The first impression of any country is the airport, and Costa Rica's SJC left a lingering one that captured much about our experience during the rest of our trip: an eagerness to help.
After getting our bags we had the usual moment of blank eyes staring and aimless meandering as we tried to find customs, and immediately a baggage handler pointed us with a big smile in the right direction.
Then, as we continued our dazed and confused drifting in search of hotel shuttles, a taxi driver approached us in search of a fare. Immediately our traveller defence mechanisms kicked in and we waved him off politely: "No gracias. We're going to take the airport shuttle."
And immediately he walked us over to where the shuttles do their pick up, without another attempt to convince us to take a ride. If Thailand is the Land of Smiles, Costa Rica is the Land of the Helping Hand.
The San Jose Airport is a simple but respectable airport. Here's all the useful information we can offer after our visit:
Shuttles to the Hotels
Everyone at the airport was very helpful so don't be shy to ask for help. The way-finding leaves a bit to be desired so there were lots of people wandering about looking a bit los and the locals are clearly well practised at helping folks find their way.
Shuttles to the Hotels
When you get out of the airport terminal with your bags head right towards a set of orange vehicles. These are the official, sanctioned taxis at SJO. Just beyond them is the hotel shuttle pickup.
We waited only 12 minutes for our hotel shuttle to arrive. The gent driving was very helpful with baggage. The shuttle itself was quite small; akin to a hybrid of a traditional hotel shuttle and a van. Two of us couldn’t really sit side by side on the seats, so be prepared to have part of your butt cheek hanging into the aisle. This makes for some full body rubbing as people try to force their way down the aisle. While it sounds a bit stressful don’t fret; the drive from the airport to the Holiday Inn Express took all of three minutes once we pulled away from the curb.
The airport has a number of food options, a few coffee shops, a couple of bars and a souvenir shop, but nearly everything closes by 9pm. This includes the V.I.P. lounge. Our flight leaving Costa Rica was rescheduleD by our airline for 11pm, and even the spots listed on the official SJO website as open 24 hours were closed. The only exception was the Imperial Bar, which by 10:30pm had partly shuttered the front entrance which seemed to say "We aren't closed, but don't come in". We enjoyed a few drinks and some snacks, overall its not a bad spot to hunker down and wait for time to pass. If you have a flight after 8pm at this airport, don't come any earlier than you have to!