Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, anchored by the port city of Limón, is known for its low-key, tranquil vibe – but braving potholes trewn roads to get there is anything but a calming experience. The good news is reaching this haven of turquoise water and green jungles is about to get a lot easier (and quicker) with the inauguration of two new flights to Limón.
Beginning next month, the city’s roughly 65-year-old airport will host regular 50-minute flights to and from San José on Sansa Regional Costa Rica airlines Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And beginning mid-August, Sansa will fly from Limón to Bocas del Toro, Panama, turning it into a truly international airport, according to Sansa reservations agent Cynthia Villalobos.
Costa Rican airline Nature Air also plans to begin flights Dec. 1 – one from San José to Limón and another that stops over in Limón and continues to Bocas del Toro, according to Nature Air Sales and Marketing Director Alexi Huntley. [Nature Air has been flying from San José direct to Bocas del Toro since the beginning of this year (TT, Jan. 13)].
Additionally, the airline will offer a flight from Limón to the northern Caribbean town and national park of Tortuguero – an alternative to getting to the roadless destination by boat through scenic canals or via a flight from San José.
“We’ve had our eye on Limón for three years now – it is a wonderful part of Costa Rica that offers wildlife, culture, music and great food,” Huntley said.
Area tourism organizations have been working for about a year to get flights to Limón, beginning with conducting market studies to prove their efforts would be fruitful, said Noel Fergusen, president of the Limón Chamber of Commerce, Tourism and Industry.
“We hope this helps improve our level of competition and attract investment, both with foreign tourists and Costa Ricans,” Fergusen said.
Owners of businesses in the Limón area, known for its unique cultural mix of residents of indigenous, Afro-Caribbean, Chinese and European descent, have long wanted to make it more accessible to tourists.
“We have so much beauty to give, and many people don’t know about it,” said Norma Christy, general manager of the Limón airport. “This is good news for this airport, because before we didn’t have any regular flights coming in. We think this is an easy way to get tourists here.”
The only air traffic the airport sees now is from chartered and private flights; Nature Air offers charter flights from San José to Limón. The price ranges from $800-2,400, so naturally the airline deals mostly with corporate or private groups.
The other way to get to Limón is by spending hours on highways by bus or car – with the possibility of never reaching the destination because of bad weather or closed highways, Christy said.
Wendy Strebes, owner of Cashew Hill Jungle Lodge in the southern Caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo and Tico Times community correspondent, agreed the flights will make the area more accessible for guests who aren’t willing to spend all day in the car to get there.
“A lot of guests want an easier and faster way to get here,” said Strebes, who is from the United States and has owned Cashew Hill for three years. “In fact, some people get angry that it takes so long. They see that you can fly to the Pacific coast and they want to know what the deal is with the Caribbean.”
The airport will hopefully serve as an engine that will drive development in Limón, since more tourists hitting the area’s beaches means more jobs for Limón’s residents, said Alberto López, executive director of the National Tourism Chamber (CANATUR).
Thanks to coordination with tourism organizations in Puerto Viejo and nearby Cahuita, passengers can pay an extra $10 when they book their flights to have a car meet them at the terminal to take them to hotels in those two popular locations, López said.
Making flights to Limón possible required coordination with government offices; the National Oil Refinery (RECOPE) agreed to establish a fuel supply terminal, and Public Security, Customs and Immigration officials will also begin operating at the airport as soon as flights begin, Fergusen said.
A weather service to serve the airport has also been installed, though for the most part, no other major infrastructure changes or added costs are expected.
An inaugural flight is scheduled for June 30 for government officials, special invitees and the press, and Sansa will begin regular flights to Limón from San José July 1 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 a.m. and from Limón to San José at 9 a.m. Tickets cost $60 one way and $115 round trip plus taxes. For reservations, visit www.flysansa.com or call 221-9414.
Beginning Dec. 1, Nature Air will fly from the capital to Limón at 6:15 a.m. and from Limón to Tortuguero, then on to San José, at 7 a.m. The flight will cost $70 plus taxes one way. Additionally, Nature Air will fly from Bocas del Toro to Limón daily at 3:30 p.m. and from Limón to San José at 4:15 p.m. The Bocas del Toro to Limón flight will run between $35-75, depending on specials being offered, Huntley said. For more information, visit www.natureair.com or call 299-6000.