Destination – Palau

Palau

Rock Islands - Palau

Palau conjures up visions of soaring like a kite in the wind on your reef hook at the edge of Blue Corner as a never ending parade of sharks marches past. Well, it’s precisely like that! But so much more. For sheer number of fish, Palau hits the top of the mark. The variations in dive sites are enormous from plummeting 4000 foot wall dives to monstrous currents at Peleliu Express, quiet coral gardens alive with octopus and cuddle fish and channels with flying manta rays. Palau is a perfect destination. We’ve made five or six or seven trips to Palau and always find something new, like schooling moorish idols (only 6 days a year!) and mating grouper in Ulong channel. It’s a dynamic and healthy ecosystem providing a lifetime of epic experiences. Combine Palau with Truk Lagoon for a dynamite duo!

First Thoughts

Palau conjures up visions of soaring like a kite in the wind on your reef hook at the edge of Blue Corner as a never ending parade of sharks marches past.  Well, it’s precisely like that!  But so much more.  For sheer number of fish, Palau hits the top of the mark.  The variations in dive sites are enormous from plummeting 4000 foot wall dives to monstrous currents at Peleliu Express, quiet coral gardens alive with octopus and cuddle fish and channels with flying manta rays.  Palau is a perfect destination.  We’ve made five or six or seven trips to Palau and always find something new, like schooling moorish idols (only 6 days a year!) and mating grouper in Ulong channel.  It’s a dynamic and healthy ecosystem providing a lifetime of epic experiences.  Combine Palau with Truk Lagoon for a dynamite duo!

Why We Think Palau Rocks … or Doesn’t

Because you get to drive through the Rock Islands every day on the way too and from the dive sites, the walls and dropoffs are huge and still filled with sharks and fish, you get to swim with jellyfish and see WWII wrecks, the town is fun and has some great restaurants, because it has one of the most famous WWII battlefields and an amazing historian to show you around and because there’s just some much cool stuff to do.  Palau definitely ranks as one of the diving Mecca’s of the world.  You can find just about anything in Palau from shallow, calm reefs with cuttlefish to abyssal walls covered in fish life, to ripping currents that will take your breath (and your mask!) away.

Things that Rock

  • the whole enchilada, walls, sharks, big fish, schools, bio mass, bio diversity
  • unexpected macro
  • gov’t dedicated to preservation
  • very traveler friendly
  • town with great ethnic restaurants
  • stunning Rock Islands
  • diverse and unique adventure activities including WWII battlefield, jellyfish lake, caves, WWII wrecks,
  • fantastic vis
  • fun drift dives
  • Diving from beginner to expert
  • Macro and Wide Angle
  • Great Culture
  • WWII historical significance
  • Great snorkeling in many areas

Things that Don’t …

  • a bit of a schlep to get there, its basically not really near anything else
  • flights are cashy because Continental Air Micronesia has a near monopoly on the air routes and charges accordingly
  • can be crowded at some dive sites during certain times

The Diving

It is the best “overall” diving out there in our opinion.  Everyone raves about the sharks and giant napoleon wrasse at Blue Corner and it definitely delivers on its bragging rights as one of the top dives in the universe.  But there is also incredible macro life (though few stop to look).  There’s diving for beginner and experienced divers.  You can find mantas and spotted eagles and gray sharks and blue grottos and schooling grouper and amazing beaches and numerous jellyfish lakes and the iconic rock – let’s just say, it’s all here.  So let’s talk.

A note on reef hooks: Reef hooks were pretty much invented in Palau.  You can purchase them there or make your own.  Take a length of cord about 6 feet and attach a large blunt and barbless fish hook and a quick release clip to the other end.  In advance of the hook in spot, pull out your hook and get ready to hook it into rock or dead coral. Once hooked in, add a bit of air to your BCD, relax and enjoy the ride.  If you are a photographer, these hooks are a must.  It’s like hands free driving but only hands free shooting.  It’s the “only way to fly!”

The Diving Areas of Palau

Palau has no “bad” dive sites.  But some of our favs include:

Near Koror

Mandarianfish Lake.  Less than a mile from Koror you will find this shallow marine “lake” tucked back in among the mangroves.  Here, where you almost only need snorkels, you can find (on a cloudy day) the shy mandarianfish for amazing photography. Poke around to find many cool shrimp gobies and their blind shrimp housekeepers!

Chandelier Caves is definitely not for the claustrophobic or those afraid of the boogie man in the dark!  There are five chambers to explore, four underwater.  The fifth requires you to remove your dive gear and squeeze through but you are rewarded with a completely air filled chamber.  Max depth is only 32 ft but stay off the bottom here and don’t silt it up!

Wrecks.  There are a few wrecks nearby as well including the Teshio Maru, the Jake Seaplane and the Helmet.  These wrecks are not the caliber you’ll find in Truk Lagoon and are not in stellar clear water but if you like wrecks they are worth a look.

Ngemelis Area
This is the heartbeat of diving in Palau and where you will find famous sites such as:

New Drop Off-  A perennial favorite of our divers, New Drop is known for huge number of planktivore that feed off the wall here including some of the largest schools of pyramid butterly fish we’ve ever seen.  Beautiful sea fans make for great photograph.  As with most dive sites in Palau, currents can be unpredictable.

Blue Corner of course- Palau’s most famous dive site brings a new experience every dive.  Ripping currents bring hundreds of sharks that cruise and rest along the edge of the wall.  Hook in and watch the fun.  Curious napoleon wrasse stealthily sneak up over your shoulder to see what’s going on and schools of jack and everything else make for the ride of a lifetime.  However, we LOVE diving BC on slack tide.  You can simply swim around the corner area.  Many of the schools of fish which hang off the wall in the current come up to the reef flat at slack.  Eagle rays cruise the reef top as well and you can just sit tight and observe nature at its finest!

German Channel- The Germans mined guano on the island of Anguar and in order to bring it to Koror they blasted this channel. It is one of the best sites to find manta rays on an incoming tide as they come to cleaning stations here.  Pretty much everything can be found traversing the channel from garden eels to shark cleaning stations, lots of turtles and often cuddlefish.

Virgin Blue Holes- Dropping into the blue hole just a few feet below the surface you drop into a cavern at 90 feet.  This dive is known for it’s topography with ledges and caverns.  A beautiful variety from other wall dives in the area.

Peleliu Area

Just offshore of this famed WWI battle site lies some incredible diving which can also have some incredible currents.  You need additional permits to dive Peleliu but it is certainly worth the extra dinero and the extra run time.  Definitely plan in time for a tour of the island.  It rates an 11 out of 10 for historical significance in our book.

Peleliu Dive Sites-  Many Peleliu dive sites are not for the weak of heart or beginning diver.  And they are some of our MOST favorite Palau dive sites. Some of the strongest currents in Palau rip through here with unpredictability.  You should be comfortable in your abilities and flexible in dive planning here.  However, the rewards are immeasurable!  It is a MUST to carry safety equipment such as a safety sausage and audible signal device like a dive alert.   Some boats even carry personal EPIRBS.  If you miss a pick up here all I can say is that I hope you can speak at least one Fillipino dialect!

Peleliu Expressway -The name says it all!  Go ripping down the reef through schools of oriental sweetlips, palette surgeonfish and rainbow runners.  However, everything has been seen here including sailfish, marlin, sperm whales, orcas and whalesharks!

Yellow Wall– Aptly named for the yellow tubastraea coral that grows here.  It is a favorite food of turtles so keep an eye out.  As well, schools of jack, red toothed triggerfish, sweetlips and pretty much everything in between lives here!  We’ve also seen an unusual number of juvenile Emperor Angelfish here.

Peleliu Wall to Peleliu Cut- This is an unbelievable dive.  Start out along a gorgeous wall with the entire palette of colors represented in the soft corals.  As you come closer to the cut the current picks up.  Stay deep here to avoid being swept over and off the reef.  If you do, surface and call it a day.  But if you can, work your way up the wall right at the cut (you’ll see it coming because the sharks hang out here).  Just at the top, hook in with your reef hook, hold on to your mask and watch the action!

Uloong Area
This is a fun area which includes diving the channel (and if you hit the timing right you can see schooling moorish idol (only 6 days per year) and the gathering of the grouper in the channel (seasonal).

Ulong Channel– This is a fun dive!  Start by drifting down the reef and at the entrance to the channel white tip and gray reef sharks patrol.  Watch this action for awhile before being whisked along the shallow sandy channel.  In the spring on the full moon, thousands of grouper come here to spawn, what a sight!!!  As well watch for the patch of amazing lettuce coral on the way. 

Our Favorite Things to Do “Out of the Water”

We believe in Surf and Turf – checking out the best of underwater AND on land.  It just so happens that most of the worlds best SCUBA diving destinations have other amazing things going for them in addition to kick ass diving.  Don’t miss it.

  • Meet Bert.  The first thing you need to do on Palau is meet Bert Yates who runs Neco Marine.  Bert knows it all on Palau and is a helluva friend.  You just can’t learn Bert’s type of south Arkansas humor, it’s genetic.  After living in Palau some fifteen odd years, you can still recognize Bert by his accent!
  • Kayak the Rock Islands. The serene beauty and majesty of Palau’s rock islands are like something out of a fantasy movie set.  Somewhere between 200-300 umbrella shaped limestone islets rise out of the sea in Palau’s southern lagoon.  Within the rock islands lie marine lakes within islands within the sea, shimmering beaches, dense foliage and calm crystal waters.  What a place to kayak!
  • Visit and snorkel Mandarin fish Lake.  One of nature’s most gaudy and spectacular fish, these 3” members of the dragonet family sit tucked up inside the corals waiting for a cloudy day to appear.  You can snorkel in just a few feet of water and get up close and personal with them.
  • Jellyfish Lake. Jellyfish lake is nestled within the rock islands and is a natural wonder of the world.  Millions of Mastigias jellyfish inhabit the lake and with no natural predators have evolved mostly out of their sting.  Snorkel amongst them and be transported to an alien world.  Also, don’t miss the pajama cardinalfish under the dock and the magnificent tunicates clinging to the roots of the trees.
  • Visit the Etpison and the National Museum. Both small museums, you can get great information on the history of the islands.  Have dinner at the restaurant above the Etpison museum. Better yet, have Mandy Etpison herself give you the tour!
  • Meet Miss Palau During one of our expeditions, we arranged for Miss Palau to meet our guests at the airport upon arrival.  Some tired faces surely perked up at that one!
  • Tour Peleliu with Tangie.  Tangie is considered the foremost historian on Peleliu and his poignant trip through the history of the war on this relevant island will give you pause.  The relics preserved on the island and the caves where Japanese soldiers hid and lived are impressive.  Be careful…there are still unexploded ordinances in the jungles.

           

Palau Seasonality

Palau experiences its rainy season July – November and dry from January – June.  We have had our best luck diving between January and April.  Water temperatures are generally mid-80‘s all year so it’s a very pleasant back roll into the sea!  In terms of critter happenings, the sharks are in their mating season from February to April, groupers spawn in May and Jun, mantas arrive December through February and the Moorish Idol migration happens on the moon phases in March.

Critter Seasons
“You just missed _____.  It was here last week.”  How many times have you heard that?  It you want to have the best diving, it pays to know when calendar specific things are happening.  Here’s your insiders guide for SCUBA diving in Palau:

  • Manta mating season begins the end of December and ends the beginning of March. For the diver this means more reliable sightings and more Mantas.
  • You’ll find Grey Reef Sharks mating through December. So expect more sharks, more action, and some interesting activities … if you get lucky!
  • Coral spawning is known to happen 4 times a year. The coral spawning is linked to the lunar cycle, so for more information on spawning species so you’ll want to get specifics each year.  The approximate spawning periods are end of May, end of August, mid September and mid February.
  • Huge schools of Moorish Idols and Unicorn Fish get together in spawning aggregations through February and March. If you want to have a chance to see this, then synchronise your visit with the half moons.
  • Turtles mate and lay eggs from April to July. Though actually seeing turtles mate is rare, the larger individuals are a lot more likely to be spotted this time of year.
  • Groupers and Red Snappers spawn in huge numbers around the full moon in the months of June and July.
  • Giant Cuttlefish lay eggs inside the brain corals in areas of Ngerchong channel during May to August

Overall

If you haven’t dived Palau, put it on your short list.  It’s not just an exceptional dive destination, it’s an exceptional destination.  Yes, it’s definitely a haul to get there and you’ll hate it if you go that far for only a week so plan on at least a 10 day stay.  Or combine it with Chuuk, Yap or the Philippines.  I prefer to just fly all the way through and get there but if you want to break up the flights from the U.S., you can stop off in Hawaii or Guam.  If you’re in Guam, don’t miss the spa at the Marriott – it’s a slice of heaven after a long flight.  Make sure you take the time to check out all the cool things Palau has to offer above and beyond its world class diving.

Sharkman and Mantagirl give Palau 2 Fins Up

Check out Independent Travel Packages for Palau or join us on a Guided Diving Adventure

Destination Guide Palau – Extras!

*Editor’s note* I would like to take the opportunity to praise the Palauan government for recently taking a stand on shark fishing.

Land Based or Live aboard?

It is an age old question for many dive destinations.  For Palau you truly can do it either way, it simply depends on your goal.  If you want to do 4-5 dives per day a live aboard is your only option.  You can be first on the dive sites in the morning because you don’t have the run time and you can be last out of the water at night for the same reason.  The down side of the live aboard option is that you miss out on evening land opportunities like going into town for dinner, visiting the museums in the late afternoon or putting your toes in the sand.  The live aboards in Palau tend to go out to the dive area and just anchor for the week with one trip over to Peleliu so it is more of a floating hotel than a true “get to the remote areas” live aboard.  I have not seen the live aboards go to any areas not dived by the land based operators.  Someone, please let me know if they’ve seen otherwise lately.

Land based, you have one exceptional resort which is the Palau Pacific Resort.  PPR has a nice beach, good snorkeling, an opportunity for shore diving and a very nice, upscale atmosphere and spa services which are lacking on a live aboard.  There are also smaller, less luxurious options land based as well.

There are a number of dive operators to choose from.  If you stay at PPR, you will notice that their dive operation, Splash, caters mainly to an Asian dive crowd.  We have always used Neco Marine because GM Bert Yates ALWAYS delivers us a fantastic experience, great dive masters, exceptional safety and fun fun fun!

Your daily run time to the dive sites varies from about 45- 1 hr depending on which area you go to and generally you do a maximum of 3 dives per day with a box lunch.  However, I LOVE the drive every morning through the amazing rock islands, quiet and peaceful and calm.  Expect @ 1 1/2 hours to Peleliu.

So the answer depends completely on your idea of a great dive vacation!

Making Travel Easy & Fun in Palau

PASSPORT AND HEALTH REQUIREMENTS

Passport
A valid passport is required to enter and exit Palau for US and Canadian citizens for a stay of up to 30 days.  An onward or return ticket is also required. Please make sure that your passport is valid for three months from the date of entry into the country and that you have enough space for entry/exit stamps.  If you do not hold a valid passport, apply as soon as possible as it may take some time to receive.  Always keep a copy of the face page of your passport located in a separate place than your passport. This safety tip also applies to your diving certification card. 

Visa/Departure Tax
No visa is required to enter Palau and Yap for US or Canadian citizens. A departure tax of US$20 per person applies for all international departures. 

Health
Palau is generally a healthy island and no special immunizations are required. A good source for any additional information is the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.  Call their 24 hour recorded Travelers’ Health Hotline at 404-332-4559, or toll-free information at 888-232-3228.  The CDC also is on line at http:/www.cdc.gov.  There is no malaria risk in Micronesia.  As always when traveling, be sure all normal immunizations are up to date.

Food
When traveling to foreign countries, take general common sense precautions with food. Water on the island is distilled and purified seawater and is safe from the tap at both resorts.  If you have any concerns about drinking water, bottled water is always the safest bet.

GENERAL TRAVEL INFORMATION

Baggage Restrictions
This may seem strange but in order to get to the remote islands of Palau we don’t need to fly in a small airplane!!!  Continental Air Micronesia flies 737’s into Palau so normal baggage restrictions apply.  You don’t even have to get on the scale like we used to do in Fiji!  However, that doesn’t mean you need to bring ALL your new Christmas presents with you!

Continental Airlines
Please check with your airlines directly for luggage restrictions.  They change so often it doesn’t make sense to list them here.

Airport-Baggage and Check in
Be sure that all luggage is tagged with your identification and that the check-in agent properly tags your bags to the correct destination.  Generally when luggage is lost en route it happens between domestic and international changes.  If lost, fill out a missing luggage form on the spot.  Get the name of the agent and his/her on premise number and be sure to keep a copy of the form.  Ask how much the airline will grant for emergency purchases.

You should check in at least two hours ahead of time for international flights.  You will need your passport, airline ticket and identification when checking in. 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION ON PALAU

Electricity/Water
Guess what?  Electricity is standard 110 volt with US type outlets, yee haw!

Tipping
We believe that tipping should be an individual decision based on your personal experience with staff and their service.  Often a service charge is added to your bill so do check on that.  We always recommend tipping your dive staff.  We feel @$10/diver/day is sufficient.

Telephone
Micronesia has modern telecommunication systems locally and internationally.  Check carefully at hotels for connection and service charges, they can really get you!

Fax
Fax service is available at most hotels for a fee.

Time Zones
Palau is GMT+9.

Climate
The temperature in Palau and Yap ranges from about 80-82 degrees with the average being 81.3!  Rainfall is highest in the summer, June, July and August and lowest in Feb. and March.

Population
The population of Palau as of 2010 was estimated at 19,983.  Population growth rate in Palau is 1.75%.  Migration rate is 5.01/1000 (I thought you might want to know that).  Life expectancy for men is 68.59 years and women it is 71.88 years.  Total fertility rate is 2.47 children born per woman.

Language
The official language of the islands is English though you will find many languages spoken throughout Micronesia.  In Palau, Palauan is also an official language.

Religion
Micronesia is overwhelmingly Christian with other religions sprinkled in.  In Palau, one third of the population observes an indigenous religion called Modekngei.

Economy
The economy of Palau consists mainly of subsistence agriculture and fishing.  The government is the major employer of the work force relying heavily on financial assistance from the US.  The population enjoys a per capita income of more than twice that of the Philippines and much of Micronesia.  Palau is an economic aid recipient of the US under the Compact of Free Association entered into after the end of the UN trusteeship in 1994.  This compact will provide Palau with up to $700 million in US aid over 15 years in return for furnishing military facilities.

Currency
US Dollar- makes life easy if you travel from the USA

Flora & Fauna
Palau is blessed with a rich diversity of biologically unique plant and animal life.  Trees such as ironwood, banyan, coconut palm, pandanus and broadleaf trees cover much of the islands.

Other areas feature mangrove and even grassland savannahs.  Palau has 50 species of resident birds including the national bird, the Palauan fruit Dove or Biib.

The spectacular marine environment boasts over 1500 species of fish, and over 700 species of coral and anemones.  Rare species such as the giant Tridacna clam are also found here.  There are no poisonous animals or insects on Palau.

PALAU-COUNTRY IN PROFILE

To give you the most important information first: Palau was the first nation in the world to issue an Elvis stamp!!  No really, it’s true!  The true name is the Republic of Belau or Palau as we call it.  Geographically it is 550 miles east of the Philippines and equidistant from Indonesia and Guam.

Palau consists of 343 islands of which only 9 are inhabited.  Two thirds of the population lives in the capital city of Koror.  Just north of Koror is the island of Babeldaob, the second largest island in Micronesia.  The two islands are connected by a famous bridge, which collapsed in 1997 and as of today has just been reopened fully.  South of Koror are the famous Rock Islands which lead us to some of the world’s best diving!

PALAU- A BRIEF HISTORY

Carbon dating of ancient abandoned villages in the Rock Islands proves human habitation dating from 3,500 years ago probably from Indonesia, New Guinea, and Polynesia.  At the time of European contact, Palauans resided in inland villages, associated in regional alliances.  Palau was abundantly self-sufficient.  Women tended taro pits and men hunted, fished, and harvested breadfruit and betel nuts.  Foreign trade revolved around Yapese stone money.

While Spanish and Portuguese navigators visited as early as 1543, it was the shipwreck of the East India Company’s ship, Antelope that first publicized Palau in Europe.  British traders introduced guns to the islands and from 1783-1882 population declined from 40,000 to 4,000 primarily from influenza and dysentery brought from Europe.  The Spanish spread Catholicism, and the Germans took phosphates and copra from the islands.

The Japanese took Micronesia from the Germans in 1914 under the Treaty of Versailles and sent over large numbers of immigrants shifting the economy from a level of subsistence to a market economy and property ownership from the clan to the individual.  They opened up phosphate and bauxite mines, rice paddies, and pineapple plantations.  Palauans were taught Japanese, their lands alienated, and traditional chiefs replaced by Japanese bureaucrats.  In the late 1930’s the Japanese built military bases, and after 1938 the area was closed to outsiders, a status that continued under the Americans until 1962.

In September 1944 one of the bloodiest WWII battles of the Pacific took place on the tiny island of Peleliu, a story Ridlon will recount to you during the expedition. Following Japan’s defeat in WWII the Caroline Islands, along with the Marianas and the Marshall Islands became United Nations Trust Territories under US administration. As part of the mandate, the US was to improve Palau’s infrastructure and educational system in order for it to become a self-sufficient nation.  In 1993, Palau voted to accept a Compact of Free Association with the US and in October, 1994, the Republic of Palau became fully independent.

Beyond the Important Stuff

Here are some Palauan Proverbs I thought you might enjoy:

Proverb

Literal Translation

True Meaning

“Ke Kora terrid el di teloi ra kalab e mangerem.”

You’re like the rail which stays among the taro plant yet goes hungry.

You’re surrounded by girls but can’t make it with all of them.

“Ngkora kaeb era Chelong el di bekerurt ra ongor.”

He’s like the canoe of Ngerchelong, which the inhabitants bragged about it being fast but which they didn’t even have.

He’s a braggart or a big talker.

“Ngkora ilaot Itkib el di ngii el romur.”

It’s like the coconut syrup of Ngetkid, which make all by itself.

He has married within his own class.

“Nkora cherellel a beab el di ta e keroker.”

He’s like the chambered nautilus whose shell is very fragile.

When provoked, he is easily irritated.

“A remeteet a kora redechel a bngaol el di reubet e oulkou.”

High families are like the seed of the Bngaol tree which falls with each leafy cap upright.

Being rich can only obtained naturally at birth, the rich are born with the crown of their rank.