Flying to Costa Rica: Liberia vs San Jose Airport
Which Costa Rica Airport is the Best to Fly Into
In Costa Rica, there are two main international airports to choose from: San Jose (SJO) and Liberia (LIR). We recommend selecting the one that best suits your budget and geographical needs based on what area you plan to spend most of your time. Since these two airports are located far from each other and offer different benefits for travelers, here is a quick breakdown to help you decide which one you should use when flying into Costa Rica.
If you are trying to get to Corky Carroll’s Costa Rica Surf Resort Liberia International Airport will be closer than San Jose International Airport. Read below for details on travel times to and from the resort.
Here are the two main airports and the difference between locations.
Liberia International Airport
Located in northern Costa Rica within the Guanacaste Province and near the Pacific Ocean is Liberia International Airport. (Also known as Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport.)
“LIR” is the second main international airport in Costa Rica. It is situated right next to Liberia City. Just over an hours drive from some of the most picturesque and popular beaches in the country, Liberia is an excellent choice for those looking to soak up the sun with perfect surf breaks and miles of soft sand.
Over the past 10 years, the Guanacaste region has grown to be a top tourist destination for travelers visiting the scenic and less crowded Northwestern coastline of Costa Rica’s Pacific Ocean. This is where you’ll find some of the best all-inclusive resorts, laid-back boutique hotels, and affordable surf hostels that Costa Rica has to offer, along with biodiverse national parks and watersports. It’s also the closest and most convenient airport for guests staying at our privately-owned surf ranch in Nosara, as the drive takes around 2.5 hours (compared to 5-6 hours if transferring to/from San Jose).
It’s worth mentioning that this airport recently underwent major renovations and improvements in 2012 and 2018 to make traveling even easier. And unlike the rough unpaved roads around San Jose, the well paved roads near Liberia make for a smoother ride with less traffic. If you’re headed to Guanacaste for the beaches, resorts, mountain corridor, or Nicoya Peninsula, the Liberia International Airport is the one to consider.
Liberia is the Best Choice For:
- Beaches & Surfing
- La Fortuna
- Playa Conchal
- Playa Hermosa
- BoardMembers Surf Ranch – Nosara
- Four Seasons Resort
- The Hilton
- The Westin Golf Resort – Playa Conchal
San Jose International Airport
Centrally located near Costa Rica’s bustling capital city of San Jose is SJO, the prime airport for tourists visiting the Central and Southwest regions of the country. It’s full official name is the Juan Santamaría International Airport.
This airport provides easy access to nature, local culture, and beaches set on the south end of Costa Rica’s Pacific Ocean. It’s also about 30 mins away from a variety of accommodations from budget-friendly hostels to high-end resorts.
If you’re flying on a budget, you might want to consider SJO as an alternative to the smaller and sometimes pricier LIR airport mentioned above. Flights can be $300+ cheaper than flying into Liberia. But the price of cheaper flights is often times offset by the high cost of local transportation like bus or taxi transfers to and from the area, which can cost upwards of $200+ per ride.
If you are staying closer to Liberia or Nosara, it will take 4-6 hours of riding on busses or driving on hectic, high-traffic, rough roads to reach your destination from San Jose. SJO is also a 5 hour drive from our surf resort; nearly twice the distance as Liberia airport.
San Jose International Airport could be the better option for those on a tight budget and have extra time to spare getting around.
San Jose is the Best Choice For:
- Budget-conscious traveling
- Exploring the hub of local culture and city life
- Close to nature & wildlife activities
- Beaches in the South
- Jaco Beach
- La Fortuna (Arenal Volcano)
- Manuel Antonio
- Puerto Viejo
- Punta Arenas
- DoubleTree Resort – Central Pacific
- Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort
- Radisson San Jose
Traveling to Corky Carroll’s Costa Rica Surf Resort
Arrivals into Costa Rica
We provide a complimentary van service to our all-inclusive surf resort in Nosara from both airports, using the transportation service CRIC (Costa Rica International Connections). The drivers speak English and Spanish and will wait for you to arrive, even if flights are delayed. If customs or baggage claim is taking a long time, don’t worry, the driver will wait for you.
As mentioned above, Liberia (LIR) is the closest airport to us. When arriving into Liberia please allow 2-3 hours driving time to get to our resort from the airport.
If you choose to fly into San Jose (SJO), please plan on the ride taking 4-5 hours from the airport to our resort.
Once you arrive at the airport of your choice and gather your bags, you will be greeted outside the airport by one of our drivers holding a sign with our logo and your name on it. Like this:
If you are arriving late into either Liberia or San Jose airport, and plan on staying in a hotel nearby for your first night, we will pick you up at your hotel in the morning. Our driver will be waiting outside your hotel a sign with our logo and your name on it.
Departures from Costa Rica
If you are staying at our resort and your departure flight is out of Liberia, we recommend allowing for three hours travel time to the airport and two hours for flight check-in. If your departure flight is out of San Jose, we recommend planning five hours for travel time and two hours for flight check-in.
Once you have booked your flights, we handle the rest. We provide transportation to and from the airport, so you can start you vacation the second you step off the plane. Best of all if you arrive early enough, we’ll have you out in the water surfing before the sun goes down. For more transportation information check out our surf resort FAQs page.
If you’re still unsure which Costa Rica airport is best to fly into, the two most important factors to keep in mind are time and budget.
Liberia is closer to some of the best surfing beaches in the country but flights can be more expensive. San Jose is closer to nature activities and the hustle and bustle of the capital city with generally cheaper flights, but has more expensive local transportation.
Regardless of which airport you choose, you’re bound to fall in love with everything the spectacular country of Costa Rica has to offer. We’ll see in you in paradise!
Norman Mineta is the name of the San Jose airport in California.
Thanks Paul for catching that. We corrected the name.
Are there casinos in Costa Rico?
Yes there are. A majority are found around San Jose. There are some found within Guanacaste as well.