Costa Rica is relatively small, about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire put together.
But although much of the country is crisscrossed by a modern highway system, travel from one end to another can be time-consuming, especially to certain out-of-the-way areas, because of windy mountain roadways and unpaved secondary roads.
Some regions, like Tortuguero on the Northern Caribbean Coast, can’t be reached by car or bus at all. Others require four-wheel-drive or hours over bumpy washboard roads. Travel to those areas on the ground can be a great adventure – although I recommend getting the full insurance coverage if you’re renting.
But sometimes you just want to be somewhere as quickly as possible.
A great alternative is to fly in Costa Rica. Two regional airlines work out of small airports – sometimes just a building and landing strip throughout the country. They even travel to some destinations in Nicaragua and Panama. These are small, prop-driven planes that fly low. So aside from getting to where you need to go, you’ll have the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of the Costa Rica countryside.
The two airlines are Sansa and NatureAir. Both have terminals in San Jose, the capital. Sansa’s terminal is next door, within walking distance, of the main international airport, Juan Santamaria. NatureAir flies out of the Pavas Airport, near the U.S. Embassy.
NatureAir has 74 flights each day to 15 destinations, including Drake Bay, Puerto Jimenez, Golfito, and Palmar Sur in the southern Pacific zone; Tambor, Punta Islita, Nosara, and Tamarindo on the Nicoya Peninsula and northern Pacific coast; and Arenal, Quepos, and Tortuguero. Overseas flights include Managua, Nicaragua and Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Sansa hits many of the same destinations.
You can book your flight online. But take note that because the planes are small there are stricter luggage rules. You are generally allowed a 40-pound checked bag and a 10-pound carry-on. You can pay extra for more weight or bags, if the space is available. Super-cheap fares allow only carry-on items but run about half the price of the regular fares. Check the websites often for deals.