Costa Rica’s plan to build major new airport in Orotina advances

L. Arias | May 16, 2016
Juan Santamaría International Airport

Costa Rica’s emerging plan to build a major new international airport in Orotina, an hour west of the capital, took a major step forward Monday with the signing of a $1.5 million contract with a British firm to conduct feasibility studies.

President Luis Guillermo Solís signed the contract, granted in a public bid, with British engineering company Mott MacDonald to conduct technical and financial studies on the new airport.

The studies should be completed within a year, though the airport is not expected to open until after 2025. It would be capable of receiving wide-body airplanes like the Boeing 777 and Airbus 340.

“Costa Rica has the capacity to carry out large projects and this administration is willing to break the stagnation and paralysis we’ve had on moving forward with essential public works,” Solís said. “These large projects will bring employment and development and are key to strengthening the country’s competitiveness.”

The studies are to include recommendations for the terminal design and runway locations, as well as possible funding options for an airport in Orotina, Alajuela province, some 56km (35 miles) from San José.

Under the contract the company will have 12 months to assess all variables involved including financial, social, meteorological and environmental requirements of the project.

The company will deliver a basic design recommendation for the new terminal, the exact area for its location, estimated costs and the financing model for the project.

The contract for the final design, as well as the construction of the terminal, will be granted through a separate public bid.

Solís said the construction of the new terminal will boost the economy in the Pacific region, and will be a catalyst for the probable expansion of Route 27, the main highway connecting the the Central Valley to the Pacific coast.

“We should also start planning the construction of a new train to the [Pacific] region,” Solís said.

Results of a 2011 study conducted by the Technical Council of the Civil Aviation Authority (CETAC) showed that the new terminal would require a 1,200-hectare property and would have a lifespan of at least 80 years.

CETAC vice president Eduardo Montero said that study will be the basis for Mott MacDonald’s research. “So far we know that 1,200 hectares are required to build a 4F category terminal, capable of receiving large airliners,” he said.

Montero noted the project sparked a great interest in the market, as bids were received from 10 consulting firms.

Casa Presidencial reported in a news release that Mott MacDonald “has 150 years of experience in big projects in 140 countries.”

Among its main air terminal projects, the firm conducted studies for the expansion of Heathrow airport in London, the design of the Hong Kong airport and consulting projects for terminals in Singapore and Turkey.

Driving from Costa Rica’s capital, San José, to Orotina on Route 27, currently takes about an hour.



Contact L. Arias at


  1. We need an airport to service the southern zone more easily.
    I live in playa Zancudo and it is not easy to leave the country


    Comment by Ellie sullivan — May 17, 2016 @ 5:06 am

  2. Great! the sooner the airport is built the better… Tourism is number 1 income in Costa Rica. Ann Cabezas Creed

    Comment by ann cabezas creed — May 17, 2016 @ 9:26 am

  3. I agree we need an airport in the southern zone, but we should be expanding Quepos or Palmar airports first to allow direct flights to the southern Pacific coast from the US. Orotina is still a 2-hr drive to Dominical.

    Comment by Charlie Pick — May 17, 2016 @ 11:30 am

  4. Great plans. Hopefully the consulting firm takes into account the need of a new highway or at least a two lanes expansion of the “27”, all the way Sabana-Caldera.

    Comment by Edgar Rivera — May 17, 2016 @ 12:50 pm

  5. That will be a true nightmare of missed flights. Plan at least two hours from San Jose to get to the airport and even with that you might not make it on holidays or when there is an accident. Best to go the night before and stay in a hotel. This is a stupid idea.

    Comment by Es Pueto — May 18, 2016 @ 5:19 am

  6. We are still waiting for our airport in the southern zone, Sierpe. For over 15 years.

    Comment by dr Meno — May 18, 2016 @ 7:18 am

  7. Tourism in the Southern Zone desperately needs an international airport closer than Orotina. Palmar or Quepos would be more beneficial to the tourism industry.

    Comment by Dorothy MacDonald — May 18, 2016 @ 8:21 pm

  8. I’m a little surprised by all the sentiment expressed here for an international airport in the south (not that I oppose the idea). To be clear, there are small airports for domestic flights in Puerto Jiménez, Golfito, Palmar Sur, Drake Bay, San Isidro and Quepos, among others I’ve probably forgotten. But this project aims to land the biggest jetliners in the world to serve all of Costa Rica, possibly to replace Juan Santamaría as Costa Rica’s primary airport, and so I believe the thinking is that it needs to be as centrally located as possible. My understanding is that this airport would need to be clear of mountains, tall buildings and telecom towers, and that the closest viable location found relatively close to the capital was Orotina. I’ll be the first to say I don’t want to drive to Orotina to pick up my friends and family when they visit in 10+ years. But Costa Rica is not looking to stimulate regional tourism anywhere with this project, as I understand it. It’s just looking for a place where it can safely land gigantic airplanes full of passengers who may be headed to the Caribbean, Guanacaste or anywhere else in this country.

    Comment by Karl Kahler — May 18, 2016 @ 11:30 pm

  9. I think the president’s idea of building a new airport is, great as it will help development and increase employment for the area. But before that, the roads need to be improved in the whole San Jose area. Hopefully the British company will recognize that in their feasibility study. The traffic can be terrible, and I agree with the above comment of the time it will take to arrive at the airport would be so unpredictable.

    Comment by Marcia sy — May 19, 2016 @ 7:02 am

  10. Yeah, if the current airport can’t handle the largest commercial planes, Costa Rica does need a bigger one just to be generally competitive.

    If this were only about stimulating tourism, especially on the already tourist-overrun Pacific coast, I’d oppose it. And if it were only about stimulating regional development, I too might prefer a different region.

    However, since it appears to be about getting a state-of-the-art airport in some sensible place in the country, I have to say fine.

    Plus, I would imagine that airports eventually pay for themselves, so I doubt that griping about wasted money is relevant.

    Comment by Ken — May 19, 2016 @ 6:26 pm

  11. It seems to me that an airport so close to the main airport in Alajuella is a set up for confusion and chaos. Why not go back to the original plan from a few years ago to build a new one in the South zone on the Pacific side. It makes so much more sense for tourism.

    Comment by Cindy — May 19, 2016 @ 11:41 pm

  12. The biggest problem with this plan is the inability of the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation (MOPT) to create and maintain an adequate highway between San José and Orotina. Route 27, opened in January 2010 before it was completed by then-President Oscar Arias Sánchez in order to do so shortly before his administration ended, is a third-world excuse for toll road, with only one lane each way for the majority of its length. As some previous comments point out, traffic on the highway is frequently jammed up, so making flights the required 2-3 hours prior to departure from the Central Valley would be unlikely, or require ridiculously long departures from San José prior to departure. Given past MOPT performance, expanding Rte. 27 to two lanes each way would be compromised by failure to also expand existing bridges from one to two lanes each way. A first-world country would establish rapid train service, and Orotina is along the now-closed train right-of-way between San José and Puntarenas, but the abysmal commuter train service in San José of INCOFER illustrates Costa Rica’s lack of train travel competency.

    Comment by Loren B. Ford — May 20, 2016 @ 7:30 am

  13. I notice that all these comments are coming from gringos. I own 3 lots by jaco. I say build it. But say goodbye to the old costa rica that we have come to love. Once again we fu…. up a great spot

    Comment by Scott hansmann — October 12, 2016 @ 6:01 pm

  14. Orotina is not the Southern Zone??? Another International Airport 45 minutes from two existing International Airports?? Where is this 1.5 million really going to end up?. A real SZ airport would be south of Dominical.

    Comment by Roberto Jimenez — November 19, 2016 @ 12:12 am

  15. As others have said. We absolutely need 4 lanes minimum the entire length of highway 27. In many spots it should be 6 or 8. That’s my priority above this airport.

    Once 27 expansions are done then please build this. It would only be positive for costa rica. The south can wait. Focus on where the people are and where the future is.

    Comment by Billy — December 5, 2016 @ 8:22 am

  16. There is a reason Orotina is being chosen for this particular new airport. I believe the current contract that Costa Rica has with the owners of the land the current airport sits on is up in 2025. The last negotiations between the owners and Costa Rica didn’t go well and in addition, Costa Rica also wanted to expand to compete more effectively with other countries in Central and South America in the future.

    All the land in the Juan Santamaría Internacional Airport area in Alajuela is owned by too many different groups and Costa Rica can not buy more land there cheaply or easily. Still, they needed to buy (and build) someplace close for continued servicing to San Jose, a major business hub and a location central to service all of Costa Rica effectively. Do understand that ALL of Costa Rica is a tourist destination and is being built up as such, not just the south. Orotina fits the bill best and I believe the land has already been purchased.

    And yes, Highway 27 will need to be expanded as well and a new rail system built at the same time. Whether or not this is done is another matter.

    Comment by Tangi Tunoa — May 31, 2017 @ 12:06 pm

  17. I guess we all would love the convenience of an airport right at our doorstep until we really experience what it is like to live near one with aircrafts flying above ones rooves’ tops at all times. Governments don’t build airports where the people want. They build them where political interests dictate and considering feasibility studies which include best weather conditions, terrain and minimizing the environmental impact.This airport has been in the “works” for years. Mr. Karl Kahler could not have possibly word it better. Right now I would be more concerned about coming afflictions onto the U.S. if interested check John Paul Jacksons prophecy about forthcoming newspaper headlines.God Bless you all!

    Comment by Fabio Schlaß — June 1, 2017 @ 12:21 am

  18. Offer
      Properties in orotina and rest homes

    Comment by maria Mora — June 3, 2017 @ 5:45 pm

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