Divers Love Palau
Where in the world is Palau and why are you going there? We heard these question frequently before our trip. The answer was easy; because scuba divers love Palau!! The pristine waters, remote islands and teeming underwater wildlife make this tiny island nation top on scuba diving bucket lists. Within the community of scuba divers, Palau is a familiar destination.
Every dive location is a unique eco-system with its own display of flora and fauna. However, each ocean and its specific regions have an expected indigenous population. For instance the characters in Finding Nemo are fish native to Indo-Pacific regions and not Caribbean areas. Another example is the Lionfish which is native to Indo-Pacific but invasive and destructive in the Caribbean and Southern Atlantic.
This phenomenon is why divers travel farther and farther afield to spot those unique species found in different parts of the globe.
Top on my list was a Nemo, the adorable character is a clownfish and can only be found in the Indo-Pacific Oceans. The producers of this animated film obviously spent plenty of time observing the behaviors of these critters.
Palau is a small island nation in the Pacific, equidistant between the Philippines and Guam. This region is often referred to as Micronesia, however that is actually a separate grouping of islands.
Palau has seen a revolving door of imperial nations claiming “ownership” in order to park their armaments. Most recently, Palau was a US Protectorate such as Puerto Rico or Guam. In 201o Palau gained independence under an agreement know as the Compact Of Free Association. This agreement allows the U.S. full authority over aid and defense in exchange for continued access to U.S. health care and government services. It also gives the right for citizens to work freely in the United States and vice versa, making it a simpler Customs/Immigration process for US travelers. Another reason for divers to love Palau.
Most flights from the US will go through Seoul, Korea or Tokyo, Japan. Both of these layovers would be wonderful secondary destinations if you want to extend your layover a couple of days. We had an 8 hour layover in Narita Airport (Tokyo) and jumped on the train into Narita for a few hours. It was a grey chilly day but still a very fun experience.
Here is a link to a post on Tripping.com for Tokyo layover ideas….
Because of Palau’s connection with the US this island had a much more Western feel than Asian. That could be comforting or disappointing depending on the traveler. While the island itself is Western, the visiting clientele was very ethnically diverse. There were large groups of Chinese that stayed separate but most other travelers mixed eagerly. We met divers from Germany, Japan, France, Australia, and Switzerland. This is one of the things we love about diving and why divers love Palau.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Palau Pacific Resort. It is ranked #1 on TripAdvisor and for good reason. This was a paradise that was sometimes hard to leave when it came time for diving. I am not going to lie, this is a pricey stay but there were amenities that made it worthwhile. The rooms were clean and comfortable, the facility grounds immaculate, the staff friendly and very accommodating. The beach was spectacular with snorkeling that rivaled the diving. The overall setting was quiet and relaxing.
I saved the best for last…The Breakfast Buffet! I am a bit of a breakfast junky and the breakfast at the Palau Pacific Resort (included with your stay) blew me away. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the spread and my plate. It was tempting to forego diving everyday and just sit at breakfast. The eclectic nature of their guests was reflected in the buffet. Safe American fare was available and done with fun flair ( custom sea creature-shaped pancakes), European lunch-like choices (meats and cheeses) were abundant and the Asian delicacies were my favorites. I found hot noodle bowls brimming with fresh local seafood and veggies a great way to start the day.
We dove with Sam’s Tours instead of the dive center at the Palau Pacific Resort. Sam’s Tours had the highest marks when we researched the island and they earned them. They efficiently taxied us back and forth from the Palau Pacific with a 20 minute boat ride. It is one of the biggest dive centers I have ever seen with boats, tours, equipment and staff bustling everywhere. There was a busy grease board guiding everyone, it was kept constantly updated. The staff was efficient, friendly, professional and wonderful. We were able to leave all our gear at the center for the whole week of diving. This is a really nice perk because things have a chance to dry out between dives and we don’t have to lug everything around everyday.
Almost all of the dive sites are a long, but incredibly scenic, boat ride out and back. (I guess this would be the only downside I would mention. It does make for a very long and exhausting day of diving to leave at 8:00 and return at 5:00.) Which dive sites you visit each day are always dependent on conditions, it is great to have a dive group that is consistent and in tune with what you have already seen or want to repeat. Sam’s Tours was especially good about finding great spots for us. As you can see on the map there are plenty of sites, I think my pictures will demonstrate why divers love Palau.
I love diving underwater formations. This was a deep cut-through that we dropped down into and explored the walls. There are many blue holes around the world.They are formed by the collapse of the surface layer. The “blue” speaks to the depth of the water.
Although it is dark in this picture,
you can see a diver making his way back up to the opening of the hole.
This dive was right out from the dock of Sam’s tour. It was a dive down and back up into this cave.
Very Cool! No wonder divers love Palau.
There are many channels between the Palau islands. These channels are known for their strong currents. This can make for some challenging diving but also provides the diver with a spectacular parade of larger sea life. Turtles, mantas, sharks and an army of triggerfish.
A traffic jam of wildlife floats by. (Photos by Tom Frost)
This was one of our favorite spots. We asked to return here several times and the crew obliged. There is a strong current here and when the current is just right you hook on with a reef hook and watch the show stream by. Who needs a home theater?!! This is why divers love Palau!!!
Above Board Fun
Even though divers love Palau for the diving, there are plenty of reasons above board to love this destination.
- While technically still part of the diving I am going to include the surface intervals as “above-board” activities because they were so special. Sam’s Tours brought lunches for us each day and our intervals looked like this:
- Believe it or not, divers do take a day off. This was a day chillin’ at the resort bar.
Favorite above board was Rock Island Tour:
- The tour starts a Sam’s Tours. It is a day of kayaking and snorkeling It was lead by two Palau natives that were well versed in the history, culture, topography and wildlife of the islands. This day was jam-packed with fun, sun, amazing landscapes, unique wildlife and local knowledge. We snorkeled in a raging rain storm with sharks, bathed in a milky mineral lake, lunched on another uninhabited island, paddled through prehistoric mangroves and enjoyed the spiritual experience of Jellyfish Lake.
Snorkeling in this ancient lake was literally spiritual. It left me speechless and breathless. Only a very few of these jellyfish lakes exist around the world. Similar to the blue holes they are formed by the collapse of the top of a conical land formations. This collapse of the island peak is common in the Palau islands. What makes this one unique is that at one point it was covered by the sea. Over centuries the oceans have dropped and left the lake behind. In spite of being interior, it is salt water but has no opening that would allow predators to the jellyfish to enter the lake.
Therefore, the jellyfish have evolved to lose their stinging ability. This is what allows us to be able to swim in a lake literally teeming with jellyfish.
It required a short but very steep hike up and over the edge into this ethereal world. Unfortunately, it was also teeming with people, but once you put your head in the water everything else disappeared.
Exotic Food Makes Divers Love Palau
Evening dining: We had breakfasts at the resort and lunches on the beautiful islands and found the dinners at the resort expensive and disappointing. So for evening dinners we ventured out. Many of the restaurants would have one of the staff pick us up and deliver us home, a remarkable perk and great for imbibing a little. Here were some of our dining adventures:
Elialai-upscale dining with nice views. Sorry I can’t find any pictures for this lovely place. There was even live music played by our dive master from Sam’s Tours. The local dive crew always have fun after hours recommendations.
Taj-Amazing Indian food
Marina Cafe VITA -Decent seafood with nice view of harbor.
Red Rooster Cafe was a laid back hippie cafe
that served the local brew and pub grub.
Why do divers love Palau?
There are plenty of reasons to visit Palau.
If you are interested in scuba you should discover for yourself why divers love Palau.