Cheap flights are a good way to ease international tensions, and Alex Khajavi, CEO and founder of Nature Air, is going to prove it.
In early March, days before the Inter-national Court of Justice ruled on the Costa Rica and Nicaragua border dispute along the Río San Juan, Khajavi and Nature Air opened new routes connecting the neighboring nations. Since March, Nature Air, the world’s first certified carbon-neutral airline, has been offering round-trip flights between San José’s Tobías Bolaños International Airport and Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua. Flights to Managua also depart from the Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste.
“These countries are brother nations that have so much in common with each other,” Khajavi told The Tico Times. “With tensions still a little high, we’re hoping that these flights will serve as a sort of olive branch between the two countries. We hope it will encourage people from both countries to visit their neighbor.”
One-way flights between San José and Managua begin at $79. One-way flights between Liberia and Managua start at $65.
On the day of the inaugural flight, then Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides and Nicaraguan Ambassador to Costa Rica Harold Rivas attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Tobias Bolaños International Airport in Pavas, west of San José. Traditional Nicaraguan music played in the airport foyer and typical Nicaraguan dishes such as Nacatamal, vigorón and tostones were served.
“Though we are neighboring countries, there are many citizens of each country that know very little about the other’s culture,” Benavides said. “It is nice to see that Nature Air is showing people how these countries are so close in proximity, yet have such distinct cultures.”
During flights, low-flying Nature Air planes have large windows that allow passengers great views of the many landscapes below. Flying north into Nicaragua, Costa Rica’s rolling green hills give way to southwestern Nicaraguan landscape. The new route follows giant Lake Nicaragua and two majestic volcanoes perched atop the Ometepe Islands in the lake’s center.
Several international airlines offer flights between Managua and San José. But according to Lucy Valenti, president of the Nicaraguan National Tourism Chamber (Canatur), Nature Air’s discounted flights could serve as a quicker and more comfortable alternative to international bus lines that traverse the two countries.
“Bus fare between Nicaragua and Costa Rica is around $30 to 40 and takes eight to nine hours to travel from one capital city to the other,” Valenti said. “These flights, which don’t cost much more, can get you from Managua to San José in about an hour.”
To publicize the new route, Nature Air offered press members a tour of the colonial city of Granada, about an hour’s drive south of the capital. Granada, which was first settled by the Spanish in 1524, has a cultural and historical richness that towns and pueblos in Costa Rica simply cannot match.
Granada, with its stirring central plaza and vibrantly colored buildings, has kept its Spanish origins intact throughout the 487-year history of the city, even after the notorious U.S. filibuster William Walker burned the city to the ground in the mid-1800s. The quaint city offers open-air restaurants, cafés with terraces, colonial cathedrals and horse-drawn carriages plodding down the narrow city streets.
“Granada is known as the cultural capital of Nicaragua,” said Julio Flores of Oro Travel in Granada. “It has been restored several times but has always maintained a Spanish-style feel. People come to Granada to see Nicaragua as it was hundreds of years ago.”
From the shores of Granada on Lake Nicaragua, short boat rides offer tourists quick trips to the 365 “little islands” that float in the northwest waters of the lake. The “isletas” are home to some of the most luxurious homes in the country.
According to Khajavi, the new flights are a sign of things to come.
“We hope to open a route to Panama City in the next few months,” he said. “After that, we are looking at routes to Tegucigalpa and maybe San Pedro Sula in Honduras. Our goal is to offer flights to all countries of the region in the next few years.”
Nature Air’s plans to add flights throughout Central America mean more competition in a market that has been priced through the roof lately. And while Nature Air may not be successful in solving political cross-border spats, it will at least accomplish its main objective: easing the tension on travelers’ wallets.