El Nido (Palawan) has been named as “Heaven on Earth” and is currently ranked as one of the top island destinations in the world.
So why the title “Hell Nido” ?!
This is is actually a nickname by the Filipino locals for El Nido town- Perhaps a bit extreme but I get their point. I too was disappointed by the actual place, it was overcrowded with tourists, the streets were dirty, the air polluted and there were tricycles everywhere making it difficult just walking around. There seemed to be a couple decent looking restaurants and shops, but from the few 3 hours we spent there, I can tell you that it was enough.
So as to not be of confusion, the El Nido tours of the surrounding islands and lagoons are what really make this destination spectacular. We did a combination island hopping tour which involved: Small lagoon, Helicopter island, Cadlao lagoon and Cadlao beach– and I was extremely impressed. The first stop was my least favourite, not in terms of place (you can see how stunning the water is below) but because it was the first stop in Tour A, therefore many other boats and tourists were already there. As our tour was organized by our AirBnb, we got our guys to do a combination tour for us, as we wanted to avoid the crowds as much as possible.
So after the first crowded stop, the day got better and better and soon we were dropped off in more stunning locations, with not a single person in sight. Helicopter island was the perfect pit stop for a lunch break- by far the best lunch time I’ve ever had!!
Next up was Cadlao lagoon, which is actually where they’ve filmed series of the American TV show ‘Surivor’. It was really secluded, with the most turquoise water. We swam through an archway of rocks to get to the tiny beach behind, home to some giant lizards! Cadlao beach afterwards really made us feel like castaways with perfect gold sand and aligned coconut trees and even a hidden path into the jungle!
So I can tell you now that we were extremely lucky in our accommodation. A couple of months prior to the trip we were searching for places to stay, only to discover that everywhere was booked up! What originally we thought would be a disaster, actually worked in our favour. We ended up booking an AirBnB further up north on Twin beach (Nacpan and Calitang). Where we stayed was just an incredible experience, we had probably two of the world’s best beaches right on our doorstep!! Calitang beach is almost unknown to tourists, and many times we had the whole beach to ourselves (definitely winning). It felt crazy to me to be surrounded by such a stunning landscape with absolutely no one in sight! We had a very comfortable stay at Mama Cherry’s (she was the bomb) and we had the most delicious food and fresh fruit smoothies every day. From our beach I witnessed the most spectacular sunsets I had ever seen, the sequence of images below were taken from one single evening!
Despite being 45 mins away from El Nido, we realized that it didn’t make a difference as we never left where we were (especially after hearing about Hell Nido, which we did visit for the sake of seeing it!). You can happily enjoy your time in the area, get to know the local people and really live the island life. There aren’t many options for eating out, but you’ll find that there’s enough. On Nacpan beach I recommend Prince’s restaurant and on Calitang beach I recommend Mama Cherry’s (of course).
Getting to Twin Beach involves a very dangerous but interesting dirt track- vehicles actually cross a small river at one point… I do not recommend driving a motorbike, I heard of quite a few serious (and fatal) accidents which happened the week before our arrival. For your safety, please don’t do it! Pay a little extra to take a tricycle, or better still, one of the Jitney buses from El Nido bus terminal. And if you want to avoid the craziness of “Hell Nido” and really want a relaxing beach holiday, I suggest staying on Twin beach. But be warned: staying in a stunning location comes with a sacrifice.. There is no phone service out there and don’t rely on wifi either! We went 6 days without contact, which in hindsight, was the perfect break from our phones to really appreciate every moment of where we were. I had the best time here!!
Feel free to leave me a message if you have any questions!
Happy travelling! (Please take me back with you)