The opening of Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, Costa Rica has been more of a process than an event. The Airport first served the U.S. market as early as 1995 after a major upgrade and was "reopened" each time another renovation occurred. At present, about one-third of the visitors to Costa Rica enter the Country through Liberia and head straight to the beaches of the Quanacaste Gold Coast which are a mere twenty minutes away by car. These beaches are worthy destinations, for sure-in fact they are some of the finest in the world-but visitors to the area tend to spend their entire vacation in one place.
I think this is an unfortunate trend because there is so much more to see and do in Costa Rica. I think the first time visitor is better served by entering through Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose. One motivating factor here is that flights from almost all departure cities in the U. S. to San Jose cost significantly less than flights to Liberia. Today a round-trip, nonstop flight from Miami to San Jose is about $255.00 and a similar flight to Liberia is $572.00. Occasionally, the difference is enough to pay for an entire adventure vacation package including ground transportation, lodging and meals. Further, you can see more attractions by starting from San Jose and you won't need a rental car the whole time.
No doubt you have heard or been advised to stay clear of San Jose. City center does have some very dangerous and ugly areas that can only be described as slums but you don't need to go near these places. Unfortunately, people have come to think of the entire Central Valley as San Jose and this is not the case. In the outlying areas there are some stunning hotels in enchanting settings that are perfectly safe and you can enjoy the climate that prompted National Geographic to list it as one of the three best climates in the world.
There is an unlimited number of daily excursions from San Jose ranging from relaxed to exhausting but the choice is yours. Select from white-water rafting, hiking the rainforest, canopy tours or aerial trams to visiting Poas or Irazu Volcanoes. How about a cruise to a deserted island? Maybe take a day off and relax around the pool or play golf. The hard part will be deciding what to do each day. If you choose to see the country by venturing out from San Jose each day you will not need a rental car and you won't have the hassle of packing every time you want to go somewhere else. The only thing you will need is a good hotel to rest and plan your next adventure.
The sights of San Jose may not appeal to the Eco-Tourist but that doesn't mean they should be ignored. If you are traveling with young children an interesting local attraction is the Parque de Diversiones; An adventure park with a carnival atmosphere that features some interactive cultural activities and the more normal carnival rides you might expect.
San Jose itself is full of small museums and exhibits which are of interest and include Museo de Jade Marco Fidel Tristan (The Jade Museum) which features a collection of pre-Columbian Jade and gold artifacts. The Museo de Los Ninos (The Children's Museum) is another must if you are traveling with children. It features a series of hands on or interactive adventures that seem inexplicable and mysterious. The Museo National de Costa Rica (The National Museum) is the official Costa Rican Museum housed in an old army fort. As you walk around you can see the markings left by many bullets and other projectiles left in one of the last battles in the Country. This is the place to study serious cultural matters.
If you want to see life as it really is these days make a point to visit the Mercado Central. It is a series of stalls or booths connected by dirt paths and somewhere in the maze you can find anything you want. Need a live chicken? How about a new pair of boots? You can find other leather goods, clothing, jewelry, souvenirs, snack bars and fresh juices, homemade cheese and pretty much anything else you can imagine. You may leave empty handed but I promise that you will remember your visit.
If you have your heart set on the Gold Coast Beaches, you can still start in San Jose, stay as long as you want, and then head up to Arenal Volcano and the Tabacon Hot Springs for a day or two. You won't regret it. Then you can travel by some combination of raft, boat, ATV, horse or even balloon moving closer to the Monteverde Cloud Forest as you enjoy your adventures.
Finally, you can rent a car in Montverde (usually for an extra fee) or travel down the mountain by bus and then rent a car. Next stop the Gold Coast that is only about a three hour drive away.
Using this approach you will get more value for your travel dollar and the diversity should help make your vacation even more memorable.