Costa Rica Airports: Which Is Better, San Jose or Liberia?

There are two international Costa Rica airports. These two airports are the San Jose International Airport (SJO) and the Liberia International Airport (LIR). 

Both airports have flights to and from the United States, Canada, and Europe daily. 

Most people tend to fly into the San Jose Airport, but the Liberia Airport in the northwest corner of the country has gained in popularity in recent years. It is also a great landing and departing option for your Costa Rica travels.

We travel from our home in Costa Rica to the United States and Europe at least a few times a year. So, we have a lot of experience with both international airports in the country. 

The Costa Rica international airports have their pros and cons. We decided to break down what you can expect at both the Liberia Airport and Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose. 

That way you can decide which airport is best for your trip to Costa Rica!

Where Are the Costa Rica International Airports Located?

costa rica airports maps

We created a little Costa Rica airport map for you so you can see exactly where each Costa Rica international airport is located.

Liberia Airport Location

The Liberia airport is located on the outskirts of the city of Liberia in Guanacaste Province. 

From here it is just a short drive to explore the Guanacaste beach towns of Papagayo, Playa Hermosa, Playas del Coco, Las Catalinas, Playa Flamingo, and Tamarindo. 

You can also fairly easily get up to Nicaragua, visit Rincon de la Vieja, and go to La Fortuna or Monteverde.

San Jose Airport Location

The San Jose Airport is located on the outskirts of San Jose (the capital city of Costa Rica). The airport is actually technically in Alajuela (the small city directly to the west of San Jose. 

From here, it is possible to drive to the Central Pacific Coast in about two hours, the Caribbean coast in three hours, and La Fortuna or Monteverde in about three hours. 

San Jose International Airport Details

san jose costa rica airport view

The Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose is often considered the main airport in Costa Rica. It is the largest airport in Costa Rica and is located next to the capital city.

Full Name and Airport Code

Full Name: Juan Santamaria International Airport 

Airport Code: SJO

Airlines that fly into San Jose Costa Rica

Aeromexico, American Airlines, Air Canada, Air France, Air Panama, Air Transat, Alaska, Avianca, Aeromexico, British Airways, Condor, Copa Airlines, Cubana, Delta Airlines, Edelweiss, IBERIA, Interjet, LATAM, Lufthansa, KLM, Jet Blue, Southwest, Spirit Airlines, US Airways, United Airlines, Volaris, WestJet

Ground Transportation to and from San Jose Airport

There are a few different options for ground transportation from the San Jose airport.

Hotel Shuttle

If you are staying at a hotel nearby you should check if they offer a free shuttle service to and from the airport. 

Rental Car

If you rent a car, a representative from your rental car company will be waiting for you outside of the arrival area. They will take you by shuttle to their rental car office. It’s about a five-minute drive.

We suggest our favorite local rental company called Adobe-Rent-a-Car. They have given us a 10% discount plus other great perks to pass on to you.

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Costa Rica Airports: Which Is Better, San Jose or Liberia?

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Shared Shuttle

If you would like to take a shared shuttle to your destination, that is always an option as well. We suggest this for a couple or solo traveler that doesn’t need an entire shuttle for themselves.

We like the website Bookaway for finding the most complete selection of Costa Rica shuttles.

Public Bus

There are public buses that go from the airport to the city of San Jose. To get to the public bus stop you just need to walk out to the main road. You will see a bus stop.

Just ask before getting on a bus. The buses can be completely confusing here.

Taxi

If you need a taxi, just make sure you take an official taxi. We have a complete guide to taxis to help you out.

Pros of the San Jose Airport

San Jose is a great jumping-off point for the entire country. The city is very centrally located in the Central Valley. 

– This is the main international airport in the country and flights tend to be cheaper to the San Jose Airport.

Cons of the San Jose Airport

– The traffic around the airport can be a nightmare, especially during rush hour.

– It is sometimes a good idea to spend a night here after arriving or before departing. If that is your situation, you won’t have that many options for fun nearby activities that are easy to get to in this area.  

– If you plan to mostly visit the northwest part of the country the drive is a lot longer in comparison with Liberia Airport.

Things to Note About the San Jose Airport

– The airport is actually located closer to the city of Alajuela. When looking for great hotels near San Jose Airport in Costa Rica we strongly suggest staying in downtown Alajuela rather than San Jose.

This will make it much easier for you to avoid the traffic. This especially applies if you have an early morning flight. Rush hour is nuts!

To find the perfect place to stay check out our guide to our favorite San Jose Airports hotels for all budgets.

-If you are switching to any domestic flights from the San Jose airport you will need to go to the domestic terminal after going through border control and getting your luggage. The domestic terminal is located to the left of the main terminal when you exit the airport. You will have to walk down the road for about 2 minutes, but there are sidewalks.

– When you look for a flight make sure you look at San Jose, Costa Rica. The Costa Rica airport code is SJO and the official name is Juan Santamaria International Airport. I’m not kidding but we have heard so many stories about people accidentally booking flights to San Jose California instead of Costa Rica haha!

– If you plan on renting a car we suggest renting with Adobe from the airport. We have a 10% discount with them plus some other great perks. You can grab your discount here. ↓

↪FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

For more tips on the San Jose Airport please check out our complete San Jose International Airport Guide

Liberia Airport

liberia airport taxi

The Liberia Costa Rica airport is located in Guanacaste near the border of Nicaragua. This is a smaller airport than the San Jose airport, but many international flights arrive here every day.

Full Name and Airport Code

The airport is called Guanacaste Airport. The airport code is LIR.  

Note: the airport was previously called Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (named after a former Costa Rican president). So, if you see that name somewhere, it means Guanacaste Airport in Liberia.

Airlines that fly into Liberia Costa Rica

Air Canada, American Airlines, Copa Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Jetblue, KLM, Taca, United, US Airways, West Jet

Ground Transportation to and from Liberia International Airport

Taxi

For taxis, we suggest our favorite family of registered taxi drivers. You can get a price quote from them here.

Car Rental

If you opt to rent a car, your rental car shuttle will be waiting outside the airport to take you to their office. It is about a 5-minute drive.

Check out our guide to renting a car from Liberia Airport for more info

↪FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

Hotel Shuttle

Some hotels nearby will offer a free shuttle service. Check in with your hotel to see if they offer this service.

Shared Shuttle

If you would like to take a shared shuttle to your destination, that is always an option as well. We suggest this for a couple or solo traveler who doesn’t need an entire shuttle for themselves.

We like the website Bookaway for finding the most complete selection of Costa Rica shuttles.

Nearby Airport Hotels

Our top choice for a nearby airport hotel is the Hilton Garden Inn.

If you have an early morning flight or get in late in the evening we suggest staying at this hotel, located directly across the street from the airport. There is a free shuttle that runs between the hotel and the airport. 

Book Your Stay at Hilton Garden Inn

Pros of the Liberia Airport

– Liberia is a great jumping-off point for exploring the Guanacaste beaches (Playas del Coco, Tamarindo, Nosara, Samara), La Fortuna, or Monteverde. It is also a great jumping-off point if you would like to go up to Nicaragua. From the airport, it will take you a little over one hour to get to the border.

– The Liberia Airport tends to be less crowded than the San Jose Airport. That means that typically you won’t have to wait long in the Customs line when entering the country.

Cons of the Liberia Airport

– If you would like to visit the Caribbean coast or the Southern Pacific part of the country (the Osa Peninsula) you are looking at a really long drive.

– If you are coming from Europe your options are usually limited for flights to Liberia. Often you will have to fly over North America before flying here.

We get it, flying over the US is a total pain if you have to get a Schengen visa just for connecting through the US.

KLM flies here though from Amsterdam. It is a bit of a weird flight because the plane stops in both San Jose and Liberia, but it has been a pleasant flight every time we have done it.

Things to Note About the Liberia Airport

– If you plan to spend your first or last night near the airport we suggest checking out places to stay in the nearby beach town of Playa Hermosa. This town is located about 20 minutes from the airport.

Check out our complete guide to Liberia Airport for more details

Our Experience at the Costa Rica Airports

san jose departures gate

We live in San Jose so it typically doesn’t sense for us to fly in or out of Liberia Airport. I actually really like flying from San Jose (possibly because I am there at least once every few months).

It is small but it has everything you could need (including free coffee and chocolate samples at the big gift shop). The downfall is definitely the traffic in that area.

For someone who has actually experienced both airports, multiple times I turned to my mom (she likes to come visit us in Costa Rica).

Her response was that she would choose Liberia over San Jose every time. She said the experience is always much smoother and the lack of traffic nearby made it a completely different and actually pleasant experience.

Our Tips for Costa Rica Airports

Costa Rica Airports: Which Is Better, San Jose or Liberia?

– It is not a bad idea to think about flying into San Jose and out of Liberia or vice versa. You can then set your trip plan up accordingly so you won’t have to make a long drive back to the airport at the end of your trip.

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For example, for a one-week trip, you could fly into San Jose, visit La Fortuna, and then make your way over to the Playas del Coco area. You could then fly out of the Liberia airport.

We like to use Skyscanner for this. Just use the “Multi-City” search feature to fly in and out of two different airports.

– If you opt to fly in and out of two different airports you can always rent your car in one location and drop it off in another. Adobe has offices throughout the country to make this possible.

– If you need some tips for booking affordable flights check out our complete guide to how we get the best deals while flying in and out of Costa Rica

– Costa Rica also has domestic airports. This is a good option if you want to get to your destination quickly. Check out our guide to domestic airports in Costa Rica for more info. 

Conclusion: Costa Rica Airports

In conclusion, you really can’t go wrong with either airport. I think it is best to make your decision based on which areas of the country you would like to visit.

If you need any other tips about flying in and out of Costa Rica just let us know in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

Also, let us know what your experience was with either airport.

You Might Also Like:

Complete Guide to Landing an Departing for Liberia Airport – This will give you all the details you need to know about the airport

Guide to the 27 Best Liberia Airport Hotels – This will give you all the details you need on where to spend the night after you arrive in Costa Rica or before you fly out of the country

Guide to the Best San Jose Airport Hotels: This will give you all the details you need on where to spend the night after you arrive in Costa Rica or before you fly out of the country

Cheap Flights to Costa Rica: Get the Best Deals

Renting a Car from Liberia Airport: What You Can Expect

San Jose Costa Rica Airport (SJO) Arrival and Departure Guide

Costa Rica Domestic Airlines – Find a Flight

Costa Rica Transportation Guide – How to get around the country with ease

Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

๐Ÿš— Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

๐Ÿ„๐Ÿฝ How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

๐Ÿ I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

โœˆ๏ธ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

๐Ÿ›๏ธ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธWhat is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

๐Ÿ’ฐ What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colรณn (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

๐Ÿ“ž What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

๐ŸŒด Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

๐Ÿ›‚ Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

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