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As you drive north along the coast from Bahía de Caráquez and Canoa toward Atacames and Esmeraldas, the lowland dry forest and scrub give way first to cattle ranches and farms, and then later to thick tropical rainforest and moist forests. The change is quite pronounced, and, in fact, happens almost immediately as you pass the sign announcing the start of Esmeraldas province.

At Km 342 is Pedernales, a rather undeveloped, and at times forlorn, little beach town -- though one that's on the rise. Relatively new highways make this the closest Pacific beach to Quito, by car or bus. Pedernales is a long, straight beach of salt-and-pepper-colored sand, which almost disappears at high tide. Like Atacames, the beach itself is strung with a line of simple, open-air thatch-roof restaurants and bars, and backed with a few low-end hostels and hotels. The town, located on a hill behind the beach, is a jumble of shops and businesses, with a busy central park that is fronted by an interesting modern church. If you decide to stay in Pedernales, I recommend Hostal Teguendama (tel. 05/3701-250 or 09/1989-819), a cute little beachfront hotel, with simple rooms, most of which share a common veranda facing the beach. Another option is Hotel Mr. John (tel. 05/2681-107), which also fronts the beach and features many rooms with private balconies. For food, you'll definitely want to try the seafront La Choza (tel. 05/2680-388).

Heading north, at Km 261, is the entrance to Mompiche, which is a mile or so toward the sea from the highway. There's almost nothing going on in Mompiche right now, but that could change in the future. Currently, it's primarily surfers who know about Mompiche and its beautiful left point break. If you decide to stay here, try the Hostería Gabeal (tel. 09/9696-543).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.