If you are traveling to Costa Rica you might arrive late at Juan Santamaria International Airport and need to overnight for one or two nights before heading to other places in Costa Rica. Would it be better to stay in Alajuela or in San Jose? In this post, we would like to give you some advice on this and share our own experience.
Overnight near Juan Santamaria International Airport, Costa Rica?
Of course it all depends on the time you’ll arrive at the airport and on your plans for the next day. Will you rent a car in San Jose or take a bus from the San Jose bus terminal? Then it’s better to stay overnight in San Jose, so you save time in the morning. You can arrange a hotel near the bus terminal or close to the rental company. In fact, you can also arrange that the rental company drops off your car at the airport or hotel. This will save you time and a bit of money.
If you are looking for a cheap place to stay near Juan Santamaria International Airport, also called San Jose International Airport (SJO), and you have no plans yet for the next day, then Alajuela is a good option. The taxi ride is shorter and cheaper. And the hotels in Alajuela are going to cost you less. Alajuela is also easier to get around in than the big city of San Jose. In fact, the airport is usually referred to as being in San Jose, but it is actually located in Alajuela.
Safety tip: If your plane arrives after 5pm, we suggest spending the first night near the airport. The sun sets in Costa Rica between 5:30 and 6pm every day and it gets dark soon. We always like to travel during the daytime, so we feel safer.
Overnight in San Jose or in Alajuela
Below you can find more information on staying overnight in San Jose or in Alajuela.
Overnight in San jose
San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, is filled with rich history and culture. Most travelers skip San Jose or just stay for a night, because the city can seem hectic and intimidating. If you like culture, it can be worth staying in San Jose for 1 or 2 days. You can find plenty of museums, art galleries, parks and dining options.
As mentioned before, San Jose is also a good choice to overnight if you travel the next day further by bus or car. We traveled from San Jose to La Fortuna and decided to book a hotel near the Terminal 7-10 in the San Jose city center. From this bus station a direct bus (Transportes San Carlos) operates daily to La Fortuna at 08.40 in the morning. We recommend arriving at least 30 minutes before departure time to secure tickets.
Hotels in San Jose are not hard to come by. Here you find some good options:
Gran Hotel Costa Rica: a hotel that might appeal to history enthusiasts. It sits right across from the National Theater along the busy Plaza de la Cultura.
Hotel Sura: very clean, friendly staff, not the nicest neighborhood but great for transit and location bus station (Terminal 7-10 for example), at least that we thought 😉
Radisson San Jose: a 4 star hotel, indoor and outdoor pool, spa, paid airport shuttle.
Park Inn San Jose: Just three blocks from San Jose’s main avenue, and within walking distance of the National Museum, the Jade Museum, and the Costa Rican Art Museum.
Safety Tip: Like any city in the world, San Jose has rough areas that you’ll want to avoid. Try not to venture out after dark too much and we recommend grabbing a taxi if you feel at all uneasy. Cabs are cheap and plentiful.
Overnight in Alajuela
The town of Alajuela is 9 miles (around 10 minutes drive) from the international airport. There are many hotels to choose from in and around Alajuela, and I’m sure there is one to fit your budget. We suggest staying here for a night at the very beginning or end of your trip if flying in/ out of Juan Santamaria International Airport. There are plenty of things to do in Alajuela for a day or two. Think about visiting Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall Garden, Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center, hike Barva Volcano or to visit a coffee farm.
There are different ways to travel to Alajuela. You can either rent a car at the airport and drive to town or make use of a taxi or hotel shuttle.
When you exit the airport there will be many people asking if you need a taxi. We suggest asking if they are a legal registered taxi driver before proceeding. You need to make sure that your driver has a red or orange vehicle with a yellow or green triangle on the front and passenger side door. Uber is still illegal in Costa Rica and the police have been known to pull over Uber drivers.
Some hotels in Alajuela offer a shuttle service free of charge while others might charge a small fee. Your driver will usually be waiting for you with a sign when you exit the airport.
Hotels near Juan Santamaria International Airport are not hard to find. Here you find some good options:
Costa Rica Marriott – Hotel Hacienda Belen: this hotel is located super close to the airport (a 5 minute drive). There is a free airport shuttle, an outdoor pool, restaurant on-site, and fitness center.
Xandari Resort and Spa: The resort features a spa village, yoga lessons, outdoor pools and hot tubs, restaurants, and 4 km of natural trails. There is an airport shuttle service.
Casa Maria Aeropuerto: Cute place near the Juan Santamaria International Airport. There is an airport shuttle available.
Hotel Santa Maria Inn: This is a super cozy family owned hotel just 5 minutes (4 kilometers, 2.5 miles) from the airport.
Book your hotel near Juan Santamaria International Airport
When searching on Booking for hotels near the airport you can type in “Juan Santamaria International Airport” as the location. If you need a shuttle you can check off “Airport Shuttle” on the left column next to your search results.
Have you visited San Jose or Alajuela? What did you think? Leave a comment below!
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