Depending on where you will be travelling to Costa Rica from you may prefer to fly into/out of the San Jose (SJO) or Liberia (LIR) airport. Flight prices and schedules vary between these two airports so we recommend that all travellers check into arrival and departure flight options to/from each site when planning their trip (we like www.kayak.com and use it often to compare prices according to different arrival/departure locations and across a variety of airlines). There are also a number of differences worth noting between Costa Rica’s two airports, which may cause you to prefer one over the other. The following is a breakdown of some differences we have noticed based on our experiences at the country’s two international airports.
-SJO is officially named the Juan Santamaria International Airport
-LIR is officially named the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport
-SJO is costa rica’s largest international airport servicing a high number of travellers
-LIR is costa rica’s smallest international airport servicing significantly less travellers than SJO
-SJO is a two-storey airport – departures are handled on the second floor and arrivals are met on the first floor
-LIR is a one-storey airport – departures are handled on the right-hand side of the first floor and arrivals are met on the left-hand side of the first floor
-SJO is an approximate 20-25 minute drive from downtown san jose (central valley)
-LIR is an approximate 10 minute drive from downtown liberia (northern pacific coast)
*Tip: The SJO airport is best to fly into/out of if you plan to visit the Caribbean coast (Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, Tortuguero), the central pacific coast (Puntarenas, Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Dominical), or the Osa Peninsula (Punta Uvita, Drake Bay, Matapalo, Puerto Jimenez, Golfito). The LIR airport is best to fly into/out of if you plan to visit the northern pacific coast (Papagayo, Coco, Hermosa, Ocotal, Panama, Potrero, Flamingo, Conchal, Grande, Tamarindo, Langosta) or the northwestern part of the Nicoya Peninsula (Samara, Nosara, Punta Islita). Popular in-land areas (La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde, Tenorio/Celeste), as well as the southeastern part of the Nicoya Peninsula (Santa Teresa, Mal Pais, Montezuma, Tambor) are interchangeably accessed via either SJO or LIR.
-SJO is currently used by the following international airlines: Air Canada, Air Panama, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Copa Airlines, AeroMexico, Frontier Airlines, Delta Airlines, Iberia, jetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines, Avianca, Taca Airlines, Condor, US Airways, and Sansa Regional
-LIR is currently used by the following international airlines: Air Canada, American Airlines, United Airlines, Islena Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Taca Airlines, Air France, Sansa Regional, and Nature Air
-SJO departure tax is paid to the right of the entrance – there is a line of approximately 6-10 airport employees waiting to take your payment (payments can be made in USD, Costa Rican Colones, or with VISA/Mastercard)
-LIR departure tax is paid to the left of the entrance – there is a small both with 1-2 employees waiting to take your payment (payments can be made in USD, Costa Rican Colones, or with VISA/Mastercard)
-SJO offers parking on-site (for a fee – $2.28/hour, $14.75/day, or $87.15/week as of July 2012 and subject to change according to the USD/Colon currency exchange rate) – the parking lot is within walking distance to the arrival and departure gates)
-LIR offers parking on-site (for free) – the parking lot is within walking distance to the arrival and departure gates)
-SJO offers wi-fi access (for free) in certain areas of the airport
-LIR does not currently offer wi-fi access
-SJO offers a variety of dining options once inside the airport (after passing through the security checkpoint)
-LIR offers one restaurant for dining at once inside the airport (after passing through the security checkpoint)
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Which airport have you flown into/out of? If you have experienced them both, which did you prefer?