San José International Airport, Alajuela

A Visitor's Guide to the San José International Airport, Costa Rica

The San José International Airport, Costa Rica also known as the Juan Santamaría International Airport of just the San José Airport, is the main airport serving Costa Rica and San José, the country’s capital city. When traveling to the country, arriving by plane is often the most convenient form of travel and SJO is your most likely point of entry.

For travelers looking to explore anywhere from the Central Pacific Coast to Monteverde and down to Costa Rica’s Central American neighbor to the south, Panama, including the entire Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, the San José International Airport is the perfect arrival (or departure) point for your trip!

The airport, while named the San José International Airport and located just outside Downtown San José, is actually located in the Alajuela province of Costa Rica. It’s central location makes it a great arrival point for those planning on visiting the provinces of Alajuela and San José as well as Cartago, Limón and Puntarenas.

There are two terminals at the San José International Airport. The main international terminal services flights in and out of Costa Rica.

The domestic terminal offers many convenient domestic flights to other regional airports such as the Guanacaste Airport (previously known as the Liberia International Airport (LIR) and Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport). These airports are generally smaller but will get you quickly throughout the country and closer to your final destination.

The check-in desks are on the right side of the ground floor in the main terminal, while security sits directly across.

For those locations inaccessible by a direct flight, it's possible to rent a car at the airport and drive it to your final destination. Or you can also choose a shared shuttle, bus or taxi.

Remote areas can be reached from the Juan Santamaría Airport in about 45 minutes to an hour’s drive. The airport is also very close to several popular and beautiful beach cities. In less than two hours, you can be checked-in at a number of beach hotels, including the Fiesta Resort Central Pacific All Inclusive at El Roble and Los Sueños Marriott at Playa Herradura as well as any of the hotels in Jacó.

The airport isn't just a building with a landing strip where passengers rush to their boarding gate at Terminal A or Terminal B to catch their next flight out. It is also a place travelers can make themselves at home while passing through with time to relax, unwind, shop and eat. Whether you're a passenger waiting to catch your flight, or you have an extended layover, there's also plenty for you to do while at the San José International Airport.

The property has a modern feel and offers free Wifi . There are shops and restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat while you wait. For travelers that are in a hurry, there are also several fast food restaurants that prepare food to be taken on-the-go.

If you're a coffee-lover, you have to make sure you check out one of the Café Britt shops, one of the largest coffee producers in Costa Rica. The airport shops sell coffee and other souvenirs you "forgot" to buy while you were on your vacation.

Be on the lookout for shops that offer free coffee samples and chocolates. Don't forget to grab a few last-minute souvenirs to bring back home with you to share a little piece of Costa Rica.

Beyond the shops and food options, the San José Airport even has a massage parlor. You can't get much better than that!

Things to Do At and Around the San José International Airport

San José Airport is full of rich history and recent updates, offering plenty of places to explore and things to do. It was the first Costa Rican airport to convert its runway that was once made of grass into asphalt, inaugurated in July of 1955.

Today, the San José International Airport (Juan Santamaría) is run by AERIS Holding Costa Rica SA. The company was awarded a 20-year contract to handle the administration and maintenance of the large airport, including the overall care of the many shops, businesses and eateries located on the premises.

As the primary hub of Costa Rica, the Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is located approximately 1.6 km (1 mile) away from the city of Alajuela and 20 to 30 minutes outside of Downtown San José. Travelers can easily reach the major accommodation sites such as the hotels of the San José area in under 30 minutes, depending on traffic and road conditions.

Whether at the airport itself or looking to explore what’s nearby, there are many options for things to do at and around the SJO airport.

San José Airport Food, Shopping, and Other Services

Throughout the airport, passengers will find shops and places to grab a bite to eat or have a sit down meal. If you're looking to shop, there are a few artisans souvenir shops, two Britt Café shops, and even a VIP and Star Alliance Lounge complete with a spa.

Destinations Near the San José International Airport

Beyond the onsite offerings, the areas around the airport leave a lot to explore!

Being in such close proximity to nearby cities and towns, you’ll have many activities to choose from, and you won't have to venture too far from the airport to find them.

Britt Coffee Tour - Heredia 8.7km (5.4 mi)

Since 1991, the Britt Coffee Tour successfully enlightened and amused approximately 1 million visitors and coffee connoisseurs from all over the globe. The professionals will take you on a fascinating tour through the art of a great cup of coffee.

Learn about the rich history of coffee and the technique that turns a red coffee blossom into a delightful morning beverage. This fantastic tour and location is located in Heredia, about 25 minutes from SJO.

Juan Santamaría Historical Cultural Museum - Alajuela 2.4km (1.5 mi)

The Juan Santamaría Historical Cultural Museum houses historical and art displays as well as a library, bookshop, café, and theater where cultural events are held.

The museum is a nationwide organization dedicated to acquiring, preserving, researching, and disseminating cultural assets linked to the National Campaign and the Alajuela region and well worth a visit if you are interested in history.

Yoga Massage Therapy - San Pedro 11.4 km (7.1 mi)

Yoga Massage Therapy combines asanas, palming, gentle twisting, and stretching to help you recover and relax. It's perfect for anyone who's arrived on a long-haul flight or finishing their Costa Rican Vacation.

Best Places to Stay Near the SJO Airport

There are some excellent hotel accommodations near the SJO airport. Many of the hotels offer convenient airport shuttle services as a nice bonus when you arrive or are departing from paradise.

Courtyard By Marriott San José Airport – Alajuela

The Courtyard By Marriott is a convenient option for travelers arriving or departing Costa Rica, with complimentary transportation to and from the airport.

The location is also surrounded by various dining options presenting a range of international cuisines. If you’d rather stay on property, the hotels’ in house Centro bar and restaurant provides a relaxing ambiance with delicious food and a nice selection of refreshments.

Hampton Inn & Suites By Hilton San José Airport

Travelers will appreciate the convenience of staying at this hotel, which includes a direct shuttle service to and from the closest airport, SJO.

The hotel features an onsite restaurant and bar with other dining options within a short distance from the hotel.

The rooms are modern and updated with comfortable beds offered in a variety of configurations.

Holiday Inn Express San José Costa Rica Airport

The Holiday Inn Express San José Costa Rica Airport is less than 1 km from the airport and offers a free 24-hour shuttle service, as well as an outdoor pool, gym, and free Wi-Fi.

The rooms are bright and airy, making your stay that much more comfortable.

Xandari Resort Hotel & Spa

Xandari Resort Hotel & Spa offers magnificent mountain panoramas and 4.0 km (2.5 miles) of nature pathways, a spa, yoga sessions, outdoor pools, and hot tubs. This environmentally friendly hotel features free Wi-Fi and farms its own organic produce!

Xandari Resort & Spa offers oversized suites with abundant natural light that include a primitive and vibrant design. The property features a restaurant and bar that serves domestic and international cuisine.

Room service is also available for a quick bite, snack or evening meal upon request.

Country Inn & Suites By Radisson, San José Airport

The Country Inn & Suites By Radisson, San José Airport has two luxury swimming pools, a workout facility, and a souvenir store, as well as free Wi-Fi. Mambi Restaurant serves on-site cuisine to hotel guests.

The hotel is about 10 minutes away from Pueblo Antiguo and the Café Britt coffee plantation, while the Poas Volcano is approximately a 40-minute drive from the hotel.

Hilton Cariari Doubletree San José

Hilton Cariari Doubletree San José features an outdoor pool encircled by gardens, a casino, as well as a hair salon.

The foyer has a stunning chandelier and marble floors that are fit for a 5-star hotel. The property offers outstanding services, a workout facility, a souvenir shop with handmade items and mementos, and an ATM to get cash when you arrive.

Downtown San José is a 15-minute drive away, while the airport is just a 5-minute trip.

Renting a Car at the San José International Airport & Alternate Transportation Options

Renting a car in a foreign country can be very intimidating, but it's easier than one would expect.

To make sure your experience isn’t stressful, it’s best to know a few of the basic rules about renting a car in Costa Rica and from the San José International Airport (Juan Santamaría) before you arrive.

The Costa Rican Government Requires You To Purchase Insurance

When you rent a car in Costa Rica, it is mandatory per the government that you purchase insurance for your car rental through the agency you're renting from. This additional cost may not be reflected in the quoted price you find in advance or online.

You can contact the rental agency before your trip to ask how much the total cost will be, including insurance, so that you are best prepared for your vacation without any unexpected charges.

Rental Agreements

Always read the fine print on the rental car agreement. It usually states that any damage sustained by standing water, rivers, off-roading, or driving along beaches makes you automatically responsible personally.

The contracts in Costa Rica will also usually state that you agree that you will stick to paved and labeled routes and highways.

SUVS are Best for Driving from SJO

SUVs are the best choice of offered as they have a strong suspension system and larger tires, perfect for the varying road conditions throughout Costa Rica.

Getting To and From the San José International Airport (Alternative Transport)

Sometimes it’s not feasible to rent a car. SJO has plenty of other alternative airport transportation options to get you to where you are going.

Bus

If you choose not to rent a car, you can take a bus from SJO to San José; the travel time is about a 30-minute trip, give or take. The bus runs every day of the week; however, the weekend schedule may vary, so you should check the times and dates before your trip.

Taxi

If you're staying near the airport, an option would be to take a taxi. You will find various taxi companies at the airport, or you can book one online or by phone before your arrival. Most allow up to three bags per person, maxing out at four passengers' total. However, make sure you only ride in licensed taxis.

Shuttle

Shuttles are available to transport you as well! Shuttle buses can be booked online before you arrive so that you can meet them at the bus stop when you arrive. Additionally some hotels offer free shuttle services to and from the airport.

Train

Another alternate route is to take the light rail, but since there are no train platforms at the airport, you will need to find a way to get to the city of Alajuela to catch the train to Downtown San José.

Expect the ride to be about an hour as there are frequent stops in between.

Plane

If your destination is further to the west, such as Puerto Jiménez or Tamarindo, and you don't want to rent a car, it may be best to transfer to one of the domestic flights. This is quicker than land travel; however, buses also service that area.

Bonus Information & Tips

Airlines that Service the SJO Airport

Top international airlines arriving at the San José Airport from the United States, Canada and Europe include Delta, American Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska Air, Southwest Airlines, US Airways, Spirit Airlines, British Airways, Avianca, Mexicana, Copa, Air Canada, Air France, Lufthansa, and many more.

You May Have to Pay an Exit Tax

Most of the time when you book a flight, the $29 USD exit tax will be included on the plane ticket; however, that's not always true, especially if you're taking a budget airline or Canadian airline.

When you land, go to the check-in area and look on the billboard to see if you need to pay the exit tax.

Security Can Take Awhile

It's best to get to SJO about 3 hours before your plane departs. Remember, this timeframe is inclusive of the boarding time. Always incorporate travel time to the airport as well.

You can try calling ahead of time to see how busy the airport is, but it has been known to change abruptly and arriving with plenty of time to spare is a best practice.

Licensed & Safe Transportation Options

We recommend using the services of a licensed taxi or shuttle bus service to get to and from the airport. Some locals will sell their services for their personal vehicle but it's best to stick with the professionals.

Sometimes, it's best to book online before arriving or upon arrival to ensure you have licensed, safe and reliable transport.

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Distance: 100 miles / 160 km
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