If it’s your first time traveling to Costa Rica, you may be wondering what to expect when you touch down at the airport and how to begin your journey to the beach. If you’re joining us for a Pura Vida Adventures surf and yoga retreat (best decision ever), you’ll be traveling from the international airport in San José/Alajuela to the surf village of Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula. While our retreat host will be giving you detailed instructions for your arrival, here is a general rundown of what to expect when you step off the plane in beautiful Costa Rica.
While Costa Rica may be a tiny country in Central America, the fantastic news for travelers is that it’s also a major tourist destination that is clean, safe, friendly, and extremely welcoming. The international airport is modern and efficient, staffed with English-speaking employees who are eager to help you with your arrival. Costa Ricans are generally known as warm and hospitable people who are happy to assist tourists.
It’s extremely common for Costa Ricans in the tourism industry to speak excellent English, or at least some workable English, so don’t hesitate to ask if you need assistance with anything. This helps make traveling in Costa Rica a really enjoyable experience.
Even if you don’t speak a lick of Spanish, one term you should be familiar with is “Pura Vida” (pronounced poo-rah vee-dah). Simply translated, it means “simple life” or “pure life,” but here in Costa Rica, it is more than just a saying—it is a way of life. Costa Ricans (Ticos) use this term to say hello, to say goodbye, to say everything’s great, to say everything’s cool. You’ll hear it everywhere you go, so getting in the hang of saying it is a nice way to connect with the locals and their culture.
Many tourist destinations in Costa Rica accept US dollars and often prefer them to colones, but if you’d like to have some local currency on hand, the airport is a great place to use an ATM. While more and more Costa Rican establishments accept plastic these days, you can’t always count on that so it’s nice to have cash with you just in case.
The official currency of Costa Rica is the Colon. Colones consist of colorful bills that depict some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful animals—these being sharks, monkeys, sloths, and butterflies. They come in the amounts of 1000, 2000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, and 50,000 colones. The exchange rate between the dollar (USD) and the colon is always fluctuating, so check online for the most current information. (There are even apps for that!)
Your plane has landed. Woohoo! The first step after arriving at Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaría International Airport is to pass through immigration and customs. At present time, you are required to fill out an electronic Costa Rica health pass that will generate a QR code before your arrival (Read more from the Costa Rica health ministry). You’ll present this code along with your passport to the immigration officer. You can show them the code directly from your phone, but it’s not a bad idea to have a printed version with you as a backup. This process is always a breeze.
Next, pass through the baggage claim area and grab any checked bags. You’ll then have to place your bags on an X-ray machine as you pass through the customs area. All set!
You’ve officially arrived in Costa Rica! The next step is getting to Santa Teresa, and this is where the adventure begins. From the international airport, you’ll be taking a 30-minute domestic flight to Tambor (a small airport near Santa Teresa). You will have this flight booked for the same day of your arrival or for the next morning.
If you’ve arrived in San Jose in the late afternoon, it’s best to spend the night near the airport and take the domestic flight in the morning. If you’re in San Jose early enough in the day, you can hop on a domestic flight the same day. Our reservations team will help you decide which flights to book and when, so you’ll know your full itinerary before you arrive in Costa Rica.
We’ll walk you through both scenarios below:
Book your room in advance at the Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express in Alajuela. Yes, we’ve got some comfy American hotels right next to the airport! Both of these top-rated hotels are just 10 minutes away from the terminals and they offer a free shuttle. Awesome. Make sure to check with your hotel to find out if you need to notify them of your arrival time to reserve the shuttle.
Both hotels are in a safe and walkable little zone that also has a Denny’s restaurant. You can also order pretty much anything from UberEats directly to your hotel room if you are craving something special. Easy! Get a fantastic night’s sleep and tomorrow you’ll be ready to fly to Tambor. The airport shuttle will take you directly to the domestic terminal in the morning.
Costa Rica has recently built a gorgeous new domestic terminal for all of its flights within the country. It’s located in a separate building next to the international terminal, about a 10-minute walk along a sidewalk. If you’re coming from an airport hotel, your shuttle will drop you off there.
If you’re taking the domestic flight the same day as your arrival in San Jose, just make your way over to the domestic terminal as soon as you exit the international terminal. (Turn left, and follow the sidewalk for about 10 minutes.) This is another good reason to pack light!
The terminal is comfortable and has a cute little souvenir shop and café if you need some snacks or coffee before taking off. From here, you’ll board a small plane to Tambor and the scenic flight is just 30 minutes. Get your camera ready—the views are stunning!
You’ll arrive in Tambor, the tiny domestic airport that is your gateway to the beach. After you deplane, look for your Pura Vida Adventures taxi driver who will be waiting for you right outside. All of our drivers have official taxis and we’ve been working with the same provider for over a decade. You’ll find them very friendly!
Your retreat host will confirm the cost of the taxi with you in advance, so make sure to have this cash ready. It’s just a 45-minute drive through the countryside before you arrive in Santa Teresa. Look out for the distinctive Brahman cows that graze in the fields here and enjoy the beautiful jungle views.
Your taxi will take you directly to our retreat hotel and help you with your bags to reception. You made it! Let the fun begin.