of the trip ruining disasters we’ve heard of could have been changed to minor irritations with better planning. Unless your karma is infallible it’s not reasonable to plan an international departure on United two hours after you are supposed to be delivered to San José by SANSA or vice-versa.
- Leave some extra time. (yes I know I’m repeating myself) The airlines reserve the right to deliver your bag on a later flight even if it meets the requirements. If you are there early this is much less likely to happen to you.