Palau in a Nutshell
Hook into the reef or drift through the channel as sharks, mantas, and large schools of fish coast by in the current. Immerse yourself in Jellyfish Lake and be surrounded by hundreds of jellyfish that, over the course of millennia, have lost their “sting” and become harmless to humans. Explore historic WW2 wrecks, or soak up the view as shafts of sunlight pierce the transparent waters of undersea caverns like Blue Hole… Palau pretty much has it all!
Intro To Palau
Palau is a breathtakingly beautiful archipelago of emerald green jungle-covered rock islands dotting clear turquoise waters. Often visited in conjunction with Yap or Truk Lagoon, Palau offers the dive traveler big schools of fish, plentiful reef sharks, soft coral and a unique jellyfish dive in Jellyfish Lake. With a good selection of liveaboards and land-based resorts, fairly easy access from the USA, and an abundance of marine life diversity, it’s no surprise that Palau has been named one of the Underwater Wonders of the World.
Palau Typical Dive
Drift dives and reef hooks are common. After your descent, typically 50 to 60 feet, your dive will continue as either a gliding drift over the reefs and along walls as the current carries you, or you will stop and anchor yourself to a sturdy outcropping of rock and let the current bring the reef life to you. A reef hook is essentially a big fishing hook with the barb removed attached to a 3-5 meter rope. The hook goes into a dead part of the coral reef and the other end attaches to your BCD. Reef hooks are fairly well accepted in Palau, but only at specified sites that have consistent current and an abundance of dead coral to hook into. Perhaps the most popular of all reef hook dives is at Blue Corner, where a lot of current around the point brings in the big fish. Sharks, jacks, tuna, and resident Napoleon wrasse are often sighted. If mantas are what you seek, head out to the German Channel, where divers rest on the ocean floor while teams of mantas circle above. Palau has a lot of healthy hard coral and a good amount of wall diving. You should be able to get in 5 dives a day including a night dive on liveaboards; 2 - 3 dives per day are common for land-based diving.
Palau Marine Life & Photography Subjects
It can be difficult to get reef sharks to come close to you while you are hooked in at Blue Corner. Unhooking and swimming down into or over the lip of the reef can get you closer to sharks, but you also risk the ire of other dive groups who fear your bubbles will scare away the wildlife. It's best not to chase sharks - instead, find a good spot where they can swim by you in the current.
For Jellyfish Lake, use a wide lens so you can get close to the jellies. For amazing split shots, use a wide-angle lens and dome port. If you get close to shore and stay shallow you can also get the mangroves in the background, in either an over-under shot or an underwater shot. Most people visit Jellyfish lake for only 1 day, but it might be worth arranging 2 visits if you’re an avid underwater photographer.
Night dives are often the best time to put on your macro lens, as a wide range of reclusive creatures emerge from the reef after dark. This can also be a great opportunity to get close to otherwise skittish fish while they sleep.
This excellent "best of Palau" underwater video starts off with jellyfish lake, and then shows an eagle ray, cuttlefish, white-tip sharks, napolean wrasse, huge schools of fish, manta rays, turtles, sharks getting cleaned, and a curious thresher shark at 7:18. The filmmaker is based on Palau, so you may not see this all in one trip!
Palau - best dive sites
This site is a large cave with several “rooms”. You can enter the cave at 25ft, and surface in several different “rooms”. Underwater tunnels allow you to swim from room to room. This is a very cool place, and a good place to take a wide-angle photo with a diver. It's a very adventurous dive that must be done at the right time of day with an experienced guide with whom you feel comfortable. Bear in mind that this is an overhead environment—there are places where you can’t see any light, visibility can drop to zero, and you can have trouble finding your way out. For all of these reasons, this dive should be taken seriously, and participants should be experienced divers, equipped and trained accordingly, preferably at least cavern certified. It’s also wise to come equipped with lines & reels as well as backup lights, unless you’re sure that the dive operator will provide them.
German channel is famous for its manta rays, but it has much more.
This narrow pass separates Ngemelis and Ngercheu Islands, forming a connection between inner lagoon and open sea. Shallow water, strong currents and boating traffic make the narrowest portions unsuitable for scuba, but the large area at the channel’s mouth offers amazing diving opportunities. Virtually every sort of tropical marine life can be seen here, but the site is most famous for mantas, eagle rays, reef sharks and many species of schooling fish. Often the best strategy involves settling in a lively area and waiting for the action to come to you. If the current is running, this can also be a great drift dive—just go with the flow and soak up the sights as you fly effortlessly over the reef. Be extremely cautious when surfacing, however, as boating traffic can be very heavy here—make sure that at least one member of your team sends up a safety sausage (SMB) on a line before your final ascent!
Video from the German Channel showing sharks, napolean wrasse and large schools of fish.
Video from the German channel showing Manta Rays.
Jellyfish lake is a must-do in Palau. The jellyfish do not sting. There are lots and lots of jellyfish.
Accessed by a short hike on a well-marked trail over a jungle-covered ridge, this marine lake is largely isolated from the surrounding sea. However, the water remains connected to the outside by a huge network of fissures and channels in the porous limestone, allowing the tide to rise and fall inside the lake as it does in the surrounding lagoon. Scuba is not permitted in the lake, nor is it needed, as snorkeling is perfect for observing and photographing the famous golden jellyfish, which stay near the surface to maximize exposure to the sun. Sunlight is critical to their survival, since they obtain much of their energy from photosynthetic algae living in their tissues. In fact, the jellies actually migrate across the lake on a daily basis, following the sunlight and avoiding shade. Contrary to popular belief, these jellies have not completely lost their stinging ability, but it is so mild as to be unnoticeable except on sensitive tissue like lips, or for individuals with unusual sensitivity. While the jellies are the main attraction, the mangrove-clad shoreline is also home to a healthy community of anemones, sponges and tunicates, as well as gobies and other small fish.
This relaxing video takes you on a dive through jellyfish lake. The good stuff is at 1:15
Blue Hole / Blue Corner
These two sites are among the most celebrated in Palau, for good reason.
Known throughout the world for its abundance of fish life, Blue Corner is the kind of place where it’s possible to see just about anything. Situated on a current-swept corner of a steep drop-off, it’s a natural gathering point for reef fish of every description, dense schools of jacks, snappers and barracuda, and a healthy population of white-tip and gray reef sharks, as well as Napoleon wrasse and many other species. Eagle rays, mantas, turtles, tuna and wahoo are also seen fairly often, and even billfish, whale sharks and whales make occasional appearances.
Within easy swimming distance (depending on current) is the sister site of Blue Holes. A large cavern with multiple entrances, accessible from the shallow reef top as well as deeper points on the wall. Illuminated by shafts of sunlight from overhead, the view from inside is a memorable experience of sublime beauty. The spacious main cavern is appropriate for divers of all experience levels, but there’s also a narrow cave at 85 ft. that should only be explored by properly equipped and certified cave divers.
The reef itself is another attraction surrounding both sites, with colonies of boulder and cabbage corals scattered over the plateau at 45 to 60 ft. Dropping over the wall, you’ll find a healthy mix of hard and soft corals, as well as sponges and massive gorgonian sea fans.
This video gives a pretty good idea what it is like to dive the blue hole.
Other Palau dive sites
Other notable Palauan sites include New and Big Drop Offs, Ulong Channel, Peleliu Wall and Cut, Mandarinfish Lake and WW 2 Japanese ship wrecks Iro and Sata. There’s also a Zero fighter plane in very shallow water, plus countless other reefs and walls.
Best Time To Dive Palau
The best time to visit Palau is during the “dry” season from October - May. The “rainy” season from June - September brings more wind and rain than usual, though much of it occurs at night. Palau is in the tropics so it does receive a fair amount of rain, but weather patterns here are fairly predictable. In general, Palau is considered a great place to visit year round.
Palau Water Temperatures
Water Temperature is generally 81-84 degrees Fahrenheit.
Palau Underwater Visibility
Visibility ranges from 50 - 150+ feet. During the dry season the visibility is often in excess of 100 feet.
Several airlines departing from the western United States make 1 stop and then continue on direct to Palau. Once you land, you can basically get on the boat and start diving.
Palau offers a host of exciting and adventurous non-diving activities including a dolphin research station, waterfall hikes at Ngardmau, rock island excursions, sport fishing, speedboat & kayak tours, city tours and more.
If you seek nature, kayaking in calm blue waters among the islands is a must-do activity on your non-dive day. Palau is rich with World War II history. For history buffs, a trip to Peleliu Island or the German Lighthouse is recommended.
The Palau Pacific resort is convenient as a 1-2 day stop either before or after boarding a Palau-based liveaboard boat. It’s the islands biggest luxury resort with a lovely private beach.
Palau Liveaboard Options
If maximizing the amount of time spent diving is your priority, a liveaboard is your best option. Palau has a number of liveaboards that cater to everyone from the budget traveler to those seeking ultimate luxury.