How to get to Costa Rica

It takes between 3 and 7 hours to fly to Costa Rica from most U.S. cities, and as Costa Rica becomes more popular with North American travelers, more flights are available into San Jose's Juan Santamaría International Airport. In addition, Delta, American, U.S. Airways, United, and Continental all have regular nonstop commercial flights to the Daniel Oduber Quiroz Airport in Liberia from their hubs in Atlanta, Miami, Charlotte, Chicago, and Houston, respectively. Liberia is the gateway to the beaches of the Guanacaste region and the Nicoya Peninsula, and a direct flight here eliminates the need for a separate commuter flight in a small aircraft or roughly 5 hours in a car or bus.

The Major Airlines - There are numerous airlines flying into Costa Rica. Be warned that the smaller Latin American carriers tend to make several stops (sometimes unscheduled) en route to San Jose, thus increasing flying time.

The following airlines currently serve Costa Rica from the United States, using the gateway cities listed:

American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300 in the U.S. and Canada or tel. 248-9010 in Costa Rica; www.aa.com) has daily flights from Los Angeles, Miami, JFK in New York, and Dallas-Fort Worth.

America West (tel. 800/363-2957; www.americawest.com) has one daily direct flight from Phoenix.

Continental (tel. 800/525-0280; www.continental.com) offers flights daily from Houston and Newark.

Delta (tel. 800/241-4141; www.delta.com) offers two daily flights from Atlanta.

Mexicana (tel. 800/531-7921; www.mexicana.com) offers flights from numerous North American cities, most connecting through the hub in Mexico City.

United Airlines (tel. 800/538-2929; www.united.com) has daily flights direct from Washington, D.C., and from Los Angeles, and biweekly flights from Chicago O'Hare to Liberia.

US Airways (tel. 800/622-1015; www.usairways.com) has direct flights from Charlotte.

Grupo Taca (tel. 800/535-8780; www.grupotaca.com) is a conglomeration of the Central American airlines, with direct flights or connections to and from Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New Orleans, New York, Miami, and Washington.

From Europe, you can take any major carrier to a hub city such as Miami or New York and then make connections to Costa Rica. Alternately, Air Canada (www.aircanada.com) from Toronto, Iberia (www.iberia.com) or Air Madrid (www.airmadrid.com) from Spain, and Martin Air (www.martinairusa.com) from Holland have established routes to San Jose, some direct and others with one connection.

What Travel Agents Don't Tell You--You don't have to spend the night in San José. Some travel agents will encourage you to do this so that they can stick you with an unnecessary hotel stay and/or airport transfer fees - twice. But don't listen to them.

If your flight arrives in San Jose early in the day, you should consider heading straight to your first destination. It's easy to catch a domestic flight to many of the more popular beach destinations right from the San José airport. You should definitely book this in advance, and make sure you have enough time to get to the domestic terminal.

Moreover, you'll have to carry your bags the 230m (754 ft.) or so between the international and domestic terminals (or take a cab), and you'll also have to use the less reliable carrier Sansa rather than Nature Air for your domestic flight.

(Nature Air flights leave from an entirely different airport.) But if this doesn't cause you any grief, you can leave the United States early in the morning and be lounging on the beach before sunset (and, in some cases, by lunchtime).

Source: Frommer's Travel Guide to Costa Rica