ACAR Guide to SJO

San Jose’s Juan Santamaria Airport

Juan Santamaria International Airport is Costa Rica’s first and largest airport and located in Alajuela 20 km west of downtown San Jose Airport.  It was named after a drummer boy who died defending Costa Rica against US led forces captained by William Walker.  It has been open since 1958 and an average of 4.5 million people pass through this busy Central American hub equivalent to San Francisco International Airport.
The airport hosts two terminals, the international terminal with Avianca group and Copa being its largest residents and the domestic airlines consisting of Nature Air and Sansa.


If you have some time to kill between or before flights why not take advantage of some the airports services. Relax in one of the waiting areas and enjoy some free Wi-Fi which can be accessed for free throughout airport at “CR_Airport_Free” or “CR-Airport-Free”.  Get that last-minute gift or souvenir in one of the six Duty Free shops throughout the airport.
VIP Lounges belong to the two largest carriers:
• VIP Juan Santamaria can be found at Gate 12 in the secured area and entry can be had for $30 (includes a panini and two drinks). Open from 5am to 8pm.
• Copa Club can be found at gate 5 in the upper level with an entry fee of $28 and open from 4:30am to 8:00pm.

Money Exchange

ATMs are located throughout the main lobby in the baggage claim area between Gates 2 and 4. There is also a BAC branch where you can withdraw in colones, dollars or Euros.

Currency Exchange

Global Exchange has five locations in the airport lobby, baggage claim, between carousel two and five and customs at gate 9.  Be aware that the official exchange counter does not offer the best rates of exchange.


After landing you will proceed to immigration to process your passport which takes about 20 minute or so. Avoid mid-day arrivals where the process can take an hour or more.  Next stop is to baggage claim where there is usually a 10 to 15 minute wait for your bags.  Then it is off to inspections which works on a system of red and green lights to indicate whether your bags will be checked or not.  The whole process can take as little as 30 minutes or up to an hour and a half depending on your arrival time and airport traffic.
Keep in mind when leaving the country that there is a new restriction of liquids now in place.  Any gels or liquids more than 3.4 oz or 100ml will not be allowed inside the boarding lounge.  Exceptions are baby food, medicine and mother’s milk.
The Exit Tax is now included in the purchase of many flight tickets now.  American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Untied Airlines, Southwest, grupo Avianca, Air Cannada, Air Mexico, and Air panama all follow this practice. So be sure to ask your carrier! This saves time on check in on the way home!


Once you have your bags it’s time to get started on your vacation and there are many options available to every traveler. Most likely, you will have pre-booked a car rental with one of the airports resident car agencies, but if not you can still rent a car hassle free. They are located onsite on the main passenger terminal just past customs. Once you book a reservation within the agency you will be escorted to the car rental court located just outside the airport. Alamo/National, Budget, Dollar, Economy and Hertz all have offices in the airport, and the car rental agencies offer a shuttle service to their offices to their customers.


There are other transportation services available. Upon exiting the terminal there are taxis ready and waiting to whisk you to your next destination.Licensed taxis which are red and with yellow triangles on the doors or the orange taxis of Taxi Unidos offer service 24 hours.


The airport bus stand is located less than one block from airport terminal exit. Downtown Alajuela (15 minutes), Downtown San Jose(35 muntes), Downtown Heredia(40 minutes).


Airport Shuttles offer service from Airport to destinations outside of San Jose like Jaco, Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, Manuel Antonio and many more.

Closest Hotels

Arriving late? If you are in need of a close overnight stay try one of these three hotels. All offer free 24 hour shuttle service to and from the Airport.
Hampton Inn and Suites by Hilton is 2 minutes from airport
This 100 room hotel is 2 minutes from the airport. Outdoor, swimming pool, fitness center, Free Wifi and breakfast included.

Holiday Inn Express (1 mile from airport)
offers foreign currency exchange, mobile phone rental, free local calls, High- Speed WiFi , outdoor pool , breakfast included.

Courtyard by Marriott only a 5 minute ride from airport and offers property wide high speed WiFi, fitness center, outdoor pool, and onsite restaurant.

Start and finish your Costa Rican trip well with a clear understanding of how the airport works.