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A Traveler’s Guide to Juan Santamaria International (SJO) Airport’s Terminal Layout and Facilities

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    In this comprehensive guide to navigating Juan Santamaria International Airport in Costa Rica, we delve into the intricate details essential for seamless travel experiences, from arrival to departure and everything in between. With travel in her roots, Andrea understands the world of global airport logistics and travel facilitation like the back of her hand. What she brings to the table is meticulously tested and curated insights to optimize your time at the busy San Jose airport, whether you’re a novice or a seasoned traveler.

    With more than 5.3 million visitors passing through in 2023, Juan Santamaria International Airport is the main airport in Costa Rica. Named after a courageous 20-year-old boy who died torching an enemy fort in 1856, this airport caters to worldwide tourists visiting Costa Rica.

    SJO: Your Gateway to Costa Rica’s San José Juan Santamaría International Airport

    VIP lounge SJO Airport

    “Relaxing and enjoying the VIP lounge before my plane trip, where this airport offers free Wi-Fi, food, and drinks.”

    SJO is the main international airport in the San José area. It handles both domestic and worldwide trips.

    Flying Out of SJO Airport: Connecting Flights and More 

    International airline companies provide connections to cities throughout the Americas like Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Panama City, Mexico City, etc.

    The minimum connecting time at SJO is 90 minutes for domestic and 2 hours for global flights. Stopovers may be shorter depending on the airline you choose.

    The airport has two terminals – International Terminal A is the main terminal, catering to international trips, and Terminal B for domestic trips.

    The domestic airport is good to reach places like Drake Bay, which takes about 50 minutes. Plane fares can range from $130 to $340. Similarly, you can take the 50-minute Sansa domestic plane trip to Puerto Jiménez (PJM) for $140 to $350, the 36-minute to Tamarindo for $131 to $326, or the 50-minute Sansa plane trip to Tortuguero for $130 to $340. Planes to Golfito can take more than 6.5 hours, so taking a bus may be another option.

    Flight Status and Arrivals at the San Juan Intl Airport

    Gather accurate airport information from SJO’s airport guide about plane details and check out arrival and departure timings, postponed and canceled trips.

    A flight tracker app or website can also provide real-time status about your trip.

    Facilities and Services at SJO for Arrival and Departure

    Duty free shop airport

    “I found some great souvenirs and gifts at the duty-free shop and saved some money on taxes.”

    The international and domestic airports both have dining establishments, shops, and ATMs and provide free WiFi service.

    Local and worldwide food outlets like Starbucks are available. The local Café Britt stores or coffee shops are great for coffee. You can also buy their coffee online and pick up your order at the airport.

    Shopping options include souvenirs and local electronic item outlets. ATMs and cash exchange kiosks are placed at pre-security locations and near arrival gates.

    Airline Companies Running from San Juan International Airport

    Airline Companies San Juan International Airport

    “I was impressed by the efficiency and friendliness of the airport staff. They helped me check in, clear security, and board my plane smoothly.”

    Some of the IATA and Star Alliance members are:

    • ARAJET (Dominican Republic)
    • AeroMéxico
    • Air Canada
    • Air France
    • Alaska
    • American Airlines
    • Avianca (Columbia)
    • British Airlines
    • Condor (Germany)
    • Copa Airlines (Panama)
    • Delta (United States)
    • Frontier (United States)
    • Edelweiss (Switzerland)
    • Iberojet (Spanish-Portuguese charter service)
    • Iberia (Spain)
    • Latam (Chile)
    • KLM (Netherlands)
    • JetBlue (United States)
    • Volaris (Mexico)
    • United Airlines (United States)
    • Spirit Airlines (United States)
    • Southwest (United States)
    • Lufthansa (Germany)
    • Wingo (Columbia)

    Cheap Flights to Jose Juan Santa Maria International Airport

    Cheap trips to San José from the UK start at around $530 for a round trip. From the US, one-way trip charges start from around $58 on a JetBlue, United, or Spirit flight. One-way trips from Canada to San José operated by Multiple Airlines and Delta cost less than $200 one way. In November 2022, Frontier Airlines started direct low-cost flights between San José and Atlanta.

    Another popular destination in Costa Rica is Liberia (LIR), the capital and biggest city of the Guanacaste province. Cheap trips from the UK to LIR cost around $750 for a round trip. Trips from the US charge around $80 to LIR and around $165 for cheap trips from Toronto to LIR.

    Ground Transportation from Juan Santamaria Airport

    Transportation SJO Airport

    “Found easy access to the airport using the cab service from downtown San José with the online booking facility. It only cost me around 17 USD and took less than an hour.”

    In addition to renting a car, tourists can also opt for cabs, airport shuttle services, and public buses, which link the airport to different parts of San Jose and other neighboring cities.

    Car Rentals

    Car services from the San Jose Juan Santamaria International Airport (IATA: SJO, ICAO: MROC) start at $12 for a budget mini car and around $600 for a top-end SUV carrying 5 passengers.

    You can even hire a rental car and drive to Tocumen Airport in Panama City.

    Costs can change, so it’s best to visit SJO’s official website for updated information about rental car services and costs.

    Car Service Providers

    • Budget plan/ Apex
    • Alamo.
    • Dollar
    • Economy
    • Enterprise
    • Hertz/ Firefly
    • National
    • Payless
    • Strong/Nu

    The Rental Car Center is directly across Terminal B. Visitors can walk across from the baggage claim to the Rental Car Center. Terminal A passengers can take any Airport blue shuttle bus to this center.

    Rental Car Insurance

    Liability insurance coverage from the INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros) is mandatory for visitors who rent cars and trucks and covers damages or injuries for third-party claims. Costs range between 10 to 20 USD per day depending on the vehicle.

    Accident Damage Waivers (CDW) and Zero Liability policies are optional insurance covers and are designed to decrease your liability in case of theft, road damage, mishap, or vandalism. Insurance costs are from 5 to 20 USD per day for Zero Liability and 15 to 40 USD per day for CDW, depending upon the insurance company you choose and the car you rent.

    Cab Service

    The metered orange Taxi service is available 24 hours a day. Contact authorized taxi personnel at the airport for licensed taxis to any location in Costa Rica.

    Cab service operators include:

    • COOPETRANSTURE
    • Gorilla Taxi Airport
    • Airport Taxi Safe Service (Carbon Neutral)
    • TAXICAB
    • United Taxis
    • Orange Tax

    Shuttle Bus

    If you have not rented a car, several shuttle bus services offer transport to and from the airport, such as Costa Rica Shuttle, Transportation in Costa Rica, and Tropical Tours Shuttles. Choose from personal cars, shared vans, or buses, depending on your budget and choice. These services are normally cheaper than cabs or car and truck rentals. For example, shared shuttle buses to Monteverde take around 1 hour and 42 minutes and charge $54 per person. Private minibuses charge around $220 per trip. Shuttle buses from SJO to the Alajuela Province charge around $12 to $14 and take about 10 minutes.

    Public Bus

    From San Jose Airport to the Costa Rican capital:

    1. Tuasa
    2. Station Wagon Bus Company

    Tuasa buses run every day from 04:30 to 23:00, whereas the Station Wagon buses run 24/7. The journey from the bus stop at the airport to downtown San Jose costs $2 and takes around 35 minutes.

    Trains

    There is no direct train service from the airport. Take a cab or bus to cover the 2.5 Km distance from the airport to the province of Alajuela train station. Cabs charge $7 to $8. The train fare to Atlantic Railroad Station in downtown San José is around $1.5. Trains operate every 30 minutes from Monday to Friday and hourly on Saturdays. There is no train service on Sundays and holidays.

    Best Hotels near the San Juan Airport

    Courtyard by Marriott San Jose Airport Alajuela: This hotel offers free transport from and to the airport. Located in the shopping area of Plaza Los Mangos, the hotel has a gym, outdoor pool, and restaurant for its guests. The cost for two guests starts at $120 per night.

    Hampton by Hilton San Jose Airport: Provides complimentary transport from and to the airport. Located in Rio Segundo, this hotel has an outdoor pool, and gymnasium, and offers a free breakfast buffet. Rate per night starts at $100 for 2 visitors.

    Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen: This high-end resort offers a paid transport service from and to the airport. Placed in what was earlier a coffee plantation, the resort offers a health club, golf course, five restaurants, and two outdoor swimming pools to its guests. Deluxe bedroom prices with a king-size bed and sofa bed start at around $160 per night.

    Things to Do In and Around the San José International Airports

    Tapantí National Park Costa Rica

    “Had some spare time at SJO and hurried to the Tapantí National Park in the Talamanca Mountains. Got a great view of the Irazú volcano.”

    Cartago Province is about 83 Km by vehicle from the airport. It takes approximately an hour to reach Cartago’s Irazú volcano, an active volcano with 5 craters situated at a height of 3.432 meters over sea level. Another site worth visiting is the Tapantí National Park in the Talamanca Mountains to spot capuchin monkeys and rare birds.

    The Poas Volcano National Park is just 40 Km away from the airport. The park is home to one of the biggest and most active volcanoes in Costa Rica with a stunning crater lake. You can also trek, go biking, or go on guided tours around the park to spot wildlife.

    You are just 2.5 miles away from the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, which boasts a collection of over 4,000 artifacts from ancient Egypt, including statues, mummies, jewelry, and sarcophagi. You can also check out the replica of a burial place, a planetarium, and a garden with unique plants.

    If you are looking for some shopping and dining, you can go to the City Mall, which is less than 1 mile from the airport. The shopping mall is the biggest in Central America and has more than 300 shops, a food court, a children’s center, and a movie theater. Shop for gift items, souvenirs, and handicraft items offered by regional and global brands.

    Britt Coffee Tour – Heredia: Learn about the history of Costa Rica coffee and see how it is roasted. The tour costs $22 per head and lasts for about 2 hours including a coffee-tasting session and a visit to their souvenir shop. The trip is available in English and Spanish and needs prior booking.

    Guidelines for International Airport Departures:

    Passengers departing from the San Juan International Airport on worldwide flights have to pay a 29 USD exit tax on leaving the country. A special counter is set up at each of the Costa Rica airports to see if you need help. Airport hotels also handle this for an extra charge.

    You should reach the airport a minimum of 3 hours before your arranged departure time, and 4 hours ahead of time for long transatlantic trips.

    Complete the digital health pass formalities as required by the Ministry of Health 48 hours before the date of departure. The form must be duly filled by every person before boarding the plane.

    FAQs about SJO

    How does SJO compare to other worldwide airports, especially in Central America?

    SJO compare to other worldwide airports

    “I loved the variety of restaurants and cafes at the airport. I had a delicious coffee and a traditional casado for breakfast.”

    According to the World Airport Awards 2023, the Juan Santamaría International Airport was nominated as one of the leading airports for Mexico and Central America. The ranking is based on customer satisfaction studies that measure numerous aspects of the airport experience, such as check-in, facilities, security, dining, shopping, and staff service.

    The San Juan Airport is the second busiest airport in Central America by guest traffic, after the PTY Airport in Panama City. In 2022, the San Juan airport served 4.7 million passengers as compared to 16.8 million passengers served by PTY airport. The San Juan airport serves more destinations in America and Europe than any other airport in the region, with direct trips to Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and France.

    What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of taking a trip through the San José Airport in Costa Rica?

    Benefits:

    – The San José Airport is located in the middle of the country, near both the northern and southern end of the country. This makes it convenient for travelers who wish to check out different areas of Costa Rica.

    – The San José airport is bigger than the LIR (Guanacaste) Airport and has more shopping and dining options including duty-free and retail stores, cafes, restaurants, and lounges at the airport.

    – More airways operate from San José offering more flights than the LIR Airport, and frequently offer less expensive fares.

    – Aeris Costa Rica is the airport operator for the San José airport and offers to work with the Government of Costa Rica (GOCR) to expand the terminal, do runway maintenance, and provide new equipment to manage increased airport traffic. 

    Drawbacks:

    – The San José international airport can have a great deal of flights departing, especially around rush hour. This can trigger delays causing inconvenience to tourists who need to get to or from the airport in time.

    – Expect longer customs and immigration lines in San José than the LIR airport or Limón International Airport, especially during the high tourism months between December and April and weekends as well. This is because the San Juan airport is busier and has more flights than LIR Airport. This can trigger blockages at the luggage claim area. 

    San José is farther from the coastline of Costa Rica than LIR, which means that tourists who wish to enjoy beach time will have to drive longer. The closest beach city, Playa Jaco, is about two hours away from San José.

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