You caught me at a bored moment...let's see if my computer will stay on long enough for me to answer (been having problems lately). Location: Arenal/Monte Verde is a good 5 hours or so from Manuel Antonio and about 2-3 I'd figure from Liberia. Manuel Antonio is a good 4-5 hours from San Jose Intl. No matter where you go on the Pacific, you'll find scuba, canopy tours (usually via zip-lines), 4x4, river rafting, etc. offered at most beach towns, usually 15-20 mins from the location depending on the activity. I wouldn't worry so much about distance for those. Canopy tours would probably be best around Monte Verde as it's green year-round. Not sure what to tell you in terms of CT travel but most major airlines fly down to San Jose daily and quite a few also go to Liberia. Shop around. Cost: It's as relative as a trip anywhere else and really can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to be. Staying at beach towns will be more "expensive" depending on location because of its focus on tourism. You can google for hotel rates to see what I mean. In terms of food, expect to pay $5-10 for a typical meal in these towns although you can shop around for specials (TONS of happy hour places). Away from the touristy places, you'll find small cafes called "Sodas" with meals typically in the below $5 range. There's a small place by my school, for example, where I get lunch every once in a while. Full plate of chicken, rice, beans, plantains, salad, veggies, and a beer with tax/tip incl. usually runs me under $4 (a meal called a casado). Most of the day activities, especially in tourist areas, will typically cost you a little below or at US prices depending on the company. Again, several companies have sites on the web for that stuff. Resort: I'm a photographer myself. PM me your email and I'll show you some shots of the different locations I've been to. I'm sure you'll find some packages that offer beachfront views but they'll probably come at a premium. If you decide to pick and choose your own hotels, which is easier these days as more and more places have online reservations, you'll probably be better off budget-wise but you'd still have to deal with transportation. Knowing that Feb usually isn't a popular tourism month might actually lean towards a package in terms of discounts. Google Manuel Antonio for shots of wildlife. Same with Monte Verde. San Jose: This isn't Old San Juan. Sorry. There is a historic street known as Paseo Colon and while you'll see older stores, it's actually more of a downtown metropolis. There is a stretch with older government buildings/parks that's fine to visit during the day and see things such as the National Theatre. At night, however, it really becomes another thing entirely. The area around Mall San Pedro is pretty popular with the younger crowd with plenty of bars, clubs, and lounges. While I do have a good time when going out with friends, I really can't see telling my friends back home that taking them to these places is an absolute MUST. Another area known as Escazu typically is more upscale and is very popular with Americans. While farther away from me than San Pedro, I prefer the scene over there as there is a healthy mix of bars. If you decide to spend a night/day in San Jose, I'd probably point you over there. One place is particular is a favorite of mine for live music. I've heard the house band play anything from salsa and meringue to American R&B (and done rather well, I might add). Getting Around: I'll take a guess and assume you speak limited/no spanish. While more and more Costa Ricans are learning the value of speaking english, it isn't quite universal. However, let's say you're staying a Holiday Inn in San Jose and wanted to get to Escazu. The hotel would be able to call you a cab out there and I'm sure could arrange something where they can call another one to pick you up or hail one back. Taxis are literally everywhere here and yes, if you call them they will typically be at your door in under 10 mins. Most major hotels will have shuttles to/from the airport and some to other parts of the city. If you're thinking of staying in San Jose, shoot off an email to a chain here asking what they offer in terms of transportation to get a more precise answer. Beaches and Snorkling: It really depends on the beach. Some beaches you find will have the white sand you've been dreaming of while others won't, and I'm talking about neighboring beaches. The locations already discussed will have great snorkling/scuba diving but you might have to rent a boat/tour to take you to a more secluded beach/reef. As I mentioned with Manuel Antonio, inside the national park you can just swim out to the reefs and have a field day. Visibility when was last there was around 25-30 ft. depending on the area. See pic:
As a scuba diver, you typically will not see sharks in shallow water, let alone by these reefs so close to the shore. I'm actually hoping to catch glipses of a few when I'm up in Ocotal as I've never seen them before. I wouldn't worry about them. One recommendation I do have about snorkeling is that if you go solo, bring crackers in plastic bags. The tour groups have practically trained the fish to recognize the color of the cracker containers and aren't shy about eating right out of your hand. Nightlife: Already mentioned but I will add that there's a beach bar in Manuel Antonio that has a very famous party every Saturday night, usually with a bonfire. I'd highly recommend it. About every place with an ocean view has great happy hours, such as the Barba Roja and the Avion Bar. There is not a lack of nightlife here. Also note that the national park is closed on Monday's.