Freaked out about Flying in Costa Rica

E. to Fortuna from Quepos 216 (13)

If you haven’t zip-lined or bungee jumped I recommend the next closest thing to an extreme sport in Costa Rica: flying in a small plane.

With the country being so mountainous and the roads such a mess, flying is the quickest way of getting around. So before our month-long trip I booked 3 flights with Natureair. After our pleasant experience taking a small seaplane in Thailand I thought it would be a fun and unique way of seeing the geography of Costa Rica.


Our 1st flight, from Quepos to La Fortuna, was a roller-coaster ride through large, heavy clouds. 45 minutes of bouncing around in a 6 foot wide metal cylinder, seeing nothing but gray, rain furiously beating against the windows. The plane creaked and wailed as we bounced off clouds, the contents our stomachs ping-ponged around. We didn’t know whether to puke or crap ourselves. Incredibly, we suddenly came out of low-lying clouds to see the runway about 100 ft below and landed smoothly.


E. to Fortuna from Quepos 216 (11)

Above: Here comes our plane (Quepos – La Fortuna)

E. to Fortuna from Quepos 216 (17)

E. to Fortuna from Quepos 216 (7)

E. to Fortuna from Quepos 216 (8)

Above: Just before it started getting really bad.

Our 2nd flight, from La Fortuna to Santa Teresa, was all that I had imagined when booking the tickets; a gloriously smooth flight,  the views over the Pacific and Nicoya Peninsula magical in the late afternoon light. It was only a setup for flight number 3.

Below: Plane (La Fortuna – Santa Teresa)

FX. La Fortuna to Santa Teresa 153 (23)

Below: views of Arenal volcano

FX. La Fortuna to Santa Teresa 153 (1)

Below: Over the Nicoya Peninsula

FX. La Fortuna to Santa Teresa 153 (12)

Flight number 3
, from Santa Teresa to San Jose, looked promising. The skies were cloudless, there was only a small breeze on the ground. That ended about 30 seconds after takeoff when the plane was suddenly violently buffeted sideways by unseen winds. The intensity of turbulence only increased as we crossed the gulf of Nicoya. During the first flight we had bounced off clouds; on this flight it was as if a magical hand was swatting the plane midair. With each swat came a huge banging noise and a sudden change in trajectory. Our little metal box felt as insignificant as a fly in a hurricane. An hour later, our knees shaking and our eyes glassy, we landed in San Jose.

Natureair flying out of santa teresa

Above: Taking off, Santa Teresa – San Jose. No more photos after this, we just held on to anything we could.

Natureair was well organized and is a quick way of getting around Costa Rica. And I have great admiration for the pilots. They must honestly have balls of steel to do what they do. But what people should know is that the abundance of mountain ranges in Costa Rica result in some nasty crosswinds and scary flying conditions. Prepare yourself in advance. It was the last trip on a small plane for BBQboy and Spanky*. Never again.

* You know we were traumatized when I start referring to ourselves in the 3rd person πŸ™‚


 For more on Costa Rica, see our detailed Destination Guide.


Have you had memorable experiences flying on small planes? Tell us about it!



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  1. For some reason, I had second thoughts before I read this post! I have a fear of flying as it is (I have my reasons) and reading your blog sealed the deal of me never, ever getting into a small plane! πŸ˜‰ But it sounds like a ‘rockin’ experience!! I have to admit that the views are spectacular though!!
    Constance recently posted…Keeping My Bearings in Taipei – Thanks to CKS Memorial HallMy Profile

    • It’s especially turbulent in the Central Valley surrounding San Jose, the mountains creating a lot of nasty crosswinds. But yes, some nice views.

  2. Sounds super fun! x_x .. The only time I’ve ever been in a small plane (besides a regional jet) was to actually jump out of it, hah. I’m not that big a fan of props, gimme a JET A fuel guzzling engine please.
    Devlin recently posted…Las Calles de Playa del Carmen: Nuestro Nuevo HogarMy Profile

    • Jumped out of a plane!?! Good for you! It’s on a list of things I have to do but have to admit my palms get sweaty just thinking about it…

  3. When I was younger I used to fly voluntarily for the Civil Air Patrol in the Hawaiian islands. Unfortunately, I have major issues with my inner ears so I get motion sickness rather easily. And it didn’t help that there is no air conditioning in the plane, just a little vent, which is right next to the gas gauge. Needless to say, my short tenure as a potential pilot was over before it even began. At least I got to fly a few flights around the islands – those were memories I’ll always have. The one thing the actual pilot always told me when we went on those flights, “Don’t worry, if something goes wrong, the plane becomes a glider and it can land in either the ocean.” I think it would be the same kind of geography in Costa Rica. You survived … as did I.

    • Sounds like a great experience!! Hawaii from the air must be gorgeous.

      I was never nervous on the seaplane in Thailand because, like you say, we could have landed on the sea all around us. But Costa Rica was different – you get crazy winds, especially as you approach the central valley where San Jose is located. I’m serious, was like hitting a wall of wind and I could just see the plane being knocked upside down and spiraling out of control into the mountains below. Survived but I’m not getting on a plane like that anytime soon…

  4. This made me laugh! We just traveled all around Tanzania and then to Zanzibar on a Cessna. Sea planes I am perfectly okay with and I never normally feel queasy when flying, but those Cessnas can be hot and the slightest bump can just turn my stomach.
    Jennifer recently posted…Elephants at a Watering Hole in Tarangire National ParkMy Profile

  5. Yikes! I always get worried flying in those small planes. I recently went on my first helicopter trip over the Rocky Mountains and the wind made the helicopter shift side to side, a few times. It was nerve wracking! I’m glad your flights landed safely!

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I’ve never been in a helicopter, they actually make me a bit nervous; It’s not like they can glide down if the engines suddenly stop:)

  6. Dee (Dee's Butterfly Garden) says:

    The photos from the plane are breathtaking! I’ve never flown in a small plane and I’ve only flown a few times in my life, but I would try it for the great views. I’m sure I would need a good stiff drink when I got off the plane if I had an experience like you did!

Thanks for reading! Feedback is always appreciated!


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