Palau is one of those destinations that enjoys a great reputation among even the most experienced scuba divers. It is also a dream Micronesian liveaboard location with idyllic tropical islands scattered in the western Pacific Ocean. Beautiful topside images of Palau's verdant forested islands and turquoise lagoons paint the picture of a remote yet accessible tropical getaway where the delights of the underwater world await you in abundance.
Below the water's surface there is a riot of activity going on. It's an amazingly diverse region and you can expect lots of sharks, big schools of fish and pristine reefs. There is also the famous Jellyfish Lake in which to snorkel, plus some fascinating wrecks to dive from the World War II era. It's no wonder that the experience of a liveaboard trip in Palau leaves many visitors convinced that this is one of the world's top diving paradises.
Situated around 650 km to the south east of the Philippines, Palau's geographical location is at the meeting point of 3 of the world's major oceanic currents. This means that nutrient-rich water literally flows in from all sides. This fuels an explosion of life exceeding 1,500 species of fish and 700 species of corals and anemones.
You can expect to be dropping down sheer walls covered in gorgonian fans and colourful soft corals. There are many sites, like the famous Blue Corner, where you attach yourself with a reef hook and watch the current-fuelled action as the big fish pass by. There are also cleaning stations where you can watch rare manta and shark behaviour. All this plus wrecks and snorkelling with stingless jellyfish! Your memory card and your own memory will be filled with innumerable and unforgettable sights and encounters when your Palau liveaboard safari comes to an end.
One of the main reasons that Palau is consistently rated highly by experienced divers is that it has exercised strong and sustainable marine conservation policies. In 2014 its president declared his foresighted intention to ban all commercial fishing activities from its territorial waters, effectively turning Palau's waters into a ~600,000 square kilometer marine reserve, roughly the size of France. The island nation has already banned shark-hunting since 2003.
It is only possible to visit all the dive sites of the country, including the remotest ones, by liveaboard. While land-based day trip diving is an option in Palau, it involves long and time-consuming daily boat rides to the sites; surely not the way you want to spend your vacation! Review your options here:
Blue Corner is a site with an excellent reputation and one that promises huge schools of fish, and bigger numbers of sharks than many divers will have seen before. As with many of the dive sites in Palau, this is a great opportunity for descending to the edge of a reef channel and securing yourself with a reef hook before letting all the breath-taking underwater action unfold.
German Channel is another site that promises to leave divers wide-eyed in an adrenalin-filled euphoria. This site includes a cleaning station where many manta rays, large and small, will stop by to be pecked clean. Sharks too will hang almost motionless in the water column as the busy cleaners nibble parasites from their skin. Huge schools of jacks, barracuda and eagle rays will join the throng, facing into the nutrient rich current that funnels through the channel.
Peleliu is an island in the south with a dramatic and tragic history since it saw such heavy fighting and loss of human life in World War II. Nowadays it promises much more life-affirming and joyous experiences, as exemplified by dive sites such as Peleliu Wall and Peleliu Cut. At these places you may spot hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, bull sharks, turtles and maybe even marlin.
Most trips are 6 or 7 nights long although there are some 10 night charters available. They are generally considered to be suitable for divers of all levels, although beginners need to be comfortable in conditions with strong currents and to learn how to use a reef hook. The guides are accustomed to showing the less experienced how to dive particular sites, so everyone can enjoy the spectacular marine life which makes Palau special. One positive feature of Palau liveaboard diving is that there is not a huge number of boats, so you will often have the dive sites to yourself and not be sharing them with many other groups.
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It's always a good time to dive Palau, and even during the times of year which are less than optimum, dive conditions are still great. Stable air (high 20's°C) and water temperatures (26-30°C) all year round mean that cruises don't tend to get cancelled due to bad weather. Although it is not far from the Philippines, Palau is beyond the main typhoon belt. Fringe effects of typhoons are least likely from February to April.
Peak diving conditions normally exist between November and May, although any given month can and does produce idyllic conditions. July to September is considered the middle of rainy season and during this time winds and river run-off can reduce the normally excellent visibility from 40m to as little as 15m at worst.
Many of the scuba drawcard creatures such as eagle rays, hammerhead sharks and dolphins can be sighted throughout the year with equal probability. Others may be more likely at specific times of the year. Whale sharks and manta rays are more commonly seen from January to April. Turtles are present in greater numbers from April to July.
You will fly into the airport in Koror, the main town of Palau (although not the official capital), and it is from its port that all the liveaboards depart.
If you plan on staying in Palau before or after your diving safari, you can find a range of accommodation options at hotelscombined.com, our affiliated hotel reservation specialists:
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Belau National Hospital in Koror is the only real hospital and it has a hyperbaric chamber for scuba diving emergencies. There are also 2 private clinics. Our recommendations are to drink bottled water only as an upset stomach is the most common complaint. Malaria is not present. If you are coming from an area where cholera and yellow fever are present, immunisations will be required.
Palau is a small island nation and the usual response from travellers is that the locals are a very friendly and warm people. However, human nature being what it is, there are exceptions to the general rule. You would be advised to exercise the usual caution expected when visiting somewhere unknown: stick to well-lit areas, don't flash your money, expensive jewellery or phone around, and try not remain in control of your actions.
If you are joining one of the Palau liveaboards then the itinerary will include some fun and interesting non-diving activities most commonly snorkelling in Jellyfish Lake and visits to sights of significance to WWII activity. Beyond that you may spend some time in Koror, a very small but friendly little town.
Koror is not a hive of activity. One main street is the focus of most of the action, so at least you won’t get lost. Here you will find most of the shops and restaurants. There are 2 main shopping centres here: WCTC Shopping Center and Surangels Super Center. Every fortnight the Palauan and international night markets take place, offering you a great chance to experience local cuisine and traditional entertainment. Nightlife is limited to bars like Barracuda on the dockside, an expat hangout called Riptide and, for a more local flavour, you can check out the Palauan cha-cha at Peleliu Club.
You can visit the Palau International Coral Reef Center where among other things there is an aquarium and nursery of giant clams. You can also inspect World War II monuments and relics and visit the crocodile farm. The Senior Citizens Center houses a shop for traditional arts and crafts, such as weaving and wood-carvings, and there are 2 main museums: Belau National Museum and the Etpison Museum.
Palau is in the same time zone as Japan and Korea - +9 hrs GMT, or +14 EST.
24-hour electricity comes in 110 and 220 volts, with standard U.S. outlets for 2 or 3 prong plugs. Most of the liveaboards have standard USD outlets. It is always a good idea to travel with universal adaptors for your electrical equipment.
Internet and email is available in hotels and various other outlets in Koror, including internet cafes. There are national Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the country, accessible on your device with a pre-paid internet card. These hotspots are at the airport and various restaurants, coffee shops and tour offices.
If you need to make international calls or faxes you can do so from all major hotels and resorts or from the Palau National Communications Corporation office opposite the Koror Post Office.
Th people in consist of native Palauans, other Micronesians and overseas workers from the Philippines. Generally they are very relaxed about etiquette and will make allowances for foreign tourists. You don’t need to worry too much about dresscode or unknowingly offending religious or cultural sensitivities. As long as you are suitably dressed when visiting religious sites then there should be no problem.
Tipping and bargaining
Tipping is optional but appreciated. At markets you can put your bargaining skills to the test. Unlike in more modern shops, the market traders expect and seemingly enjoy a good bit of haggling. They won’t sell to you unless they are happy with the agreed price.
Lightweight and quick-drying clothing such a dry-fit T-shirts work well to keep you cool. It may be worth taking a long-sleeved shirt or top and long pants for cooler evenings, particularly when out at sea. A waterproof jacket may also be worth bringing in case the clouds open.
The chances are that your only brush with criminality here will be purchasing wood carvings at the market which were crafted by Palauan prisoners. Palau has a relatively low crime rate and is generally considered as a safe destination.
As a responsible scuba diver you will want to take nothing more than photographs of the underwater world. Palau takes marine conservation seriously and there are severe penalties for anyone found trying to leave the country with prohibited marine items. You should also not attempt to bring into the country items such as narcotics, weapons, plants, fruits and animals. Airport officials will inspect your luggage on arrival.
The defence of Palau is the responsibility of the US but local police matters are dealt with by a local police force.