Got Palau on your mind? (Maybe it should be)

Got Palau on your mind? (Maybe it should be)

by Dianne M. Collins
Stripes Guam Archives

Every scuba diver on Guam has the desire to head to Palau, but why? What does this small island of Palau have that would cause even the well known TV show “Survivor” to travel all this way to see? And are diving and surviving in the jungle while eating bugs the only things to do? No. Palau has more to offer than just bugs and diving. You can kayak, visit ancient village grounds and ruins or go bird watching. You may prefer to head out on scenic tours though the untouched parts of the island or do some camping. There is also a fun night life which includes everything from dancing and singing karaoke to dining out. You could choose to merely relax on a sandy beach take the tour to one of the more famous attractions, Jelly Fish Lake. Nevertheless, one of the main attractions is the diving. It is fantastic!!

Let’s start with where this well-known island is: Palau is located 7 degrees north of the equator in Micronesia’s Western Caroline Islands. You can jump on a plane in Guam and be there in about 2 1/2 hours. Palau Lagoon lies about 815 miles southeast of Guam. You’ll be there before you know it.

With annual rainfall averaging at 150 inches, rain is sure to come between July and October. It is, however, mixed with plenty of sunshine. Palau has an average temperature of 82 degrees F (27C), with the average humidity of 82%. Palau is located outside of the “typhoon zone” so typhoons are rare. This tropical environment has created native forests and mangroves covering 75% of Palau. There are over 163 plant species, and 23 different types of orchid. You are sure to see flowers of every color and size.

Palau is actually made up of 300 islands that are tiny uninhabited islets called Rock Islands. This is one of the things that make Palau such a magical place. Many of the small islands are mushroom shaped limestone formations capped with green lush trees and flowers. As you fly above them, these islands look like broccoli tops sitting in the aqua blue ocean. You will see some charming islands as large as a two-story building and others as small as a VW Bug. The largest island is Babeladaod. The capital city, Koror, is located on Koror island. About 70% of Palau’s population lives on Koror.

Kayaking around the Rock Islands is a peaceful tranquil “stroll” through the water. The kayak guides are trained naturalists and can tell you and show you everything about the rich history, exotic birds, deserted beaches, mangrove channels, coral gardens, colorful butterflies, and rock island caves. A kayak is the perfect transportation to enjoy the quietness of Palau.

Be sure to take time to visit the traditional villages with their stone platforms and pathways. Many of the stone carved faces resemble those of Easter Island. The function and origin of these and some of the monoliths, petro-glyphs, and pictographs are only passed down through local legends. Bird watchers will get their fill with over 153 species to seek out while walking the paths. The best known is the White-breasted Wood Swallow while the Palau Ground Dove is the most unique and threatened species in the area.

Because of Palau’s location in Micronesia, it is highly influenced by its neighbors the Philippines and Malaysia. The restaurants offer an eclectic mix with a multi-cultural twist. Dining out and nightlife in Palau are also very relaxed and laid back. Local food and international cuisines are offered in Koror. Everything from Thai, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Mexican is available. Palauan, Italian, Western, and Filipino dishes are wonderful when combined with the mix of fresh seafood, served in a variety of raw and cooked styles. One of the most popular restaurants in Koror is The Taj. It serves north and south Indian foods like curries and tandoori BBQ along with a mixture of vegetarian dishes. There are approximately 29 restaurants and bars, ranging from simple local establishments to elegant resorts.

Have you ever been surrounded by thousands of non-stinging jelly fish? The hidden marine lake “Jelly Fish Lake” is by far one of the most intriguing places on earth. Begin your lake adventure by hiking 15 minutes into a remote area that is only accessible by foot or boat. Upon reaching the lake, you will be quickly captivated by the oddness of it. Once you enter the water and snorkel out into the center, you will realize rather quickly that there are over a thousand non-stinging harmless jellyfish of all sizes swimming beside you. Gently put out your hand — the jellies will land softly on your palm, bouncing and then be on their way. They move around the lake in one large giant school following the sun’s pattern across the lake. As night falls, they quickly sink lower into the bottom of the lake. There they feed and get ready for the next day’s trip across the lake.

Scuba diving is the main attraction in Palau. It is known as the best of the best in Micronesia. The features include: coral encrusted wall diving, marine bio-diversity and an abundance of large pelagic animals. With over 700 species of corals, and 1,300 + species of fish, you are sure to see your favorites. There are hump head parrotfish, lobsters, Napoleon wrasses, groupers, sea turtles, large tuna, marlin, assorted sharks, barracudas, snappers, Moorish Idols, unicorn fish, and more. Blue Corner is one of Palau’s most famous dive spots. It is a “must see” to scuba divers. With a strong current pulling at you, you will need a reef hook to hold on at this site. However, while you are holding on, balancing yourself in the current, you are sure to see large schooling barracudas, sea turtles, tiger and hammerhead sharks and marlin. Whale sharks and even orcas have also been spotted at this site. It is like watching an underwater movie. Diving is wonderful all year round, but the best months are January to April.

If you are not a diver, visit the Palau Aquarium overlooking the Rock Islands. You can see 17 different habitats with breathtaking marine environments, animal species and view the mysteries of the underwater world. Observe everything from the tentacle-like roots of the mangroves, mini-rock islands, archerfish stunning their prey, the rhythms of the upside down jellyfish and the sea grass beds, all while staying dry.

Shopping is fascinating in Palau. Storyboards, which are handmade wooden boards of all sizes with local legends carved into them, are Palau’s most popular souvenir. Shopping choices include assorted beaded jewelry, woven baskets, purses, artwork, along with the traditional cultural books, local cookbooks, handicrafts, posters, t-shirts, and postcards.

Palau has many types of tours and activities for the whole family, couples wanting a romantic get-away, or even the single traveler. If you are thinking of going there for rest and relaxation, hit the spas and find some of the deserted beaches. Take the time to smell the flowers and go out and eat to your heart’s content at the many restaurants. You will be recharged and ready to get back to the grind of everyday life after a short or long rest in Palau. However, if you are one of those with high energy, seeking adventure and thrills, you can do everything from kayaking the Rock Islands, scuba diving with sharks, hiking through the jungle, and touring the cultural centers. Either way, this is an island for everyone.

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