Ecuador's northern Pacific coast and its surrounding lowlands are often neglected or avoided by foreign visitors to the country. The region, however, is not without its charms. The beaches of the northern Pacific coast are arguably the finest in the country. Long cherished by locals, they are also finding favor with international surfers, who can't get enough of the consistent beach break at Canoa, or the perfect point at Mompiche.

Manta is a major port and beach town that sits just about at the center of Ecuador's long stretch of Pacific coastline. The city has high-rise hotels, a seaside Malecón, and plenty of restaurants and nightlife, including a couple of ritzy casinos. Those looking for a more pastoral port city should head to the picturesque little peninsula that is Bahía de Caráquez. From Bahía, the coastline stretches north with kilometer after kilometer of pristine beaches backed at first by dry forest and cattle lands, which give way, as you enter Esmeraldas province, to lush rainforests and then dense mangrove forests. Esmeraldas is rightly known as "The Green Province." It is also the epicenter of the country's Afro-Ecuadorean population, a unique cultural community with distinctive music, cuisine, and customs.

Inland, on the plains just below the Andes, lies Santo Domingo de Colorados, one of the country's major crossroads. From this hub, spokes head out in various directions to the coast, as well as straight south to Guayaquil. In the forests around Santo Domingo lie a couple of beautiful, isolated nature lodges.