It takes between 3 and 7 hours to fly to Costa Rica from most U.S. cities, the origin of most direct and connecting flights. Most international flights still land in San José's Juan Santamaría International Airport (tel. 2437-2626 for 24-hr. airport information; www.alterra.co.cr; airport code: SJO). However, more and more direct international flights are touching down in Liberia's Daniel Oduber International Airport (tel. 2668-1010; airport code: LIR).
Liberia is the gateway to the beaches of the Guanacaste region and the Nicoya Peninsula, and a direct flight here eliminates the need for a separate commuter flight in a small aircraft or roughly 5 hours in a car or bus. If you are planning to spend all, or most, of your vacation time in the Guanacaste region, you'll want to fly in and out of Liberia. However, San José is a much more convenient gateway if you are planning to head to Manuel Antonio, the Central Pacific coast, the Caribbean coast, or the Southern zone.
Numerous airlines fly into Costa Rica. Be warned that the smaller Latin American carriers tend to make several stops (sometimes unscheduled) en route to San José, thus increasing flying time.
From North America, Air Canada, American Airlines, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Grupo Taca, JetBlue, Spirit Air, United, and US Airways all have regular direct flights to Costa Rica.
From Europe, Iberia is the only airline with regular routes to San José, some direct and others with one connection. Alternately, you can fly to any major U.S. hub-city and make connections to one of the airlines mentioned above.
Bus service runs regularly from Panama City, Panama, and Managua, Nicaragua. If at all possible, it's worth the splurge for a deluxe or express bus. In terms of travel time and convenience, it's always better to get a direct bus rather than one that stops along the way -- and you've got a better chance of getting a working restroom in a direct/express or deluxe bus. Some even have television sets showing video movies.
Several bus lines with regular daily departures connect the major capital cities of Central America. Call King Quality (tel. 2258-8834; www.king-qualityca.com), Transnica (tel. 2223-4242; http://transnica.com), or Tica Bus Company (tel. 2221-0006; www.ticabus.com) for further information. All of these lines service Costa Rica directly from Panama City and Managua, with connections to the other principal cities of Central America. None of them will reserve a seat by telephone, and schedules change frequently according to season and demand, so buy your ticket in advance -- several days in advance, if you plan to travel on weekends or holidays. From Panama City, it's a 20-hour, 900km (558-mile) trip. The one-way fare is around $37. From Managua, it's 11 hours and 450km (279 miles) to San José, and the one-way fare is around $21.
Whenever you're traveling by bus through Central America, try to keep a watchful eye on your belongings, especially at rest and border stops, whether they're in an overhead bin or stored below decks in a luggage compartment.
It's possible to travel to Costa Rica from North America by car, but it can be difficult. After leaving Mexico, the Interamerican Highway (Carretera Interamericana, also known as the Pan-American Hwy.) passes through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua before reaching Costa Rica. This highway then travels the length of Costa Rica before entering Panama. All of these countries can be problematic for travelers for a variety of reasons, including internal violence, crime, corrupt border crossings, and visa formalities. If you do decide to undertake this adventure, take the Gulf Coast route from the border crossing at Brownsville, Texas, because it involves traveling the fewest miles through Mexico. Those planning to travel this route should purchase a copy of You Can Drive to Costa Rica in 8 Days! by Dawn Rae Lessler, which is available from the major online bookstores. You might also try to find a copy of Driving the Pan-Am Highway to Mexico and Central America, by Audrey and Raymond Pritchard, which is harder to find. A wealth of information is also online at www.sanbornsinsurance.com and www.drivemeloco.com.
Car Documents -- You will need a current driver's license, as well as your vehicle's registration and the original title (no photocopies), to enter the country.
Central American Auto Insurance -- Contact Sanborn's Insurance Company (tel. 800/222-0158 or 956/686-0711; www.sanbornsinsurance.com), which has agents at various border towns in the United States. These folks have been servicing this niche for more than 50 years. They can supply you with trip insurance for Mexico and Central America (you won't be able to buy insurance after you've left the U.S.), driving tips, and an itinerary.
Car Safety -- Be sure your car is in excellent working order. It's advisable not to drive at night because of the danger of being robbed by bandits, especially in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
More than 200 cruise ships stop each year in Costa Rica, calling at Limón on the Caribbean coast, and at Puerto Caldera and Puntarenas on the Pacific coast. Many are part of routes that cruise through the Panama Canal. Cruise lines that offer stops in Costa Rica include Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/722-0021; www.crystalcruises.com), Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/647-2251; www.celebritycruises.com), Holland America (tel. 877/932-4259; www.hollandamerica.com), Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 866/234-7650; www.ncl.com), Royal Caribbean (tel. 866/562-7625; www.rccl.com), Regent Seven Seas Cruises (tel. 877/505-5370; www.rssc.com), Silver Sea Cruises (tel. 954/759-5098; www.silversea.com), and Windstar Cruises (tel. 800/258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com).
It might pay off to book through a travel agency that specializes in cruises; these companies buy in bulk and stay on top of the latest specials and promotions. Try the Cruise Company (tel. 800/289-5505; www.thecruisecompany.com) or World Wide Cruises (tel. 800/882-9000; www.wwcruises.com).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.