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From Costa Rica to Panama

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

One of the most difficult parts about traveling in a new country is the logistics. From my experiences, I've learned to only book accommodations that offer transportation to and from the airport (so much easier than dealing with taxis or Uber when you first arrive) and that Uber (or its variation) can be a good option after you have your bearings. But beyond that?

Sometimes you just have to figure out things as you go.

Costa Rica has two international airports—the Liberia Airport in Guanacaste in the north, and the Juan Santamaría Airport in San José. When I arrived, I'd flown into (and my resort only offered shuttles to and from) the Liberia Airport, but I could only find flights to my next destination, Panama City, from San José.

Grr. What should I do?

After researching numerous options, including traveling by bus and boat, I opted to fly from Guanacaste to San José, and then from San José to Panama City. It made the most sense time-wise since I didn't want to spend a night in San José. To save money, I booked the flights separately directly through the airlines. The first was on Sansa, a regional airline based out of San José, and the second was through Wingo, a low-cost airline offering flights in Central and South America.

What could go wrong?

Security at the Liberia Airport in Guanacaste.

Well, nothing, actually. But boy was I in for an adventure.

After a bumpy two-and-a-half hour shuttle ride from Nosara to Guanacaste, I arrived at the Liberia Airport two hours before my 12 p.m. flight to San José. So far, so good. I found the airline counter—a single lane in the farthest corner of the airport—but saw a sign that said I couldn't check in until an hour before my flight. No problem. There weren't any open seats nearby, so I sat on a window ledge near an open door to enjoy the breeze while I waited.

An hour passed. No one showed at the counter. Another ten minutes. People, including myself, started forming a line. Finally, forty-five minutes before my scheduled flight, Sansa opened the counter for check-in.

When I got to the front of the line, the Sansa employee first weighed my bag and then asked me to step on the scale with it. That was a first! I got a few annoyed looks—apparently my bag was too heavy—but they let it go for only a small fee. The woman gave me my ticket and said we'd be boarding in twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes?

Thankfully, getting through security was a breeze, and after finding my gate (which was actually a trick—it was the only gate downstairs), I settled into a seat and tried to read before my flight.

My gate, R-A, in the Liberia Airport.

But I was too tired. I looked at my phone. 11:50 a.m. I shut my eyes and waited for boarding to begin.

Ten minutes passed. Nothing happened. Another ten minutes. No word. Finally, around 12:20 p.m., a Sansa employee announced that we would be boarding shortly.

Thank goodness I had a three-hour layover in San José!

At 12:30 p.m., thirty minutes after we were supposed to take off, we started the boarding process. The attendant told us to line up at the door (at least I think that's what he said; he said it in Spanish) and follow him.

We lined up at the door and followed him.

And that's when I realized this would be unlike any commercial flight I'd ever taken.

He led us outside, beneath the tarmac of a large plane, towards the smallest plane I've ever been on. It was a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, a small 675-horsepower plane that (I looked up later) can hold a maximum of 14 occupants. No wonder they were concerned about the weight of our bags! When we arrived, the attendant ushered us up the short metal staircase and told us to take a seat wherever. We did as he asked, and as we did, I could hear the pilot and copilot talking and laughing hysterically in the cockpit. They appeared to be having a fabulous day.

And that was it! No flight attendants, no safety instructions, no "Welcome to Sansa Airlines." Once everyone was on board, the pilots started up the plane, and we were off.

It was amazing!

You can hear the pilot and co-pilot laughing and joking in this video. :)

Despite my fatigue, I couldn't stop smiling. What an experience! And the views of the Costa Rica countryside on the flight—which was only about thirty minutes—were incredible.

Leaving Guanacaste.

The Tempisque, Abangares, and Tárcoles Rivers combine and empty into the Gulf of Nicoya.

The Gulf of Nicoya entering the Pacific Ocean.

Costa Rica countryside and a smaller town outside Guanacaste.

The outskirts of San José.

Downtown San José, the largest city in Costa Rica.

The Alajuela Cathedral, in Alaguela, about ten miles outside San José.

Getting close...

Coming in for our landing.

Our flight ended much as it had begun—casually. The pilots stopped laughing long enough to thank us for flying Sansa and we disembarked, grabbed our bags from under the plane, and walked into the domestic terminal of the San José Airport.

The domestic terminal, and the security and views from the international terminal in San José.

The rest of my trip went smoothly. Check-in with Wingo and getting through security in the international terminal in San José was easy; I had California Pizza Kitchen for dinner while I waited for my next flight; and the Wingo airplane was very nice (and almost empty). My second flight was also short—a little under an hour—and my driver, a nice Venezuelan named Franco, was waiting to take me to my hotel when I arrived in Panama.

It was a good, if long, day!

My Wingo Airplane after our arrival in Panama.

First views of the Panamá Pacífico International Airport (BLB) in Panama.

Entrance to the airport in Panama.

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Jun 22, 2023

Hi Jessica,

I started feeling anxious as I was starting to read your post tonight. I mostly like to plan out my moves when I fly somewhere new or if not new if the arrangements are new. Recently in Washington DC I rode the metro for the first time and was pleasantly surprised how good it is.

Your photos from the plane are fantastic. It looks like a great place.

Jessica Cyphers
Jessica Cyphers
Jun 29, 2023
Replying to

Hi Gary, I don't think I've ever ridden the metro in D.C. myself. (Or if I have, it was many years ago when I was a kid.) I'm glad you had a good experience! I *try* to plan things when I travel, but since I usually travel alone, sometimes I'm okay winging it, too. In this situation, I would have been better prepared if I had researched Sansa Airlines more thoroughly ahead of my flight. But I didn't know I needed to! :D

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