Palau, Micronesia offers some of the world’s finest diving.
By Dave Vedder
Located in the Caroline Islands approximately two hours by air west of Guam, the island nation is comprised of some 350 islands, ranged in six clusters down a 700-kilometer, northeast-to-southwest stretch from Kayangel in the North to the islet of Tobe in the South. The big island, Babeldaob, is 396 square kilometers, the second largest island in Micronesia (after Guam). Koror is the capital city.
Palau offers perhaps the world’s finest diving. Divers marvel at huge coral reefs inhabited by multi-hued fish.
Palau offers wall dives, cave dives, reef dives and the chance to explore scores of World War II shipwrecks and Japanese warplanes.
Many visitors come for the chance to visit unspoiled islets where white sand beaches stretch for miles without a footprint in sight.
Palau also boasts the world’s only jellyfish lakes where visitors can swim amongst millions of harmless and spectacularly beautiful jellyfish.
This is a place where you can stay in a five-star resort with gourmet dining one night, and spend the next evening on a remote island where stone money lies half buried in the jungle vines behind your cabin.
WHEN TO GO
Expect rain any month of the year but the peak rainy season is between July and October. Typical daytime high temperatures are quite warm and evenings are comfortable.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
While Palau doesn’t have Ubers or Lyfts, taxis are popular and can transport you to all of the island’s popular destinations.
Additionally, you can rent a car upon arrival at the airport. There are several local companies to choose from. Drivers must be 21 years of age.
Palau’s islands are its main attraction, and there are dozens of tour operators offering trips to the rock islands and between the main islands of Palau. Boat services are available to Babeldaob and Kayangel and it’s possible to hitch a ride with one of the local boats heading out to the islands. Several tour operators also offer private day charter of boats.
Diving is the number one attraction in Palau. Even inexperienced divers can snorkel over world-class sites, and see wonders like Japanese Zeros lying in less than ten feet of water. In addition to vibrantly colored corals, iridescent giant sea clams and multi-hued tropical fish, divers can explore underwater caves and cliffs, all in water with as much as 200 feet of visibility.
Scuba divers can choose from more than 30 named dives and hundreds of less-explored sites. World War II buffs can explore many sunken warships and new ones are found almost every year.
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION
Palau has three saltwater lakes fed from the sea by deep, natural tunnels. The lakes are alive with golden yellow jellyfish that are as harmless as they are beautiful. Local tour operators will take you to the lakes where you can snorkel amongst literally millions of the rare and spectacular jellyfish.
BEST ACTIVITY AND TOURS
Again, diving and snorkeling. There are countless local dive shops that can set you up with anything from multi-tank dives to a snorkel trip.
Flightseeing excursions can be arranged by the concierge at the Palau Pacific Resort. Sam’s Tours will pick you up at your hotel and deliver you anywhere you wish to go.
For diving adventures, try Palau Dive Adventures which offer all different packages.
Those who don’t dive can visit the Etpison Museum or the Belau Museum. Both feature large displays of native artifacts and storyboards (Hand carved boards that depict important objects of Palauan culture or historical events). At the Belau National Museum, you can wander through a fully restored Bai, or men’s house, which is where the tribal leaders meet to govern their clans. In addition, visitors can observe Palauan money displayed as necklaces by high-ranking women.
The finest lodging in Palau is the Palau Pacific Resort. The resort features air-conditioned, beachfront rooms and suites and all the amenities of a five-star hotel. On the premises are a dive shop, gift shop, and a camera shop. Excellent cuisine is served in the restaurant and entertainment is provided on weekends.
Other suggestions include the Palau Hotel, COVE Resort Plateau, and Palasia Hotel Palau.
In Koror, there are several small hotels at reasonable prices. These are often quite small and Spartan, but they are typically clean and comfortable. We recommend looking into Carp Island Resort.
For excellent local food, including fresh reef fish and fruit bat soup, a local delicacy, try Elilai in Koror. An excellent Indian restaurant is Taj, and the dining room at the Palau Pacific Resort is always top notch. Your driver will know all these places.
Most Palauans belong to one of many clans that hail from the various islands. Strong family and clan ties bind the locals, who often have elaborate ceremonies typically culminating in lavish feasts. If you can get invited to one of these, you’re in for some real island entertainment. Some local tour operators will arrange a village visit/feast for you.
Souvenirs can be purchased at the gift shops at both the Etpison Museum and Belau Museums. However, Palau is not a shoppers paradise. With tourism such a small part of their economy, they have not yet geared up to sell typical tourist mementos, which is fine with us.
VISAS AND DOCUMENTS
For US citizens, no visa required for stays of less than 60 days. U.S. Passport is the only document needed. Other nationalities should check with the consulate.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
No health warnings exist. Violent crime is rare. Lock cars and use normal precautions.
COMMUNICATIONS AND MONEY
English is spoken by most Palauans and U.S. currency is used for all commercial transactions (Fish and clams are often the preferred currency for informal transactions!).
Palau is a very informal country. A Hawaiian shirt and slacks are considered formal attire. Leave the neck ties and cocktail dresses at home.
Do not be surprised to see the local men carrying hand-woven baskets. Most men in Palau chew the mildly narcotic Betel Nut. Men carry baskets with the nuts, pepper leaves and lime used to prepare their Betel nut concoction. When chewing Betel nuts, men must spit out the reddish juice. “No spitting” signs are common in the city.
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