Nicaragua. Once known for weak infrastructure and political instability, the country has gained new fame as "the next Costa Rica." And it does indeed have similar attributes, including a Pacific coastline beloved by surfers, active volcanoes and expanses of rainforest. It's also now considered one of the safest Latin American countries.
Arguably, the country's best beach destination is the Pacific fishing village of San Juan del Sur. "There's a picture-perfect crescent bay," says Joshua Berman, co-author of Moon Handbooks Nicaragua. "And the beaches to the north and south are stunning."
Wherever you head, keep in mind that Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in this hemisphere, and as such it has roads that are bumpy and water that isn't always potable. On the plus side, since the dollar is strong against the local córdoba, you can get a topnotch room for $150 a night and a good meal for $15.
Where to stay: The country's top-rated resort, Morgan's Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge, is a half-hour from San Juan del Sur. "It's built sustainably into the landscape with luxury tree houses hanging over the ocean," says Berman.
Activities include hiking, kayaking and biking; most of the food is local. Rates, all-inclusive, run $183 to $293 per person per night.
Last updated January 24 2008: 7:01 PM ET