Explore Palau’s many riches—on land and beneath the sea.
No matter how far and wide one has traveled, once in a blue moon, you pin-drop onto a destination that fuels the wanderlust fire anew. “This is why we travel,” you think, as you pinch yourself, exhale, and breathe it all in—staring out upon otherworldly, turquoise waters that contain a trove of treasures waiting to be discovered. Whether you arrive with an invigorated sense of adventure or the desire to simply slow down and rest up, Palau offers a paradise-like setting in which to feel inspired, refreshed and blissfully renewed.
Located on the western end of the Micronesian chain, The Republic of Palau dazzles with its array of natural wonders. Situated where the Pacific Ocean and Philippine Sea converge, this archipelago of 200-plus predominantly pristine limestone and volcanic islands also features emerald forests and a twinkling, aquamarine lagoon. (Sounds too good to be true, right?) Thanks to its remote location far from any major landmasses, it’s no surprise that Palau offers deep, nutrient-rich waters and some of the best diving in the world.
As one of the stages upon which WWII drama played out, much of Palau’s natural resources were severely damaged during warfare—with some vegetation wiped out altogether. These days, however, the destination has become one of the leading countries in conservation efforts, with nearly 60 percent of its marine environment protected. In 2009, Palau opened the world’s first shark sanctuary (successfully protecting more than 135 Western Pacific species), and in 2012, UNESCO added the Rock Islands Southern Lagoon to its World Heritage Sites list. In 2014 Palau declared an area the size of France a “no commercial fishing” zone, creating one of the biggest marine sanctuaries on the globe.
So how do you get up close and personal with these bucket list-worthy gems? Year-round, the islands draw avid divers to its consistently temperate waters filled with “living fossils” (such as the cartoon-like nautilus marine mollusk) and shipwrecked relics of another era. Palau is home to more than 1,500 fish species plus 700 species of coral and sea anemone; sought-after finds include blacktip reef sharks, eagle rays, hammerhead sharks, dolphins, whitetips and oceanic whitetips. Sightings of whale sharks and manta rays become more likely between January and April and green and hawksbill turtles between April and July.
Kayaking, snorkeling and fishing adventures prove popular ways to push off-shore; try companies like Palau Dive Adventures (palaudiveadventures.com) or Sam’s Tours (samstours.com) for all types of eco-friendly excursions by land or sea. While some paddle and snorkel through Palau’s labyrinth of calm bays, hidden lakes, tunnels and caves, many visitors choose live-aboard options on vessels like the Palau Siren—a luxury yacht that accommodates up to 16 passengers in eight air-conditioned cabins. Think perks like a 42-inch flat screen TV with a movie network, a sundeck featuring eight cushioned loungers and an ever-attentive crew of 12.
From Koror, Palau’s largest town that’s home to about two-thirds of the country’s population, experienced divers head to Blue Corner, a magical spot known for its blue holes (or vertical caves), strong currents and abundance of fish, including barracudas, jacks, Napoleon wrasses and schooling grey reef sharks. In the German Channel, divers ogle colorful coral as well as manta rays and gray reef sharks, while other popular sites range from the Ulong Channel and New Drop Off (where two reef walls come together) to Peleliu Wall (home to deep canyons and crevices). At Orange Beach, diving comes with a history lesson, revealing WWII artifacts like cables, chains, bullets and segments of sunken ships.
Perhaps one of the most unique experiences, however, happens at Jellyfish Lake, where snorkelers swim among millions of non-stinging golden jellyfish. During the day, the jellies rise to the surface for sunlight and then descend to the depths at night. (Take note that protecting paradise comes with a fee; permits are needed to explore the Rock Islands and Jellyfish Lake.)
Those looking for alternative activities will enjoy off-roading adventures, the Palau International Coral Reef Center, Dolphins Pacific, informative WWII tours or even a visit to the Koror Jail, where intricate Palauan storyboards can be purchased. At Babeldaob’s northernmost point, find the large, basalt Badrulchau Stone Monoliths, often referred to as the “Easter Island of Micronesia.” Another one of Babeldaob’s main attractions, Ngardmau Waterfall—the tallest waterfall in Micronesia—flows from Palau’s tallest peak of Mount Ngerchelchuus. (The site can be accessed by foot along a jungle path or via monorail.)
Accommodations can be harder to find in the high season, between the months of December and March. (Although this period typically means drier weather and flat, calm seas, also expect dive sites to be more crowded.) In Koror, Palau Pacific Resort (palauppr.com) offers 160 villa-style guestrooms situated on 64 acres of lush tropical gardens plus water access from a private, white sand beach equipped with cabañas, umbrellas and sun loungers. (Built to respect the natural environment, the resort rises no higher than the tallest coconut tree.) Unwind at the Elilai Spa, or soak in the venue’s freshwater infinity pool and neighboring Jacuzzi that overlook the Pacific Ocean and offer stunning sunset views. Other well-rated Koror lodging options include Palau Plantation Resort (palauplantationresort.com) and Palau Royal Resort (palau-royal-resort.com).
When it comes to mealtime, enjoy a mélange of cuisines like Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Italian and American, to name a few. And of course, seafood lovers delight in the bounty of crab, lobster and shellfish, plus fish dishes are always guaranteed to be extra-fresh. Feeling adventurous? Try fruit-bat soup, considered a delicacy in this part of the world.
Many suggest simply eating at one’s hotel or resort, while restaurants creating buzz include Elilai Restaurant & Bar (seafood), Restos Taj (Indian), Drop Off Bar & Grill (fresh fish and raved-about burgers on an open-air terrace overlooking the marina), Tori Tori (Japanese) and Kramers, next to the ferry dock on Malakal Island (think verandah with great bay views, an eclectic menu and friendly bar scene).
No matter where you eat, drink or stay, Palau promises to “wow” and inspire, giving you firsthand glimpses of our planet’s pristine beauty.
Good to Know:
From Honolulu, traveling to Palau involves about nine hours of flight time (with a transfer in Guam). Other direct flights arrive from various Asian cities. Palau enjoys a temperate climate year-round, with an annual mean temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Official languages here are English and Palauan, the official currency is the U.S. Dollar, and major credit cards are widely accepted. On the way home, expect to pay a Departure Tax and Green Fee at the airport.