The road north from Manta to Bahía de Caráquez passes a series of small, isolated beach towns, which get by on small-scale fishing much more than on tourism. Still, if you really want to get away from it all, and have a car or driver of your own, this might be right up your alley. The first major beach north is San Jacinto, which is precious little more than a few houses on either side of the highway. But the Hotel San Jacinto (tel. 05/2615-516; www.hotelsanjacinto.com) is an interesting option, in a worn old building, with a pool, restaurant, and weekend disco, not to mention a perfect location right on the beach.
North of San Jacinto lies San Clemente, which doesn't have much to offer tourists. However, when the tide is low, you can actually drive directly on the sand beach to Bahía de Caráquez, cutting many kilometers, and quite some time, off your trip. Most locals use this route, and even some of the bus companies take advantage of the savings in time and distance. You probably shouldn't try this on your own because the "exits" off the beach aren't marked, but ask around town, or flag someone down as they begin this route and ask to follow them.
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.