Where Do I Go, SJO or LIR...


For those who are not travel savvy, SJO and LIR are the airport call signs for Costa Rica's two international airports.  Now the big question is, which one do I fly to?  After reading this article, your decision may be a bit easier.

Over the last year or so you have read a lot, watched a ton of videos (hopefully mine) and you have come to the conclusion you want to visit Costa Rica and see for yourselves if moving to a foreign country maybe right for you. You've heard things about life in the Central Valley, the beaches of Guanacaste, the Southern Zone or maybe even the Caribbean.  But you are too confused to make any decision.  THAT'S A GOOD THING!  The problem is you only have a week.  Hmmm... maybe you should have asked the boss man for two weeks... eh?

You begin your search for cheap airfares.  Good luck.  Rates lately have been all over the place.  I've seen round trip prices ranging from $300 from Toronto all the way up to $900 from St Louis.  Its not going to be easy to find a good rate but what you will find is that you have two choices of airports in which to arrive... SJO or LIR.  I can tell you, almost without exception, that the fares will be lower if you fly into SJO... BUT it might not be cheaper.  Let me explain.

It all depends on your itinerary.  If your destination involves touring the Central Valley, Central Pacific, Caribbean or the Southern Zone, flying into San Jose would be your overall least expensive method.  However, if your destination will be taking you to the beaches of Guanacaste or Lake Arenal, LIR may be the least expensive, after all things are considered.


This example shows a couple traveling from either St Louis, Dallas or Los Angeles to Costa Rica for the purpose of engaging in a Due Diligence investigative trip.  Their plan involves a potential retirement/relocation to the beaches of Guanacaste. 

The round trip fares are for the week of August 1-7, 2012.  Each example includes a single stop over and change of planes.  The couple has allotted only 7 days for this trip.  Their goal is to learn as much as possible while keeping costs to a minimum.  They start by looking for cheap airfare.  But remember... cheap does not mean least expensive.  Just follow along.

St Louis - SJO $843
St Louis - LIR $876
Dallas to SJO $613
Dallas to LIR $786
Los Angeles to SJO $634
Los Angeles to LIR $807
As you can see, all the fares going into Liberia are higher than those going into San Jose. 

But the question is... are they cheaper?

If your eventual destination is the province of Guanacaste, including the Lake Arenal area, then flying into LIR may be more cost effective.  Here's why.


Day 1:  Travel Day

  • Most of the flights arriving at SJO arrive between 1 and 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

  • You will either take a shuttle bus or rent a car with an average drive time taking 4 hours.

  • It will take you approximately 2 hours or more to retrieve luggage, clear customs and pick up rental car.

  • If you plane lands at 1:30, you may hit the road by 3:30 (at best) with arrival in Guanacaste sometime after 9, leaving time for dinner on the road. 

  • I recommend spending your first night at a hotel near the airport ($120) and have a nice dinner at Denny's ($60).

Day 2: Mostly Travel

  • Drive to Guanacaste and settle in. Your pura vida begins.

Day 3, 4 and 5:

  • Enjoy the area

Day 6 and 7: Travel Days

  • Drive back to SJO.  Check into hotel ($120) and have another nice dinner at Denny's ($60).

  • Fly Home on Day 7 from SJO

Day 1 (August 1):

  • Most of the flights arriving at LIR between Noon and 1:30.

  • Rent a car and drive to your place at the beach.

  • On the beach for sunset - sippin on a refreshing class of wine.

Day 2, 3, 4, 5, 6:

  • Enjoying your time here

Day 7: Travel Day

  • Enjoying your morning with a great walk on the beach.

  • Leave to drop off rental car at noon.

  • Fly home

As this example points out, while the airfare of flying into Liberia may cost you more out of pocket, by the time you factor in all the incidentals and lost time traveling, it may be cheaper to fly into Liberia.

The extra Out Of Pocket Expense alone accounted for $360.  Now factor in lost time on days 1,6 and 7 and you can quickly see, flying into San Jose may not be your most prudent decision.

This is all moot if your destination is someplace other than the Guanacaste, Nicoya, Papagoyo or Arenal areas of Costa Rica.


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