Small but clean and efficient, the Juan Santamaria International Airport makes for smooth arrival and departure. The majority of travelers coming to Costa Rica use this airport so it can get busy, and there will likely be a line at immigration when you arrive. There are not many standout shops or amenities, but service is smooth, signage is clear, the facilities are well-kept, and Wi-Fi is free. Traffic to and from the airport is often heavy, so plan accordingly and allow ample time. Need some inspiration for how to spend your time in Costa Rica’s capital? Check out our article on 48 hours in San José.
Juan Santamaria International Airport Code, Location, and Contact
Know Before You Go
The Juan Santamaria International Airport is a well-oiled machine: simple, clean, safe, and efficient with necessary services and a handful of shops and eateries. There is just one terminal with 20 gates, so it is easy and straightforward to navigate. Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination, so don’t be surprised to find a long line at immigration on arrival, and be prepared to give the name and address of the accommodations you’ll be staying at. There is an exit tax of $29. Many airlines now include this in the cost of your flights. If the charge was not included in your airfare, you must pay at the airport before you leave. When you enter the departures area of the airport, the exit tax counter is on the right side, opposite the United check-in desks. The counter is open every day from 4 a.m. Pay your fee in cash (colones or dollars are accepted) or with a credit or debit card.
There is 24-hour parking next to the terminal, within just a few minutes’ walking distance. It’s only two levels: lower for arriving passengers and upper for departing. There are ramps, an elevator, and escalators for passengers with reduced mobility. Pay your ticket before you get in your car to leave; you cannot pay it at the exit. Rates are kept up-to-date on the airport website and are currently $2.48 per hour, $35 per day, and $200 per week as of Dec. 2019.
The airport is located in Alajuela, about 12 miles from downtown San José. Although it’s not a considerable distance from the city center, traffic in San José can be extremely heavy, so it’s always best to give yourself ample time. From downtown, you’ll take Route 2 to Route 1/the Pan American Highway and then follow signs for the airport.
Public Transportation and Taxis
San José does not have a subway system and while there are public buses, they can be quite crowded so it’s best to book a transfer, take a taxi, or rent a car.
When you exit the airport on arrival, there will be a crowd of drivers and guides waiting just outside the door. It’s recommended to book your airport transfer ahead of time to avoid any potential scammers. Ask your hotel in advance if they have an airport shuttle. If you booked through a tour operator, they will typically arrange your airport pickup, but be sure to confirm and request the driver’s name and number in advance. If you do take a taxi, be sure it’s a registered one that you can find as you exit the airport; they are orange, labeled with a number and company logo, and use a proper meter.
Where to Eat and Drink
You won’t find much in the way of gourmet; it’s mostly fast food and beer here. Dining options are limited and overpriced but if you need something in a pinch there’s a small food court that includes Smashburger, Cinnabon, and Quizno’s across from Gate 5. Restaurate Malinche near Gate 10 serves Costa Rican fare but temper your expectations; it won’t likely be as good as the food you’ve eaten at sodas (small, local-style restaurants) around the country or at any of the best restaurants in San José. If you’re short on time, you can grab something to go from 45°Gastropub’s Kiosko near Gate 10 or Quizno’s to Go across from Gate 4. But if you’ve got time to kill and want to sample some rum, head for Ron Centenario Bar & Café at Gate 11.
Where to Shop
The majority of shops here are for souvenirs. While it’s best to purchase gifts from local vendors during your trip rather than at the airport, if you do need to pick up a few things, you can find some handcrafted items at shops such as Colibri (near Gate 5) and Coope MiPymes (near Gate 2). SJO’s duty-free stores, where you can purchase products such as spirits, coffee, and perfumes, have a do-good attitude: a percentage of sales lend support to people in poverty in Costa Rica. Look for the “Do Good Shopping” signs.
There is a Copa Club located on the lower level, accessible via stairs or elevator across from gate 5. Copa Club and Star Alliance Gold members can enter free of charge. The space is small and amenities are limited; there are typically drinks and a few snacks and fruit available.
Star Alliance Business Class passengers, American Express Cardomatic cardholders, and exclusive passengers of Taca, Iberia can enjoy beverages and snacks at VIP Santamaria lounge, next to Gate 5. Other travelers can access this lounge for $28. Both are open from 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
There’s free WiFi throughout the terminal through the Free SJO WiFi by Samsung network. Premium WiFi is also available for purchase.