You take a deep breath and you feel your pulse racing with excitement. You just booked your Costa Rica vacation rental. Congratulations! You’re stoked and walk proud for the sweet deal you got for your family. This Costa Rica family vacation is going to be the best vacation yet!
What will you do about your flights? When is the best time to arrive? Where do you pick up your rental car or private shuttle? No worries. I’ll help you figure out best arrival times and how to get around the airport in San Jose. The San Jose (SJO) airport is actually in Alajuela. Did you know that?
Now Arriving, Costa Rica
You’ve probably already searched every travel site on the Internet to find the best Costa Rica flight deals. There are a ton of them out there and now is a great time to book. It’s important to consider your arrival and departure times. It depends on where your Costa Rica vacation villa is located. You may have to leave at the crack of dawn to arrive at the airport in time for your departure flight. Many airport services are not open when your flight arrival or departure times are too early or too late.
Earlier Arrival, Later Departure
When guests stay at the Discovery Beach House, we always suggest they arrive early in the morning or midafternoon. Now, I understand sometimes that can be tricky. An early arrival will give you plenty of time to get through customs, grab your baggage, stop at duty-free (save money on much cheaper alcohol), get your rental car or find your private shuttle, arrive at your vacation villa, and still have some of your first day to enjoy.
My strategy is to power through the first day after a red-eye flight, so I don’t feel like I’ve lost an entire day on travel. The key is to get a few hours of sleep, so bring a sleeping mask, ear plugs, or a sleep aid to make that happen.
Try to avoid arrivals or departures at rush hour. There’s nothing worse than being super excited to get to your vacation rental then having to sit in traffic for two hours. If you arrive after sunset (about 5:30 pm), it’ll be dark. It isn’t easy driving around an unfamiliar country during the day, let alone at night. If you’re in a private shuttle, you’ll miss the beautiful scenery on the way to your destination. The best strategy is to arrive late morning to midafternoon and depart midafternoon or after rush hour.
Getting Around Costa Rica’s San Jose Airport SJO
You’ve finally landed, now what? San Jose airport (SJO) is very easy to navigate. When you get off the plane, follow the clearly posted signs first to Immigration then to the customs agents. Someone will be there to guide you. You’ll need your passport, so have that handy. There are two lines, one for nationals of Costa Rica and a second for everyone else. Make sure to wait in the right line.
Next in Line
A customs agent will call you to a window. If you’re traveling as a family or couple, you can go to the same window together. If you’re individuals in a group, each person needs to wait until called to a customs agent’s window. The customs agent asks you some questions about your trip or where you will be going. Be patient if the line is long and always be nice no matter how tired you might be. Usually, this line goes quickly and very smoothly. Once you have your passport stamped, it’s time to pick up your luggage.
Where’s My Luggage?
A short walk down a hallway from customs is baggage claim. Like most airports, look for the carousel with your flight number on it and wait for your luggage to come out. There are luggage porters who help you carry your luggage for a tip. If you have a lot of luggage, it’s worth it. Super-secret insider tip (shhh): if you hire a porter it will also streamline your customs experience. Customs agents are reluctant to tear through luggage handled by porters as it may affect their tip. Having a vacation rental home in a foreign country means I often bring back several household items I can get cheaper in the U.S. The porter puts my heavy bags on the conveyor belt, reloads them onto his cart, and wheels the whole shebang outside. This can be a life saver if you’re traveling with family and a wife who likes clothing options, like me.
If you don’t use the services of a luggage porter, there are carts you can use for free. The carts can’t be taken past the luggage scanning machine unless you have a porter. After that you’ll have to carry your luggage. Baggage claim is small and very easy to get around.
We suggest if you want to have any favorite alcohol on hand, you should buy it at duty-free. You can buy alcohol all over Costa Rica but at duty free it’s tax-free and sometimes half the price! Shopping at duty-free will save you at least 13% – 50%.
I prefer the second duty-free shop after baggage claim. The second shop has the same great deals as the first one, but it’s less crowded. The first duty-free shop is normally packed (elbow-to-elbow room) because everyone instinctively goes to what they see first.
Remember, you’ll have to show your airline ticket and passport to prove you didn’t sneak in the back door for a deal.
Leaving San Jose Airport (SJO)
After you’ve done your duty-free shopping and have your luggage, you’ll need to give that form to the person at the luggage scanner. You’ll put your luggage on the scanner and pick it up on the other side. On the other side are the kiosks for rental car companies. The airport is tiny, so the rental car lots are located off-site.
If you have a private shuttle, you’ll find your driver waiting outside as you exit the airport. Be warned! There are a ton of taxi drivers and people bidding for your attention and business. it can be a bit overwhelming. Look around for someone with a sign with your name on it, that’s your shuttle driver. If you haven’t arranged transportation or a stay at a local hotel, no worries. There are people who will let you make a call on their cell phones. Tip them $1 if you do. Tip more if they help you a lot.
Now You Know
By now you may be ready to book your flight for your Costa Rica adventure. Don’t worry, you’ll navigate the airport like a pro, armed with this new knowledge, and get to your vacation rental home in the shortest time possible because you picked the best arrival time!
See You Soon
We look forward to your vacation with us. If you haven’t read my other articles, please check them out here. Please follow us on Instagram @discoverybeachouse. For more information or to check our availability, visit our website at Discovery Beach House. Watch our YouTube Channel for more information on Manuel Antonio, the best spot to vacation in Costa Rica.