Costa Rica has two international airports. Juan Santamaría (SJO), just outside San José, receives the majority of flights, while Daniel Oduber (LIR), near the northern city of Liberia, handles some flights from the US and Canada, plus the odd seasonal flight from the UK. Although there are a few direct flights from Europe, the vast majority of routes pass through the US, meaning that passengers have to comply with US entry requirements, even if merely transiting the country.
Airfares always depend on the season, with the highest being around July, August and December to mid-January; you’ll get the best prices during the wet summer (May–Nov). Note, too, that although prices are steepest during the Christmas period (mid-Dec until the first week in Jan) when flying from the US, in Europe this can be the cheapest time to travel. Also, flying at weekends is usually more expensive; price ranges quoted below assume midweek travel.
Note that if you leave Costa Rica by air, you’ll need to pay a departure tax at the airport (payable in dollars or colones, in cash or by credit card), which is not included in the price of your air ticket.
From the US and Canada
Daily direct flights depart for San José from numerous cities in the US, including Miami (3hr), Dallas, Houston and Denver (3–4hr), New York (5hr) and Los Angeles (6hr). American Airlines usually offers the cheapest fares from Miami and Dallas, while United’s flights from Houston aren’t far behind. JetBlue and Spirit Airlines run services from Florida. JetBlue also fly from New York to Liberia, while Avianca offers good-value fares from New York to San José (via San Salvador). From LA, the best deals are generally with Avianca.
Air Canada has a few direct flights between San José and Canada, with fares from Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. The airline also has a number of flights via the US, as do American Airlines and Delta, among others.
From the UK and Ireland
There are now direct flights from the UK to Costa Rica: British Airways flies to San José and TUI flies to Liberia. You can sometimes find cheaper fares by flying via Madrid (with Iberia), Paris (with Air France), the US (with American Airlines, Delta, United and US Airways) or Canada (with Air Canada), though this will obviously extend your journey time. Direct flights take around 11 hours and indirect flights can take as little as thirteen hours, including changes.
There are no direct flights from Ireland to Costa Rica. Your best option is to fly via the US or Madrid, where you can connect with flights to San José. Delta has the widest range of flights from Dublin (and several from Shannon) to New York and Atlanta, from where you can get an onward flight to San José, though you’ll probably have to change planes at least once more.
From Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
There are no direct flights from Australia, New Zealand or South Africa to Costa Rica – the quickest and easiest option is to fly via the US. Note that it’s best to book several weeks (or months) ahead.
From Australia, the cheapest fares to San José from Sydney tend to be via Los Angeles with Delta. American Airlines’ fares to San José via LA are usually slightly higher. Fares from all eastern Australian cities are generally the same; fares from Perth and Darwin are a little more.
From New Zealand, the best through-tickets to San José are with Delta, departing from either Auckland or Christchurch and travelling via Sydney, Brisbane and LA.
From South Africa, the least convoluted route to San José is with Delta from Johannesburg via Atlanta.
Overland to Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s international bus company, Tica Bus runs a good overland bus service between Mexico (Tapachula), Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica and south onto Panamá. The service is very popular, and you’ll need to reserve your tickets up to a month in advance in the high season (up to three months in Dec).
Tica Bus has daily (except Good Friday) buses between San José and destinations including Managua, Guatemala City and Panama City. Alternatively, you can also find routes between San José on Managua on TransNica; via Granada on Central Line; and to Panama City on Expreso Panamá.
The main northern border crossing with Nicaragua is at Peñas Blancas on the Interamericana. Further east, you’ll find another crossing at Los Chiles to/from San Carlos on the shores of Lago Nicaragua. The main route south, to and from Panama, is again along the Interamericana, at Paso Canoas. On the Caribbean coast, Sixaola is a smaller crossing, across one of the most decrepit bridges in the world, while in the southern highlands, a little-used route links San Vito with the border town of Río Sereno .