Palau

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(11 REVIEWS)

 

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

 

Chandelier Cave

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

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

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.

 

Getting There

 

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.

 

Non-Diving Activites

 

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. 

 

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Reviews (11)

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Palau is the dive destination vacation. You really shouldn't be going to Palau unless you really want to be spending your time underwater. The walls are ridiculously vertical. I mean, *nothing* below you. Awesome. Drift dives are fantastic - you get to see a larger area underwater, and stop to explore what you want to, when you want to.

The soft corals here are unreal - everywhere - all colors - it's just so colorful underwater! Fishes everywhere too - and not to mention sharks! I was expecting more different sharks - we only saw Grey reef sharks and whitetip reef sharks - but we saw TONS. Blue corner was my favorite place to chill - but the best dives I have had were at Peleliu. Peleliu was epic. super clear water (150' viz) - strong currents, and just the most gorgeous blue you can imagine.

Topside was very quiet. Nothing really open after 8pm, and not too many food and nightlife options. My suggestion is to find a favorite watering hole/restaurant and stick with it. We drove around the island - but Koror really was all we needed to see. The dirt roads to the northwest were fun to get lost on though - make sure not to get lost after dark with no cell reception and out on a forgotten dirt road….

If you can afford it, the live aboard option is the way to go - and frankly, if you're traveling to Palau - you can afford it. If you stay extra days before or after, hit up the other charter companies which are also worthwhile.

OH! Almost all the wrecks in Palau are INSIDE the lagoon (didn't know that going there) so visibility is pretty low. I think the Chuyo Maru had about 20' viz while we were there, which added an odd eerie green to the wreck. Teshio Maru was probably my favorite wreck - huge, lots of areas to explore, and seeing the damage of a bomb on the ship really was mind-blowing. Helmet Wreck had about 40' Viz and Iro Maru had about 60' - but once you start wall diving, the visibility opens up substantially to over 100'.

Visited on 05/2014 - Submitted on 08/04/2014
  • Top Reviewer
Larkspur, CO
United States
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The best parts of Palau diving are the German Cut (mantas and really giant clams), WW II wrecks, Blue Corner and the mandarin fish lagoon. The fresh water jelly fish lake is also cool, if you're into that. Palau is definitely a live-aboard type destination, as the dive sites range over a large area. We were on a liveaboard, and service was excellent. Day boat diving would miss much of the good stuff. The week we were there, the visibility wasn't great, but it was adequate. Be sure to bring a good quality reef hook, or purchase one before going out--absolutely essential at places like Blue Corner. I would definitely go back to Palau. It has some unique things to offer, such as being able to dive on a variety of WW II Japanese ship wrecks, some of which still have depth charges scattered around on deck! You can also dive through a short underwater tunnel and surface in an enclosed cavern. Also of interest are the land tours of Koror and especially of Peleliu, the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of WW II, where you can go into the 1000-man cave and still see sake bottles and personal items lying where they were left 70 years ago.

Visited on 07/2011 - Submitted on 07/30/2014
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Palau has a very big reputation as one of the best dive location in the world...and it is! A bit of everything - macro, big fish, beautiful coral, caves, drift, shallow, deep, planes, boats...it felt like a cross between Raja Ampat and New Caledonia with a bunch of World War 2 wrecks thrown in. Water temperature was a steaming 30 degrees which was actually warmer than the air when the rain and wind came through.

Dive sites are all within about an hour from town, so all operators other than one or two liveaboards operate from land. They leave around 8am and do 2 or 3 dives getting back around 3 or 4pm. Paying a little extra will allow you to dive Peliu which is about 1h30 mins from town - certainly worth the diving and there is a great World War 2 land tour.

Visibility was great.

A trip to jellyfish lake is a must and counts as a dive during one of the day trips.

The boat ride itself I looked forward to every day - the Rock Islands are fantastic!! A geological phenomenon I had never seen anywhere else.

On my dive-free day I went to visit the Biota Hatchery where the first ever Bumphead Parrots have been raised in captivity - well done Tom! And finished off the day with a kayak around the Rock Islands.

I miss Palau already and will be back!

Visited on 07/2014 - Submitted on 07/27/2014
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The most excellent dive conditions while we were in Palau. The weather was beautiful, the water was crystal clear, and the marine life was fantastic. Blue Corner had the reef sharks entertaining us every visit. My favourite swim was at jellyfish lake where I was surrounded by the most dense aggregation of jellies ever. The manta rays were always in the areas where we were guided, and the island surface intervals were heaven on Earth. This has so far been the most special of places dived in my travels.

Visited on 03/2011 - Submitted on 06/04/2014
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Palau is simply idyllic! As an archipelago of over 300 islands and numerous fringe reefs, the variety of dive sites and biodiversity of marine life is truly exceptional. A labyrinth of about 200 islands in its southern lagoon, known as the Rock Islands, includes a high concentration of great dive sites. These unique mushroom-shaped islands are gorgeous in a sort of magical way. Mantas, dolphins, and several species of shark are common pelagics at a number of sites; Napoleon (humphead) wrasse can be found. There are many different species of clownfish, and I often saw several types on each dive, patrolling their anemones. The anemones and myriad soft corals are quite spectacular themselves, colorful and distinctly shaped. Giant clams, some of which are endangered, are riotously beautiful, growing to over 3 feet and living to about 100 years; many are simply electric in their colorations. You can hunt for the elusive Mandarin fish. Palau is also famous for Jellyfish Lake, an isolated inland saltwater lake within the rock islands, in which abundant jellyfish who have lost their sting to evolution as they’ve been isolation from predators. In a separate and controlled outing, the Palau marine park allows you to snorkel Jellyfish Lake; this will forever remain a highlight of my life!

Topside, I found several cultural attractions are very worthwhile. Around the main island, of which Koror is the capital (and where most dive resorts are located), you can tour either an authentic historic Bai, or a replica of one, which were the traditional meeting houses for village chiefs. These A-framed structures are elaborately decorated and painted, depicting local legends and history. If looking to bring something home, a local art form involves carved wooden storyboards, each of which describes a story or legend about Palauan culture or teachings; they are artistic treasures and purchasing one is a lovely way to remember your trip. Odd as it may sound, some of the best quality storyboards are found at the jail in Koror (inmates hand down the skills); it’s a mandatory stop in my opinion. Farther south in the islands is Peleliu, site of a horrific WWII battle between the Allies and Japan; a privately guided land tour was humbling and amazing. Tanks, machine guns, and other battle paraphernalia are slowly being reclaimed by the jungle, as if paying homage to the struggle. Peleliu is accessible only by boat, and most dive operators include this option, as there are several great dive sites there as well.

You can also spend a day or afternoon kayaking around the Rock Islands.

Land-based resort options are numerous and range from budget-conscious to luxury. Dive operators such as Neco Marine and Sam’s Fins cater to the resorts conveniently; many packages can be arranged with resort and diving combinations, and most resorts are on beaches with piers for mooring the dive boats. Dining options are plentiful, at the resorts and throughout Koror, including Palauan and Micronesian seafood, as well as Japanese, Indian, Thai, Italian, and many other cultural cuisines. Kramer’s is a fun, laid-back restaurant frequented by ex-pats and tourists alike, with more of a pub-grub style menu, very good food, and decent prices. One of the nicest things about land diversions, whether exploring, shopping, dining, or seeking some night excitement, is the public bus system on Koror: a hop-on, hop-off approach which is efficient, economical, and extensive in their hours of operation. Between the bus system and private taxis, I got around quite easily. There are a few live-aboard options as well.

Favorite dive sites of mine include German Channel, where 3 of us were privileged to enjoy an extended private encounter with a couple of mantas one afternoon; Chandelier Caves, which are not so much caves as a series of caverns or “rooms” full of stalactites (you don’t need cave-diver certification for this), any of a number of walls, and most certainly Jellyfish Lake which is so other-worldly it is nearly impossible to describe.

Getting to Palau can take 2 or 3 days, depending on your starting base. It’s notably hot, and quite humid. Rain showers are common but short and fleeting. Divers come from many countries, and especially from Japan, as it is close by. Dive operators typically separate divers into groups by language, with Japanese-speaking and English-speaking guides. Water temperature is warm enough that I became spoiled diving without a wetsuit, or just board shorts and a vest. Visibility is typically 100 feet plus. Dives can range from shallow to quite deep, with numerous walls, and some currents (a few of which involved reef hooks). I think Palau is ideal for experienced divers; novice divers may find some sites a bit challenging in terms of depth and currents. It ranks among my favorite dive locations in the world, and I can’t wait to go back!

Visited on 01/2008 - Submitted on 02/26/2014