This is the Pacific- the largest ocean on the Earth. It is larger than the whole dry land on the planet altogether. But its vast spaces are not empty. There are plenty of “microscopic” islands scattered in the ocean, mainly in the tropics. One group of them is Palau, a part of geographical Micronesia. Its islands are tiny pieces of paradise. But what are the secrets of its underwater world? Let’s go diving in Palau and see!
Let’s open the map that shows the western parts of the Pacific. Look at the area east of the Philippines and north of Papua Island. Here, you can see a thin chain of islands that starts from the Papua’s Bird’s Head, proceeds to the northeast, and turns eastward.
This is the long archipelago of the Caroline Islands, one of the main parts of Micronesia. Now, look at its southwestern part. Although Ayu and Asia, the first two small groups of islands are a part of same Micronesia, politically they belong to another diving paradise- Raja Ampat in Indonesia.
Then, the next tiny pieces of land called Helen Reef and Tobi Island are the first islands of the Republic of Palau that includes everything from Helen and Tobi to the northernmost Velasco Reef. And the most significant islands in the middle (in fact, mainly in the north) are the largest “mother” island of Babeldaob, and the smaller islands of Koror, Peleliu, Angaur, and many others.
Landscape of Palau
The islands of Palau are located in the tropical geographic zone. Some of them are volcanic, others are coral atolls, or a combination of both. Many of them also feature karst formations. As a result, the landforms and the archipelago’s location in the tropics suggest that you can expect a fantastic paradise of islands, covered by tropical forests, with stunning beaches, sandbars, coral reefs, and lagoons. And if the land is such a paradise, what is underwater?
Palau underwater world
This is one of the seven underwater wonders in the world! Palau is located in an ocean area where three currents meet. This, along with the location in the tropics, not far from the Earth’s Equator creates excellent conditions for incredible underwater diversity.
Here you can see more than 1500 species of fish, coral reefs in every color that you expect to see, and various kinds of other sea creations- octopuses, turtles, jellyfish, and more. In addition, the waters around the islands keep a lot of wrecks from WW2.
Diving in Palau
All of the above makes Palau a diving paradise, full of amazing diving sites. They are located mainly southwest of the main Babeldaob Island, between Koror and Peleliu. And this area is on the focus of local diving tourism.
Diving sites in Palau
So, most of the diving tours and liveaboards travel to the diving sites around Koror, Rock Islands, and Peleliu. These sites are the most popular for the divers in Palau.
- Blue Corner. This is one of the best diving sites not only in Palau but in the whole of Oceania. It is like a shallow table with vertical walls, covered by corals, full of fish schools and other sea creatures.
- Blue Holes. These are four underwater holes that form a giant chamber. Again, everything is covered by various coral species and is full of pelagics floating around.
- Big Drop-Off. This is a vertical underwater wall that drops from less than a meter to more than 200 m depth in the ocean which makes you feel like you are on another planet.
- Chandelier Caves. A chain of caves not far from Koror. They are not entirely underwater and you can swim through a tunnel to penetrate each one of them.
- Denges Passage. This is a channel located east of Ngerechong Island and is best known as a place where you can see a rare species of cuttlefish.
- German Channel. This is an artificial channel, but although not natural, it has become a home of many pelagics, the most attractive of which are the Manta rays.
- New Drop-Off. This site is something like a combination of the flat “Blue Corner” bottom, combined with the “Big Drop-Off” wall. Again- like a place taken from another world.
- Ngedebus Coral Gardens. This is one of the best places with hard corals in the Pacific, with its specific marine wildlife.
- Ngerchong Island. There are two diving sites around this island- Ngerchong Outside and Ngerchong Inside. The first one presents a sloping wall into the depths of the ocean, and the second one is an amazing garden of hard corals. Again, both sites are full of marine wildlife.
- Peleliu Island. This island is located in the extreme southwest of the main diving area in Palau. It presents several excellent diving sites that feature spectacular underwater walls.
- Short Drop-Off. Another underwater wall, covered by sea fans, with a coral garden on its top, not far from Koror.
- Siaes Tunnel. This is a spectacular underwater tunnel, located quite deep, between 30 and 50 m, full of various fish schools, turtles, stingrays, and more.
- Ulong Channel. It is not far from Siaes Tunnel. The channel is a long underwater corridor, covered by various coral species.
- Wonder Channel. This is another underwater corridor, located not far from Mecherchar Island, full of amazing landscapes.
- Wreck of the Iro Maru. This is a merchant ship, sunk by an American bomber during WW2, located not far from Koror- the best wreck site in Palau.
- Jellyfish Lake. This is a lagoon that has been separated from the ocean, capturing a local jellyfish population. These jellyfishes have lost their stings and have become harmless. However, you can’t go scuba diving there, because the bubbles can harm the jellyfishes. But you can go snorkeling to enjoy fantastic underwater views in the company of these creatures.
More diving sites in Palau
If you look at the map of Palau, you can notice that there are more places that suppose to be good diving sites. They are located out of the main Palau diving area, and far from the tourist zone.
The closest of them is Angaur Island, known for its shipwrecks. Here you can’t find too many coral formations, but it is the best surfing spot in Palau.
There is almost nothing beyond Angaur, but only several small islands- Sonsorol, Fana, Anna, Merir, Tobi, and Helen Reef. They are almost uninhabited, off the beaten, and difficult to reach. Of them, Helen Reef is the best place for diving, and there are occasional liveaboard expeditions to this site organized by Solitude One liveaboard.
This is the extreme northernmost island area in Palau, a separate administrative unit. It consists of several islets and reefs, of which Velasco Reef is the most attractive one for divers. However, there are no regular expeditions to this area, although occasional journeys are sometimes organized.
Diving resorts and diving centers
In general, there are two main starting points to the main diving area in Palau. The first one is Koror- the largest city in the country, from where you can go on short diving tours or liveaboards to the main diving area.
The other one is Peleliu- a small resort town, located on the other side of the diving area. However, this is a starting point only for short local tours.
So, if you want to enjoy scuba diving more cheaply, you can choose one of these two places, enjoy a nice on-land and underwater trips, explore the local culture, or just relax on the beaches and reefs. And visit one or two diving sites by local boat tours.
But if you want to explore the underwater wonders of Palau in-depth, the best way (although more expensive) is by a liveaboard tour.
Liveaboard tours in Palau
There are several liveaboard boats that regularly roam around the main Palau diving area, between Koror and Peleliu. They are focused on the best diving spots in the country. But on a certain time schedule, one of them goes much further, to the extreme southwest of Palau, making an expedition to Helen Reef. Let’s see them in detail.
The best liveaboard tours in Palau
Below are the 6 best liveaboards in Palau.
Black Pearl Liveaboard
This is a luxurious ship, adapted for divers’ needs. It offers 11 cabins for 22 guests. You can also enjoy a gaming hall, gym equipment, 6-person Jacuzzi, and a stargazing telescope. In addition, there is a sun deck with beach beds and benches, and a spa system. In other words, this is a floating splurge hotel. And of course, it has well-equipped scuba diving facilities.
Black Pearl guides you around the best diving spots in Palau for 8 days and 7 nights. It departs from Malakal, Koror every week and returns to the same point after the tour, then departs again on the same day.
It has two routes to follow. The first one is the Classical Palau route. But the second one is called “Spawning Special-New Moon”- it is specifically focused on the spawning activities of the Bumphead Parrotfish and the Red Snapper. And it is arranged during the new Moon when these events happen.
Ocean Hunter III
This is another luxurious boat, specifically designed for divers and their needs. It offers 8 cabins for 16 guests. Onboard, you can enjoy a large salon with TV and entertainment, and a sun deck with two Jacuzzis. In addition, if you are an underwater photographer, you can use well-equipped facilities for everything you need, including mover than 60 electrical outlets.
Ocean Hunter III floats around the Palau main diving area on 7 or 11-days routes. It departs from Koror and returns there approximately every 8 or 11 days. Some of its routes are again focused on spawning watching, and the 11-days route is designed for you to enjoy the diving spots for a longer time (it is called Palau Explorer Trip). In addition, due to its smaller capacity, it offers custom dive itineraries.
The Palau Aggressors
Have you heard about Aggressor Adventures? This is a large company offering safari tours, river cruises, and liveaboards. Their liveaboard tours can be found in 19 destinations around the world, and Palau is one of them.
These are two luxurious “twin” yachts that offer 9 cabins for 18 guests each. They have also a nice sun deck and a dining area. And again, they are both well-equipped for scuba divers. The whole service is managed by professional crews of 6 persons.
Both Rock Islands Aggressor and Palau Aggressor II guide you on 8 days and 7 nights tours around the main Palau diving area, visiting all the best diving spots between Koror and Peleliu. However, Rock Island Aggressor also offers at least one 11-days tour around the same area, but with a more detailed itinerary.
This is the most beautiful liveaboard boat in Palau- a 40 m long yacht with sails. It offers 8 cabins for 16 guests, and an air-conditioned lounge bar with a flat-screen and entertainment. You can also enjoy two decks- a sun deck with cushioned loungers, and a covered outdoor deck, where you can have your meals. And again, it is perfectly supplied with diving facilities.
Palau Siren travels on the same routes as the other liveaboards, all within the Palau main diving area. It offers regular short (8-days) and long (11-days) tours that visit all the best diving spots, and the long tour just makes it with more details.
So, all of the above liveaboards travel around the same area in Palau. But there is one more liveaboard that can guide you on a different expedition, far beyond Peleliu. This is Solitude One.
This is a relatively large vessel. It offers 10 cabins for 20 guests. Onboard you can also enjoy a nice sun deck and a comfortable lounge. And again, it is well-equipped with everything necessary for scuba divers.
Solitude One is different than the other Palau liveaboards. Unlike them, it travels on different routes, mainly in the Philippines (its destinations there are Tubbataha Reef, Malapascua, Verde, and Romblon). But Palau is not far from the Philippines, so it is included in this liveaboard’s itineraries.
Deep South Exploratory
Traveling in Palau by Solitude One is available only from November to March, two times per month. Almost all tours follow the classical Palau route. But there is only one, special tour, called Deep South Exploratory, only once a year (in January)- the only liveaboard tour that guides you to the extreme southwest of Palau- Sonsorol, Tobi, and Helen Reef. It is 14 days and 13 nights long and is probably the most adventurous liveaboard experience in the country.
Palau diving and exploring tips
All of the above sounds great, but how to prepare and what to expect if you want to go diving in Palau?
Palau is a tropical country, with a warm and humid climate. But it still has two distinguished seasons- wet and dry.
The wet season is longer- from April to December, and the dry season is from December to April. However, even though the wet season is not too rainy, there are still a lot of sunny days. Similarly, even though the dry season is not completely dry, some occasional rains may occur.
So, the dry season is the better season, although the difference is not too big. That’s why there are diving and liveaboard tours in Palau almost during the whole year, although in May, June, and September (the rainiest months) they are the least.
The wet season is also the time of the typhoons, but strong, disastrous typhoons in Palau are rare. This is because Palau with the surrounding ocean is the birthplace of the typhoons and in this area, they are usually still “babies”.
Diving skills requirements
Palau offers opportunities for scuba divers of every skill level- from beginners to professionals. Some diving spots present calm waters, at least during most of the year. And they are the most proper places for beginners.
However, other diving spots are more difficult and require some diving experience. So, if you are a beginner and want to join a liveaboard tour, they may require a PADI certificate, especially in the low season when the waters are not so calm and there are more currents.
So, the best option for beginners is to join a PADI diving course. You can do it in advance in your home country (of course, if you live near the seacoast and if such courses are available), or you can just visit Palau for this purpose- to be trained in scuba diving while you enjoy the fantastic underwater world. And you can do it in some of the diving centers in Koror.
Permits and fees
Palau is well-known for its nature protection regulations. And it should be this way, we all want to protect the amazing paradise on land and underwater.
For this purpose, there are some environmental fees for visitors. If you join a liveaboard or small boat tour, these fees are normally included in the price.
For divers in the main Palau diving area (Rock Islands), there is a $50 fee per person. And if your itinerary includes Jellyfish Lake, the fee is $100. See this Guide to Palaus Conservation and Protected Areas for more information!
How to reach Palau
Palau is a bit “far from the world” and reaching it can be expensive in the means of transportation, but at least concerning the visa policy, it is very free to visit the country.
Palau is visa-free for all the citizens of Micronesia and US Samoa, as well as Israel (for 90 days). Almost all other visitors need a visa to enter Palau, but it is very easy- it is a visa on arrival (you obtain it when you arrive at the airport) and is free. The exceptions are only for the citizens of Bangladesh and Myanmar, who have to obtain the visa in advance.
However, you have to present a return ticket, and when you leave Palau, you have to pay two taxes: $30 green tax and $20 head tax.
The only “normal” way to reach Palau is by plane. The entry point is Airai Airport on Babeldaob Island. And there are only four destinations that are connected to Palau: Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines (Manila), and Guam, as well as Japan through Guam, so, first you have to reach one of these.
All the other ways (by water) to reach Palau are alternative and adventurous. It is possible to arrange a boat from the other islands in Micronesia. You can also arrive by cargo ship. And finally, you can arrive by private yacht.
Once you arrive there, you can travel around Babeldaob Island and Koror (connected by road to Babeldaob) only by taxis or rental cars. Another alternative is a rental bicycle. Even the largest island is not too large, so you can explore it by bicycle within a day or two.
If you want to go to the other islands: Peleliu, Angaur, and Kayangel (in the north), you can do it by private or state boats, as well as small planes (for more information see here).
But if you want to explore the Rock Islands and all the other uninhabited islands between Koror and Peleliu, it can be done only by local tours and liveaboards.
Finally, if you don’t have your own private yacht, the extreme far islands Sonsorol and Tobi are reachable only by a cargo supplying boat once a month. And if you want to visit the other small islands around them, you can do it (possibly) only from there. Or, you can join the Deep South Exploratory liveaboard by Solitude One, once a year to explore Helen Reef.
This is Palau and its underwater world. A fantastic place with diving spots of the highest class, stunning tropical paradise landscapes, and warm, hospitable people. A remote “constellation” of jewels, scattered in the vast spaces of the Pacific Ocean, a dream for explorers and adventurers.
Take a look at this video for more impressions from Palau:
Check some travel books about Palau and Micronesia:
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