When I booked my (one-way) flight to Costa Rica from New York City back in April 2016 for my August trip, I didn’t envisage that my journey that would be so friggin’ long and expensive – but also so very, very Snapchat-worthy (holler – @girlunfurled). But whilst flying to Costa Rica wasn’t the smoothest trip I’ve ever taken, it was probably one of the most entertaining, as it involved;
1. A surprise stop-off in El Salvador (ok, whilst technically not a surprise in that the details were ON my flight plan – I just failed to look at my ticket properly. But still, I was spooked when I touched down in a country that I hadn’t mentally prepared to set foot in).
2 Paying over £300 for a return flight because I didn’t plan anything properly.
3. A sunset flight in a tiny, rickety pilot’s plane across Costa Rica.
If none of that really appeals to you then don’t do what I did.
If you want a cheap, hassle free-trip in a normal plane and don’t want to fear for your life, then some serious forward planning is the way to do it. But for everyone else, try booking with Avianca, the Colombian airline.
Getting cheap flights
Flying to Costa Rica from the east coast of the States should normally be chill – and definitely under £500 ($666) for a return, in peak season. But because throwing money down the drain gives me a thrill (this week, I just bought six avocados and didn’t use them!) and I didn’t plan ahead, I initially bought a one-way ticket with Avianca. Admittedly a very cheap one, though.
By booking back in April 2016 for an August 2016 flight I managed to get a one-way to Costa Rica for just £120 ($150). You can’t even get a pair of Nikes for that. (Ok, you can but not the ones I want right now).
To compare, my return flight was booked just two weeks prior to returning to NYC and cost a nauseating £300 ($400)
The tiny little pilot’s plane
After flying with Avianca in Colombia last year, I was confident my flight would be bueno again. But then again, with airlines, you never can tell. Avianca practically stuff a seemingly unlimited supply of burritos, booze and snacks down your gullet on the plane, though. So cheap airfare + decent-ish plane food = happy camper.
But then I touch down in El Salvador and after getting over the initial shock of being in the ‘wrong’ country, I learn that the second leg of my journey from El Salvador to the main Costa Rica airport, Liberia is cancelled. So I was told I’d be flying to Costa Rica at some point – just not to the airport I wanted, or the time I was told.
Instead I have to head to San Jose which is near Liberia, then get a transfer. Which is later find out is on one of those teeeny planes that people look sky-dive from.
When I get to San Jose I feel really foreign again. No-one’s around to direct me to my transfer and all the other passengers just go to collect their bags like normal. I’m just standing in this tiny airport, bag-less, confused and thinking: ‘QUE?’
Luckily I happen to overhear that some Americans (you can’t not hear them) are looking for the same transfer as me, so we find an Avianca staff-member who doesn’t clarify anything.
In fact, there’s fifteen minutes of chaos when I lose the group and find myself running through the airport shouting ‘DONDE ESTA MI AVIANCA FLIGHT POR FAVOR?’ until someone takes pity on me and I’m finally taken to a match-box sized terminal with the others. It’s here I see everyone getting weighed with their bags, as they check-in.
Then I realise; I will be flying to Costa Rica onboard one of those plastic-looking practice planes, smaller than a Brixton nightclub toilet in width and about 15ft in length.
‘This is the last flight of the day. No mas’, an Avianca worker says as he checks me in. No choice then, I think.
I’m actually quite excited as we all wait in a cafe waiting room which overlooks the runway area for the mini-planes. Eventually a little bell goes off, like an actual ‘DING’ from an old-fashioned push-bell and we walk out the cafe doors, straight onto the runway, strolling alongside the actual pilots like we’re going for a picnic or something, and straight onto our plane.
When we get onboard (our bags on our laps and our hair about 15mm from the plane roof), everyone’s half-tense, half ecstatic. But as we take off, I realise you can feel every little pocket of air in turbulence. The bumps that would barely disrupt a jet feel like they’re going to take our little plastic plane down. Then ominously as we take off, a little kid shouts “Mummy are we going to die?” and everyone’s nervous laughing, really bad at this point.
Anyway the views are pretty incredible. It was my first time in CR, so to fly across the country and take in the verdant landscape below as the sun sets right in front of me; it was a flying experience I won’t forget.
Especially because my pilot whips out his iPhone DURING the air, to take a photo of the aforementioned sunset. I nearly reach for the emergency parachute I’m in such shock. And I can see everything because I’m right behind the pilots. It was too much.
But then I return my focus to staring out the window in a dream-like trance and saying Hail Mary’s every time the plane dips.
The best bit of the whole journey by far, though, was when we landed. The pilot’s door turns into a ladder as he opens it and he just swings down it like Fireman Sam or something, onto the runway and nonchalantly walks off whilst we get our bags.
Anyway to get from San Jose to Liberia in one of these little planes only took under an hour. And even though I highly doubt Avianca deliberately set all that up just for my travelling pleasure, it was definitely the best thing to come out of a cancelled flight and a long delay in El Salvador. I don’t know if the whole thing has made me more or less nervous about flying though.
Have you been to Costa Rica? Would you fly in one of these tiny propeller planes, if you had the choice?