It really is up to your preferences. Manuel Antonio is by far the most visited, touristy and developed. Dominical/Uvita has a lot less visitors, unspoiled rainforest around, deserted beaches and offers most of the tours offered in Manuel Antonio and additionaly tours to Caño Island and Corcovado NP. Dominical/Uvita is a lot more spread out so you would be best with a car, wille in Manuel Antonio you do not really need a car and there is a lot more restaurants. So have a look att each area and depends what you are after make a choice.
If you like to be spoiled by a wide choice of hotels, restaurants and surrounded by fellow tourists then Manuel Antonio is the place for you. There is a nice park with easy to walk paths and a lot of maybe "too friendly" wildlife, and some beaches that are among the best on the Pacific coast.
On the other side Dominical is best suited for those that are seeking more "back to the nature" experience. Lodges are smaller yet equally good, some even luxurious. The rain forest is dense, coming down to the sea, views from many lodges are fantastic. No shortage of activities either, with Hacienda Baru almost next door, horseback riding in the hills or to the Nauyaca waterfall, and with Corcovado within a day trip away.
A tough decision for many. My vote goes to Dominical. For me it better represents the essence of Costa Rica.
Manuel Antonio has more hotels, restaurants and tour options and is a little bit pricier. The park is fabulous and worth seeing. Dominical is more of a spread out area, with beautiful beaches and a surfer feel. Very nice, and about 30 mins from each other. Either one you will enjoy!
My personal preference would be Manuel Antonio for beautiful beaches and nature. Many great nature tours can be enjoyed at Manuel Antonio, it is for a reason that is so visited. It will not be crowded unless you travel the end of the year or easter week.
The Keys for sure over Daytona! :) I think Dominical is the way to go.
Now I am looking at where to stay. I have found some great options with villas and houses. Any recommendations on the ones below based on first hand knowledge or location?
2) Casa Bonita - flipkey.com/dominical-villa-rentals/p353378/
This one doensn't have a/c is that really an issue?
All the ones above are nice options but quite different ofrm each other. If you are interested in the Dominical area look at listinngs for Ojochal and Uvita as well for a wider choice. Uvita is about 15 minutes away from Dominical and the area is spread out. ie none of the properties above are in Dominical most are located between Dominical and Uvita. Regardless if you stay the Hacienda Baru is definitivly worth a visit for a hike or zip line. Enjoy the area its a good choice if you dont want the crowds.
Until just over a year ago the coastal highway used to only go to Manuel Antonio and there was dirt road with an uncomfortable drive to Dominical, thus most people used stop and not go further South and the development as it was the closet and most convenient spot for Rainforest. Now there is a new road paved HW all the way to Dominical, Uvita and beyond. Key West over Daytona is a good comparison! Enjoy the area.
In Hacienda Baru the rooms that are overlooking the pool are nicest but there is no view to the sea. If in your price range and looking for some luxury then consider TikiVillas Rainforest Lodge. There are 5 separate "villas" well appointed, with excellent view over the sea, and a common area with infinity pool. The price for the view is the steep driveway, you need to have a 4x4 car. With easier access is Alma de Hatillo, near Hacienda Baru. Rooms are not so nice but their pool is one of the largest in the area, and the common patio is equipped with hammocks. The breakfast prepared and served by Sabrina is delicious, homemade jams.
We are definitely on a budget. Thats why I started looking into villas and houses because they are more affordable.
Divindaze, as you are a Florida resident, you will know if you appreciate air/con or if you can rely on a fan...save money..maybe move up a hotel level? As to a choice, do not discount one of the world's best beaches at Manuel Antonio. true, it is a bit more touristy, but the area offers more to all levels of tourism, from over the top elegant, to the truly budget minded (IMHO). The park is a must see to experience CR wildlife, and there are plenty of places to lay your head along the way. restaurants are abundant, and if you need suggestions, many TA contributors can share their favs with you. Wherever you decide, have a great holiday.