San Jose Juan Santamaría Intl. Airport Spotting Guide

If you’re looking for a fascinating and exotic family holiday destination, which can also provide you with an interesting variety of airline traffic to see and photograph, then San José, Costa Rica is the place to visit and Juan Santamaria International is its airport.
Juan Santamaria is situated near the city of Alajuela, 20km northwest of downtown San José. It is the second busiest airport in Central America and the main, and by far the busiest, airport in Costa Rica. It handled 82,835 movements and 4.5 million passengers in 2015.The airport handles an interesting variety of traffic from around the region, and highlights include Cubana AN-158s and Air Panama Fokker 100s as well as 737s of Albatros of Venezuela and the new local carrier Air Costa Rica. Other regional traffic includes Copa 737s and E190s, Avianca A319/A320/A321s and ATR 72s, 737s of Aeromexico and Wingo, A319s of Veca Airlines and A320s of Interjet and Volaris. The airport is also the hub for local carriers SANSA with Cessna 208 Caravans and Nature Air with their colourful Let 410s, all of which are likely to make several local trips during the course of a day. Most major US and Canadian carriers also put in an appearance, and from Europe, Air France, British Airways, Iberia, Condor and Thompson show up on a regular basis. Cargo operators include ABX Air, Avianca Cargo, DHL, Fedex, LAN Cargo and UPS.

Costa Rica has no air force, but the police operate a few aircraft of interest including a couple of recently delivered Harbin Y12s, a present from the People’s Republic of China. A few bizjets are also likely to visit on most days.

Written by Clive Grant, Cristian Quijano (last update March 2017)

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Airline Variety
Photo Locations
Airport Information Runways 07/25
3.043m (9.882ft)
 Terminals Main Domestic
All operators Sansa Airlines, Nature Air
Spotting Information Ladder Not needed.
Car Needed to get to spots 4 & 5. Otherwise you can walk to spots 1-3 from the terminal/hotels but be careful when crossing the highway!
Restrooms In the terminal building
Drinks/Food Refreshments are available in the terminal building or some restaurants next to the hotels
Hotels There are several hotels close to the airport. The Holiday Inn Express and the Hampton Inn & Suites are probably the most convenient.
Season It’s best to visit during the dry season between December and April. Although the temperature is fairly constant throughout the year, it can get quite wet and sticky during the rainy season from May to November.
Runway Usage General Info The prevailing winds are north-easterly and therefore Runway 07 is usually in use. There also appears to be a preference for using Runway 07 even when there is a slight tailwind.

Spot #1 – Runway 25 Crash Gate – 25 arrivals and departures
WHERE Not far from the terminal at the eastern end of the airport Route 111 passes the end of Runway 25. Locals sometimes park and watch the traffic from here. Park on the opposite side of the road from the airport so as not to attract attention.
WHAT Choose your spot in the field to get the best angle for photos of landing traffic on Runway 25. For Runway 25 departing traffic, cross the road and take your photo through the crash gate but cross back over afterwards so as not to attract attention.
TIME In the winter months, almost all day for landing shots. Departing shots in the morning only.
MISC. There are no facilities at this spot and no shade, so bring whatever you need.
FOCAL LENGTH 100-250mm for arrivals; 50-150mm for departures.

Spot #2 – Bench Under the Tree – 25 arrivals and departures
WHERE Coming from Spot No.1 along the south-eastern perimeter road, there is a bend in Route 111 (Calle La Candela), where it starts to run parallel and close to the runway. There is plenty of room to park on the opposite side of the road. Locals regularly gather here to watch the aircraft and there is even a very basic bench to sit on under the trees.
WHAT Shots of traffic rolling on Runway 25 can be taken through the fence as well as Runway 07 arrivals if they taxi down this far. Traffic must be on the runway as the taxiway beyond dips too low for photos. You can shot there trough the mesh of the fence.
TIME In the winter months almost all day, although the light gets worse towards sunset.
MISC. There are no facilities at this spot so bring whatever you need.

Spot #3 – Former La Candela Restaurant –  07 departures
WHERE Travelling further west along the southern perimeter road from Spot No.2, a bend to the left in Route 111 brings you to a field. It’s probably best to park at Spot No.2 and walk down, as parking outside the restaurant is limited.

+++ The Restaurant has been demolished an there is just a blank field now +++

WHAT It is also possible to take departing shots from Runway 07 although fast climbing traffic may be too high by this point.
TIME In the winter months almost all day, although the light gets worse towards sunset. Most importantly, note that the restaurant doesn’t open until 10am or later.
MISC. Nothing nearby
Spot #4 – Western Crash Gate – 07 arrivals and departures
WHERE Continue west along the southern perimeter road, Calle La Candela. The road surface is appalling at this point so take your time! At the point where the road bends to the left there is a crash gate. Park under the tree away from the crash gate otherwise you will be asked to move by the authorities.
WHAT This spot is only suitable for Runway 07 arrivals and departures, so it’s only useful if you haven’t got time to run to Spot No.5, or if you fancy a different angle for some of your 07 arrival and departure shots. You have to shot through the latch of the crash gate so the view is limited.
TIME In the winter months almost all day, although the light becomes tail on towards sunset.
MISC. There is nothing here so bring what you need with you.

Spot #5 – Mound Looking over the Fence – all movements
WHERE Park at Spot No.4 and walk up past the tree, through the broken fence and about 100 metres along the airport perimeter fence line until you get to a mound which gives you enough height to take photos over the fence.
WHAT This is by far the best spot to take photos at Juan Santamaria as you can photograph all arriving and departing traffic from here whichever end of the runway is in use. It’s also the place where the local photographers come. This spot is at the touchdown point for Runway 07, so this is where you’ll get those dramatic smoking tyre shots as aircraft touch down. It is also useful for traffic on the parallel taxiway; this is handy as the Nature Air Let 410s have different schemes on each side.
TIME In the winter months almost all day, although the light gets worse towards sunset.
MISC. There is nothing here and no shade, so bring what you need with you.

Spot #6 – Cruce de Río Segundo de Alajuela – 25 arrivals
WHERE Situated on a road North of “Cruce de Río Segundo de Alajuela”. From the airport/hotels get on the HWY 3 and then turn left into the “Calle La Epacadora”. Spot is net to the Airport Costa Rica B&B.
WHAT Arrivals on RWY 25 only.
TIME In the summer months when suns turn around. Starting from the afternoon till sunset.
MISC. There is nothing nearby. Everything next to the main road.
FOCAL LENGTH 150-300mm
Spot #7 – Resodencial La Giralda – 25 arrivals
WHERE At a fence near “Residencial La Giralda” in Alajuela. Similar to previous spot #6, but on higher level, providing a nice view leveled with the aircraft. Just continue westwards form the previous spot.
WHAT Same as spot #6, arrivals on RWY 25 but you may get mountains in the background, even other planes circling to the 25. There are some trees so you need to plan ahead where to stand and quickly adjust depending on altitude.
Disadvantage to #6 is the longer focal length and the heat distortion.
TIME In the summer months when suns turn around. Starting from the afternoon till sunset.
MISC. There is nothing here.
FOCAL LENGTH 300-600mm

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