One of the reasons it has taken me so long to travel to Costa Rica has little to do with the destination itself. The beautifully-landscaped Central American country caught my eye many years ago. Honestly, I’ve been hesitant to visit due to the proximity of the hotels to the airport.
While I’m okay with an airport to hotel commute of one hour or less, I’m not raising my hand to sign up for any more road time than that. Plus, because many of my trips cover an extended weekend, time in the car means less time relaxing or exploring.
For many areas in Costa Rica, a 3-hour drive is typical and expected.
Costa Rica is a small country; however, despite the size, navigating around the rugged land can be a bit of an adventure — whether you are down for the ride of not. Due to poor road conditions, it could take an hour to drive what would seem to be only a few miles. Long story short, you cannot rely on your understanding of distance from point A to point B and make any assumptions when it comes to Costa Rica.
You’ll find well-paved roads around the capital of San Jose and the northern city of Liberia. But when you extend your journey beyond these more populated urban areas, potholes and dirt roads will become the norm — and if you’re traveling between May and November (rainy season), you can add landslides, washouts and tricky river crossings to that list.
You’re probably thinking, “why go through all the trouble?” Well, it’s well worth it. But I have an alternative for you.
There are several amazing properties located less than an hour from Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport/Liberia (LIR) and a few within an hour and a half of Juan Santamaría International Airport/San Jose (SJO).
If you are anything like me and prefer to minimize your commute for more exploration, beach, and adventure time — then you’ll want to save this list!
Hotels Close to Liberia (LIR), Costa Rica
As one of the most popular provinces in Costa Rica, Guanacaste, located in the northwestern corner of Costa Rica, is home to some of the most beautiful beaches (Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, Playas del Coco) in the region. This province, along with its short commute from LIR, makes this my destination of choice when I visit.
In addition to getting plenty of beach time, you can also surf, jump on an ATV for a jungle or beach tour, go snorkeling, zip-lining, horseback riding, bike riding, or go on a hiking and wildlife expedition in the Rincon de la Vieja National Park.
The following hotels are located under an hour from LIR and will get your vacation going in no time (commute from airport noted below). Be advised, that these are my recommendations and places I would personally stay. I typically opt for luxury boutique hotels or oceanfront resorts with a 4-star rating or higher:
- Secrets Papagayo Costa Rica – 20 minutes
- Villa Buena Onda – 30 minutes
- Andaz Costa Rica Resort At Peninsula Papagayo – 35 minutes
- Planet Hollywood Beach Resort Costa Rica – 35 minutes
- Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo – 40 minutes
- Casa Chameleon at Las Catalinas – 50 minutes
- Rio Perdido Hotel & Thermal River – 1 hour
Hotels Close to San Jose (SJO), Costa Rica
Because San Jose International (SJO) is centrally located in the interior of Costa Rica, those pursuing more eco-travel would opt for this destination. And if you decided to fly into San Jose, know that it will take you almost 2 hours to reach the beach. So keep that in mind.
If you want to blend the two, then Jaco is the closest beach town to San Jose. It’s the surfing mecca of the country and a hotspot for nightlife.
You’ll notice that this list is quite limited in comparison to the Liberia list, but that just goes to show how few properties are located within a short driving distance from San Jose. Again, this is my personal recommendation:
- The Retreat Costa Rica – 40 minutes
- El Silencio Lodge & Spa – 1 hour 15 minutes
- Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort – 1 hour 30 minutes (on the beach)
Hopefully, this hotel guide gives you a starting point when you begin planning your visit to Costa Rica. You don’t want to be surprised when you book your hotel and find out you have a 3-hour plus drive ahead of you each way (and the price tag that comes along with it)!
Pro tip: Choose your hotel first, then choose the closest airport.