Iridescent coral reefs, bountiful sea life, emerald forests, turquoise waters and some of the best diving on the planet: the archipelago of Palau isn’t dubbed the “underwater Serengeti” for nothing. Palau is remote and untamed and it is these attributes that make it one of the world’s last unspoiled natural beauties.
Divers flock here to experience the shimmering seascape and ship wrecks, along with its incredibly diverse marine life. And for history buffs, there’s a good smattering of World War II relics in the jungles and dark lagoons to explore, as well as well-presented museums in Koror, Palau’s biggest town. The war relics are testament to Palau’s recent history, which saw the island swap hands from Germany to Japan and the United States, before it eventually became independent in 1994.
Swimming amid jellyfish? No worries; it won’t hurt. Here’s a unique evolutionary phenomena: jellyfish that don’t sting. Jellyfish Lake was cut off from the sea millions of years ago so its predator-free jellyfish have evolved to dispense of their poisonous stings. Snorkelling slowly amid these gentle creatures is like floating through an alien world.
At just under an hour’s boat ride from most resorts, Blue Corner is a dive site not to be missed. Why? Because it’s one of the most action-packed dive sites in the world, home to 13 different shark species, circling just beyond the reef wall.
The ocean currents here are famed for their changes at any given moment, moving in any direction and in all conditions. On an ideal day, visibility is at its best during an incoming tide and an outgoing current, when it’s easy to drop in at the Blue Holes and drift all the way down to Blue Corner as you swim amongst fantastic, clear waters entering from the ocean.
Kayakers head for Ngermid Boat Pier, a good place to launch and paddle your way amid Napoleon fish while spying a huge diversity of corals, marine caves and natural arches. The mighty limestone walls of Nikko Bay have long sheltered the ancient corals from waves and wind resulting in a huge variety of impressive coral formations. They are so delicate in places that flippers are not permitted when snorkelling.
Nikko Bay’s proximity to Koror made it an ideal point of defence for the Japanese during World War II. For an idea of the conflict of war, wander around the network of concrete bunkers still filled with Japanese helmets, bottles and ammunition. There’s also a World War II aircraft plus sunken supply ships holding military cargo.
There’s no need to get wet to experience and understand Palau’s diverse marine ecosystem. This beautiful aquarium offers themed exhibits featuring many varieties of soft and hard corals along with some of the islands’ abundant fish species. You will also get the chance to get up close to invertebrates like the isles’ famous stingless jellyfish, giant clams and even crocodiles.
Indoors, you’ll explore life in the deep ocean depths: stingless mastigia jellyfish, exotic creatures that use camouflage to survive, rare deep water butterfly fish, dart fish and fan corals are but a few of the species awaiting you. The Outer Reef exhibit is one of the largest in the world and home to a diverse selection of fish along with an incredible array of hard, soft and leather corals.
Another point of interest for history buffs, Peleliu Island sits 23 miles south of Koror Island and in 1985 it was designated a US National Historic Landmark. Peleliu is where one of World War II’s bloodiest battles took place – in two months of fighting, there were over 20,000 casualties on Peleliu which is more than the entire population of Palau today. Peleliu’s forests were bombed and burned to the ground but now the island is leafy and verdant, covering up many of its battle scars. Abandoned tanks, bomb casings and helmets can still be found throughout the island. Some of Palau’s best dive sites are also located here. White Beach and Bloody Beach are famous for their coral reefs, while the Peleliu Wall, a reef with a 300-metre drop, is home to sea turtles, sharks and a kaleidoscope of colourful fish.
Here’s your chance to look into the eyes of a dolphin as you float alongside it in the clear Pacific Ocean. Located just off Koror Island, Dolphins Pacific is one of the biggest marine mammal interaction, education and research facilities in the world, and offers the opportunity for you to swim with these magnificent creatures. To top it all, the site offers stunningly scenic views.
Pull on your hiking boots and head for Babeldaob if you are looking for lush, tropical vegetation, mountains, freshwater lakes and sand dunes all in one adventure. This is Palau’s second biggest island and offers plenty of great tracks for hiking, driving (4x4s are commonly used) or mountain biking. The island boasts the largest freshwater lake and the largest undisturbed forest in Micronesia. At its northern tip, you’ll find a row of large, ancient monoliths known as Badrulchau, the origin and meaning of which is not fully understood.
Belau National Museum
Most good trips include a look at the local cultural heritage. Belau National Museum, the oldest in the Micronesian region, gives the opportunity to learn about the ancestry and rich culture of Palau. It showcases over 1,000 relics of the past, including traditional weapons and shell money. The displays also include art, photographs, sculptures and traditionally carved storyboards.