Given the history of Costa Rica’s infrastructure, all roads may lead to San José, but, these days, all flight paths certainly do not.
The airport just southwest of Liberia, Guanacaste’s capital, was once a sleepy airfield, twice baptized with the names Los Llanos and Tomás Guardia. The third reincarnation, bearing the moniker of late Costa Rican President Daniel Oduber, must have been the charm. Flights really began winging in in earnest just over three years ago, and the airport and Guanacaste haven’t been the same since.
Key to Guanacaste’s tourism boom of recent years has been the opening of more direct international flights to the airport – in airport parlance, the code is LIR, and that’s what the luggage tags read – bypassing the need for passengers to make the long overland trip from San José (see sidebar.)
Delta launched scheduled service from Atlanta in December 2002 (TT, Dec. 6, 2002). American and Continental followed with flights from their U.S. hubs a year later.
US Airways jets began arriving, and United launched high-season service, both last year. Explosive growth has come at a price, however. The airport welcomed a relatively scant 70,000 passengers in 2001, according to figures supplied by Costa Rica’s Civil Aviation Authority. Some 300,000 arrivals passed through Daniel Oduber in 2005, with more than 350,000 expected this year.
The Spanish-language press frequently uses the term colapsar (to collapse) to describe worries that the airport cannot handle its passenger load, a concern shared at San José’s Juan Santamaría International Airport, although ongoing improvements in Liberia have eased the situation.
A recently completed (but not yet inaugurated) $2.2 million expansion of the airport tarmac and platform have lessened congestion and increased the number of parking positions for planes, according to Jorge Mario Murillo, director of airport development for Civil Aviation.
An increase in immigration officials during the peak season and the collection by some area hotels of the $26 airport-departure tax have also lessened airport lines.
Civil Aviation is presently studying the need for runway resurfacing and construction of a new international terminal, Murillo says.
“A bigger terminal is much needed in the mid-term,” explains Giancarlo Pucci, executive director of the Guanacaste Tourism Chamber (CATURGUA), citing 2005’s 65% expansion in passenger numbers over the previous year.
Much of the funding for airport improvements in recent years has come from the private sector, Pucci adds.
The meteoric rise in passenger numbers has increased the need for more hotel rooms in Guanacaste, Pucci says. But he cautions against the total no-room-at-theinn scenario painted by some in the tourist industry.
“ICT (the Costa Rican Tourism Institute) does not have hard statistics on just where rooms are needed,” Pucci explains.
While there are some areas where it is impossible to find a room, during Christmas and Holy Week, for example, he says that is not the situation year-round, or even during the rest of the high season.
“Until we get accurate, real-time statistics on occupancy rates,” Pucci says, “I am convinced we’re still able to handle the influx of passengers the airport brings us.”
Wing Your Way to and from LIR
Several airlines serve Guanacaste’s DanielOduberInternationalAirport from departure points in the United States. There are domestic flights from San José as well. In addition to the scheduled service listed below, the airport receives flights from several charter airlines.
American (www.aa.com) flies three times weekly from Miami and twice weekly from Dallas.
Continental (www.continental.com) flies daily from Houston and once weekly from Newark.
Delta (www.delta.com) flies daily from Atlanta.
Nature Air (www.natureair.com) flies five times daily from San José (Tobías Bolaños airport) and three to four times weekly from Granada, Nicaragua, depending on the season.
Sansa (www.flysansa.com) flies four times daily from San José (Juan Santamaría airport).
United (www.united.com) flies weekly from Chicago (seasonal service, through April 30).
US Airways (www.usairways.com) flies twice weekly from Charlotte.
Nature Air and Sansa also connect their respective airports in San José with direct flights to other Guanacaste destinations (Nosara, Punta Islita, Sámara and Tamarindo).