Which Costa Rica Airport Should I Fly Into?

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Costa Rica now has two main international airports. The oldest is the Juan Santamaria International Airport near the capital of San Jose. It has long been considered the main airport. The airport code is SJO.

The newer of the two airports is up north in Liberia, Guanacaste. It’s the Daniel Oduber Quiros International airport, whose code is LIR. In recent years, it has become a very popular airport due to its proximity to beaches in the North.

Each airport has its own pros and cons, and each airport is closer to specific destinations that you may want to visit. Both airports have daily flights, and many of the international flights are direct flights from major cities., In this post, I’ll outline which is the best Costa Rica airport for your trip, and why.

However, I’ll give you the short answer here- the best airport to fly to largely depends on where you are traveling in the country. If you are staying north, go to Liberia. If you are heading south, go to San Jose. Or do my personal favorite- fly into SJO and out of LIR, or vice versa. That’s what I do for my perfect 7-day itinerary.

airplane wing on costa rican tarmac with mountains in distance.

San Jose International Airport

SJO Airport Location

The San Jose international airport is not located exactly in San José, it’s in the smaller city of Alajuela. This means that when choosing the best airport hotel, you will want to make sure it’s not in downtown San Jose city if you are arriving late at night. In fact, unless you plan to spend some serious time in San Jose, I would skip the city altogether except for the first night you may need to spend there. If you do plan to stay in San Jose, check out these day trips.

SJO Airport Pros and Cons

Like any busy international airport, there are pros and cons to the SJO airport:

  • Pro: It’s located right in the middle of the country, giving access to both north and south within a day’s drive
  • Pro: SJO is bigger- there’s more shopping and places to eat here
  • Pro: The rental car offices are closer to SJO
  • Pro: There is a wide variety of airport hotels within minutes of the airport, so it’s easy to stay close by and get up early to explore the first or last day you are there
  • Pro: There are more public buses, Ubers, and taxi drivers at the SJO airport than at Liberia
  • Pro: Nearly all domestic flights leave from the SJO airport area- the domestic airport is right next door
  • Pro: Nearly all major airlines fly into SJO
  • Con: There’s a lot of traffic around the airport, and it’s unpredictable. This means you can spend a long time in the car to go a short distance
  • Con: Customs and immigration here can take a lot longer than in Liberia because many flights land at the same time- they aren’t staggered so everyone arrives at migration at once. This puts a strain on baggage claim as well
  • Con: There are more people here, so you need to arrive about 3 hours early for your flights
  • Con: There are more volcanoes around SJO. This means more turbulence when landing, and it can mean the airport can close due to volcanic ash (this hasn’t happened since 2016, however.)

RELATED POST: Costa Rica With Kids- The Complete Guide

Which Destinations are Closer To SJO

If you are heading to the following destinations, you need to fly into SJO to save about 5 hours of travel time:

  • Jaco
  • Playa Mantas
  • Playa Blanca
  • Isla Tortuga
  • Puntarenas
  • San Ramon
  • Atenas
  • Turrialba
  • Grecia (and the Central Valley in general)
  • Limon and the Caribbean Coast
  • Tortuguero
  • Manuel Antonio
  • Dominical (and the southern Pacific Coast)
  • Cerro Chirripo
  • Osa Peninsula
  • Corcovado National Park
  • Puerto Jimenez
  • Panama via land

Note that La Fortuna and Monteverde are equidistant from both airports.


The ultimate list of Spanish phrases for Costa Rica with kids.  

Liberia International Airport

LIR Airport Location

The Liberia airport is located in northern Costa Rica, in the Guanacaste province. It’s close to many beach destinations, and about 10 minutes from the city of Liberia itself. There is a Hilton Garden Inn right in front of the airport, but otherwise, people usually drive between 30 minutes to an hour to a favorite hotel rather than stay right there.

LIR Airport Pros and Cons

  • Pro: The airport is super easy to get in and out of as there isn’t much traffic around at all
  • Pro: You can arrive at the airport 2 hours early because there aren’t as many people and check-in is generally much faster.
  • Pro: The airport is much newer, so there are check-in kiosks and better security equipment
  • Pro: The customs and immigrations lines are much shorter because the flights are staggered
  • Pro: The US flights generally come and go at midday, so you don’t have to get up so early on the day you leave
  • Con: The airport is not air-conditioned. We generally leave at midday and it is so hot!
  • Con: There aren’t a lot of dining options here, and they are very expensive
  • Con: Some rental car offices aren’t very close to the airport so you have to leave more time to drop off your car
  • Con: There aren’t as many public transport and taxi options from this airport as most people arrive and travel farther distances right out of the gate
  • Con: Very few, if any, domestic flights leave from LIR

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planet hollywood costa rica beach resort all inclusive papayago peninsula shot

Which Destinations are Closer To LIR:

You’ll save yourself a good amount of travel time if you are going to the following tourist destination:

  • Anywhere in Guanacaste (Playas de Coco, Playa Ocotal, Playa Tamarindo, Playa Pamana, Playa Grande, Playa Nosara, Playa Junquillal, Playa Santa Teresa, etc)
  • Most every all-inclusive resort
  • Anywhere on the Nicoya Peninsula
  • Rincon de la Vieja National Park
  • Nicaragua (via land) (or other parts of Central America)

Note that La Fortuna and Monteverde are equidistant from both airports.

In the end, it all comes down to what your specific itinerary is, and how much you want to spend on airline tickets. Ticket prices on flights to Costa Rica vary widely, and whether or not you fly into Liberia or fly into San Jose, you can see the animals, visit a gorgeous beach and get a taste of authentic Costa Rican food from either airport.

My vote? Fly into one of the airports in Costa Rica and fly out of the other!  If you want to get really crazy, then get a really cheap ticket to one airport, and take a short domestic flight to the other- it might save you some cash!

Other Costa Rica travel guides you may enjoy:

If you would like to talk to me about a customized itinerary or specific Costa Rica travel advice for your family’s next Costa Rica vacation, (zero sales- just advice!) check out my “Ask Christa” page for more information on custom Costa Rica trip planning geared towards families.

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Christa Jimenez

Welcome! I’m Christa, a Spanish teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. We’ve spent over 25 years living in and traveling to Costa Rica with our daughters, and this website is my love letter to all things Costa Rica- and to bilingual parenting too. You can read my full story here. Thanks for stopping by!

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