Essential Information for Booking a Flight to Costa Rica

View out a plane window of the land below and NatureAir written on the propeller housing.
Once you get to Costa Rica, domestic flights like the ones offered by privately-owned Nature Air make it easy to get around. Photo © Sean Hobson/Flickr, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

About 20 international airlines provide regular service to Costa Rica. Most flights land at Juan Santamaría International Airport at Alajuela, 19 kilometers (12 miles) northwest, and 20 minutes by taxi, from San José. An increasing number of flights land at Daniel Oduber International Airport, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) west of Liberia in Guanacaste. Tobías Bolaños Airport, 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) southwest of San José, is for domestic flights only.

Reservations and Fares

To get the cheapest fares, make your reservations as early as possible (several months ahead is ideal), especially during peak season, as flights often sell out. Central American carriers are usually slightly cheaper than their U.S. counterparts but often stop at more cities en route. Low-season and midweek travel is often cheaper, as are stays of more than 30 days. Travel during Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter usually costs more. Buy your return segment before arriving in Costa Rica, as tickets bought in the country are heavily taxed.

Compare restrictions on tickets and check to see what penalties may apply for changes to your ticket. “Open-jaw” tickets permit you to arrive in one city and depart from another; however, they often cost considerably more. Always reconfirm your reservation within 72 hours of your departure—reservations are frequently cancelled if not reconfirmed, especially during December-January holidays. Most airlines have imposed high excess baggage charges, including for surfboards.

You can buy tickets online through Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity, or similar discount travel websites. Compare quotes at different sites, as they vary, even for the same flight. Alternatively, use a Costa Rica travel specialist, such as Tico Travel (U.S. tel. 800/493-8426) or Costa Rica Experts (U.S. tel. 800/827-9046). International specialists in low fares include STA Travel (U.S. tel. 800/781-4040), which has offices worldwide.

Getting to Costa Rica

From the United States

U.S. flights are either direct or have stopovers in Central America. Fares typically range about $400-800 depending on the season and the city of origin. American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300) flies direct to San José daily from Miami, Dallas, and Los Angeles, and to Liberia from Dallas and Miami. Delta (tel. 800/221-1212) flies direct to Liberia and San José daily from Atlanta. JetBlue (tel. 800/539-2583) has daily nonstop service between Orlando and San José. Spirit Air (tel. 800/772-7117) flies to San José from Fort Lauderdale. U.S. Airways (tel. 800/428-4322) has direct flights to San José from Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, and Philadelphia. United (tel. 800/864-8331) flies direct to San José daily from Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, and Washington DC; and to Liberia daily from Houston and weekly from Newark. And Frontier (tel. 800/432-1359) flies between Denver and Liberia. TACA (tel. 800/400-8222), a consortium of Central American carriers, including Costa Rica’s LACSA, offers daily flights from Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City’s JFK, Orlando, and San Francisco. Some flights are nonstop; others make stops in Central America.

Charters are usually priced for stays of one or two weeks; longer stays usually cost considerably more. “Open-jaw” tickets are not usually permitted. Charters have an added disadvantage of often leaving at ungodly hours. Departure dates cannot be changed, and heavy cancellation penalties usually apply. Remember to calculate the cost of any savings for accommodations, airport transfers, meals, and other services that may be included in the cost of an air-hotel package. Apple Vacations (tel. 800/517-2000) and Funjet Vacations (tel. 888/558-6654) offer charter packages.

From Canada

TACA (tel. 800/400-8222) flies between Toronto and San José three times weekly. Air Canada (tel. 888/247-2262) also flies four times weekly from Toronto to San José. Charters may need to be booked through a travel agent. Signature Vacations (tel. 866/324-2883) flies to Liberia once weekly December-April from Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver. Air Transat (tel. 877/872-6728) flies weekly to San José from Toronto and Montreal. Canadian Universities Travel Service (Travel CUTS, tel. 866/246-9762) sells discount airfares and has offices throughout Canada.

From Latin America and the Caribbean

Aeromexico (tel. 800/021-4000) flies between Mexico City and San José daily. TACA (tel. 800/400-8222) serves Costa Rica from all the Central American nations. TACA also flies between Costa Rica and Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Aviateca flies from Colombia; Ladeco links Costa Rica and Chile. American Airlines, Continental, and United Airlines flights all connect Costa Rica with destinations throughout South America. Cubana (tel. 506/2221-7625) and TACA offer regular scheduled service between San José and Havana.

From the United Kingdom

Costa Rica is served by British Airways (tel. 844/493-0787) from London, with fares from about £450. American Airlines, British Airways, Continental, United Airlines, USAirways, and Virgin Atlantic fly from London to Miami or New York, where you can connect with an airline serving Costa Rica. You can also opt to travel via European cities. Typical APEX fares (advance purchase, discounted international fares) between London and Costa Rica begin at about £900 via the United States for stays of less than 30 days. However, you can buy reduced-rate fares on scheduled carriers from “bucket shops” (discount ticket agencies), which advertise in leading magazines and Sunday newspapers. One of the most reputable is Trailfinders (tel. 20/7368-1200), with offices throughout Britain. STA Travel (tel. 333/321-0099), also with offices throughout the United Kingdom, specializes in student fares. And Journey Latin America (tel. 20/3432-9175) specializes in cheap fares and tour packages.

Good online resources for discount tickets include Flightline (tel. 1702/613-988) and CheapFlights; for charter flights, resources include Dial a Flight (tel. 844/811-4444). From Continental Europe Air Berlin (tel. 30/3434-3434) flies between Berlin and Liberia. Air France (tel. 9/69-39-02-15) flies to San José from Paris. From Germany, charter carrier Condor (tel. 180/5-707-202) flies direct from Dusseldorf and Munich in high season. From the Netherlands, Costa Rica is served by KLM (tel. 20/474-7747). JetAir (tel. 70/22-0000) has flights from Brussels. From Russia, Aeroflot (tel. 95/753-5555 in Moscow, tel. 812/118-5555 in St. Petersburg) flies between Moscow and San José via Miami. From Spain, Costa Rica is served by Iberia (tel. 902/400-500) direct from Madrid from about €988 in high season.

From Australia and New Zealand

The best bet is to fly either to Los Angeles or San Francisco and then to Costa Rica. Air New Zealand (in Australia tel. 132-476, in New Zealand tel. 800/737-000), Qantas (tel. 131-313, in New Zealand tel. 800/808-767), and United Airlines (tel. 131-777, in New Zealand tel. 800/747-400) offer direct service among Australia, New Zealand, and North America. Round-trip fares from Sydney to Los Angeles typically begin at around US$970. A route via Buenos Aires or Santiago de Chile and then to Costa Rica is also possible. Specialists in discount fares include STA Travel (in Sydney, tel. 134-782, in Auckland tel. 800/474-400), which has offices throughout Australia and New Zealand. A good online resource for discount airfares is Flight Centre (tel. 133-133).

From Asia

Asian travelers fly via Europe or the United States. Flying nonstop to Los Angeles is perhaps the easiest route. Alternatively, fly United or Malaysia Airlines to Mexico City. From Macau, you can fly with Iberia nonstop to Madrid and then on to Costa Rica. STA Travel is a good resource for tickets and has branches throughout Asia.

Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.