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Planning first trip to Costa Rica - lots of questions...

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This trip will most likely be towards the end of January. I'm thinking 8-10 days (including travel days). We are trying to use frequent flyer miles on either Continental or American from NYC.
1. I'm thinking splitting time between Manual Antonio (w/ beach access) and Arenal areas. Does this make sense for a 1st trip to CR? Is there time for another location (if yes, where?)? What's a good itinerary?
2. Do we need a car? or do we use car service and cabs?
3. Which airports make the most sense for these locations?
4. what are approx driving times between locations and also to/from airport?
5. Would we need to spend last night near airport?
6. Are there walkable towns with restaurants in the areas we are considering?
7. hotel recs, no more than $250/night. We also may travel with another couple, so a 2 bedroom villa type place may also be a possibility (at < $500). I've been looking at Tulemar in Manual Antonio. It came up in a few places and was also recommended. Other places I came across in Arenal are Peace Lodge, Lost Iguana, Leaves and Lizards. I have no idea of their availability since I don't have exact dates yet. Other suggestions are appreciated.

Thanks.

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