Ok, so I'm a bad blogger. It seems that I only write anything when I return from an exotic locale.
We just returned from Costa Rica. I was there 12 years ago, and I was amazed at how built up the tourist industry has become. It's not quite Hawaii yet, but it's headed that way. We stayed at some very nice hotels. Last time I was there hot an cold running water was a rare commodity, but this time, we had all air conditioned rooms, cable tv (with many channels in English), and even a mini-fridge. It's still quite a bit cheaper than Hawaii, but not the $20/day level that I experienced in 1994 (more like $150/day).
But I don't think that the allure of Costa Rica is really the cost savings. It's the things that you find there that you can't find in other countries. For instance, you can see a sloth in the wild from 5 feet away, like this cute, lazy gentleman. We also saw monkeys, Aracari (smaller members of the toucan family), Agoutis which are 3 ft long rodent thingys, poisonous snakes and spiders, and many iguanas and other lizards (including the "Jesus Christ Lizard" who can run across the water). We also went on a night hike and met many varieties of Costa Rica's super-cute tree frog population, toured a butterfly reserve, and saw cranky wild crocodiles in a river.
You can see all of these creatures even with all the development, thanks to the forward thinking decision of the Costa Rican govenment to set aside 1/4 of the land in their country for nature reserves and national parks. So going there now is kind of the best of both worlds--comfortable accomodations a short distance away from amazing natural sites.
Another advantage of these parks is that they have some outstanding beaches. The one we went to, Manuel Antonio, allows your to swim in warm water on a relatively deserted beach with jungles behind it, take a nature hike through the park, and leave and go to a resturaunt a short walk away.
The other major destination that we visited was Arenal. It's an active volcano that continuously belches lava and volcanic rock. At night, it puts on one hell of show. Unfortunately, the memory card in our camera went belly-up so our Arenal pictures went into the void, but the view from our hotel's back porch at night looked a lot like this image. It was pretty cool to sit outside, drink beer and watch the volcano. Plus, the hotel that we stayed in, the Volcano Lodge, was a great place--excellent landscaping, food, pool area, etc.
We definitely want to go back and explore more of the country. Maybe in a couple of years. Here's a complete set of our pictures for your amusement.