A few meters from Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José, Costa Rica lies the perfect watering hole for beer-guzzling AvGeeks, or “aviation geeks” like myself. La Candela is a two story bar and restaurant located directly across from the airport, alongside the main runway. Patrons can enjoy drinks and typical Costa Rican cuisine while plane-spotting like pros.
As soon as I heard about La Candela, I knew I had to raise my own glass to the best air show in town. On the return trip from Poas Volcano, I spy San José’s International Airport from the main highway and declare an immediate boozy pit stop. We exit the highway and take a curving service road along the airport’s perimeter. The parking lot is packed and the planes are lining up for take-off.
Climb a set of iron stairs up to the restaurant’s dining area, a long open-air space with rows of tables facing the airport. The restaurant used to broadcast the control tower’s radio frequency so patrons could track inbound and outbound aircraft, but the system is currently offline. I order a Pilsen, my favorite Costa Rican beer, and wait for the flying entertainment to begin.
Aviation enthusiasts gripping cameras with long lenses line the wooden railing of the narrow observation deck located a few steps up from the dining room. I watch an airplane back out of its gate and taxi to the end of runway where it pauses for clearance in a haze of shimmering air. When it begins to barrel down the runway towards the restaurant, I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. The wheels lift up and the airplane passes over our heads with a roar. The ground beneath the restaurant rumbles, awakening a symphony of shrieking car alarms. It’s pretty awesome.
La Candela is the perfect spot to grab an ice-cold beer on a long layover in San José. If you have a few extra hours to spare at the airport, why not grab a taxi and head to the other side of the runway for a lazy afternoon punctuated by the occasional thundering of a jet engine. Don’t get distracted and overstay the restaurant’s warm welcome, or else you risk watching your own flight taking off – without you.
Click here to view a fantastic aerial photograph of the SJO airport and La Candela Restaurant.