The first time I visited Costa Rica three years ago, I saw way too much of it from the window of a van, while bouncing along bad roads. This time I vowed to spend more time where I wanted to be and to get a big picture view of the country from above. After four great flights on Nature Air, I’d definitely go the same route again.
Nature Air stands out in a lot of ways. It’s an independent operation (not part of a larger conglomerate) and is a carbon-neutral airline—the first one to be able to claim that designation. Whatever it can’t conserve or resuse, it offsets with carbon credits going to reforestation. I have trouble putting much faith in carbon credits normally, but in Costa Rica I saw a lot of reforestation work in motion, so it seems like more than an ambiguous concept.
The airline flies to 14 airports in its home country, plus three in Panama and one in Nicaragua. It hits all the places you would probably want to go, like Liberia, Tamarindo, Arenal, Quepos, Puerto Jiminez, Limon, and Tortuguero.
In a small country like Costa Rica, obviously these are not big jets making the runs. These are small prop planes holding either 7 or 19 passengers. Three of my flights were on the latter, but on my last one, from Quepos to San Jose, I was about to sit down as #6 when the pilot asked me to move—into the co-pilot seat! With a front view taking off and landing, that’s definitely a flight I won’t forget.
Don’t expect a lot of frills with these flights: that’s not the point. Many cost under $100 and none of them are very long. These are more like air taxis than commercial planes. There’s an in-flight magazine, but that’s about it. These planes are so small that the pilot just turns around and tells you how long the flight will be and if you’re stopping anywhere along the way to drop off and pick up passengers. Don’t worry—announcements are in both English and Spanish.
If the clouds aren’t too heavy, you’ll spend most of the time looking out the window anyway. This is a great way to see how lush and green the landscape is in Costa Rica and you can actually make out the topography and coastline that you’re seeing on a map.
When you go to book a flight on Nature Air, you’ll notice a wide disparity in fares. The two main variables are refund options and weight allowances. The weight allowances are so low at the bottom end that you pretty much have to be traveling with nothing more than an overnight bag: 15 pounds for checked luggage, 10 for your carry-on. If you have a laptop and an SLR camera in your carry-0n, you’re probably already over the limit. If you have these things plus a typical 22-inch wheelie bag, you’ll be coughing up an extra $40 at the counter. So get out a calculator and buy and pack accordingly after looking at the guidelines on their website.
Their Nature Vacations arm also books vacation packages with a variety of itineraries and styles (adventure, romantic, eco-tourism), all with domestic flights folded into the package prices. They know the country inside-out, plus the prices are competitive.