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5 Great, Affordable Beaches In Latin America (PHOTOS)

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When we dream of paradise, we often dream of a beach and, more specifically, a Caribbean beach. The sugar white sands, perfect hammock-ready palm trees, and sparkling blue water combine brilliantly: This is the stuff of travel dreams. Unfortunately, those travel dreams often don't match reality, thanks to big hotel and resort development on the Caribbean islands that mars the beachfront, draws huge crowds of package tourists, and jacks up prices.

If you're still dreaming of a Caribbean-style beach paradise, however, you need not worry -- there's another part of the world, not far away, where you can still find all the things that make the Caribbean great, without the high prices or enormous crowds. In fact, it's still on the Caribbean Sea -- it's just on the other side in Central America.

The best reason for coming at the Caribbean from the opposite side is cost, but that's not the only perk. Central America has a well-established backpacker infrastructure that makes budget travel easy, it's not as popular with the honeymooner set (so you won't be the only solo traveler for miles), and transportation options are cheap, too. You still get all the water sports you can handle, plus things like Mayan ruins for when you're craving a cultural break from the beach.

Here are 5 great beach destinations in Central America.

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Photo credits :ex_magician, christine zanino, mattbye, dane brian