• The Curious Traveler

Palau: On Land and Underwater

If you think using the word “odyssey” in our Palau: Snorkeling and Kayaking Odyssey is hyperbole, you haven’t been to Palau. This Micronesian island republic punches way, way above its weight when it comes to the diversity of its marine life. In a world where reefs are constantly under threat, seeing a thriving and healthy ecosystem is a priceless experience.

There’s more to Palau than just world-class snorkeling, however, so we’ve put together a primer on its top attractions both on sea and on land.

Palau on Land

Our journey begins in Koror City, the urban center of the country—though with a population a little over 11,000, that’s a relative term. We start the first full day with a handy introduction to Palauan history at the Belau National Museum. The oldest museum in Micronesia is a great place to learn about the traditional culture through art and storytelling. One highlight is the recreation bai, a thatch-roofed men’s meeting house covered in colorful interpretations of Palauan mythology.

You’ll also learn how Palau’s history was influenced by Japanese occupation from 1914 to 1945. The occupation culminated in the Battle of Peleliu, a bitter two-month standoff between US and Japanese forces over an airfield on the tiny island of Peleliu. Japanese forces were massively outnumbered but strategically resourceful, leading to one of the Pacific’s most protracted conflicts despite the isolated location. Later on in the tour, we’ll visit Peleliu ourselves.

Following the museum we spend much of the trip exploring Palau’s aquatic wonders, but bookend it with another unique dry-land experience. Day 9 brings us to the island of Ulong, a tropical postcard come to life. Yet hidden among the white sands and swaying palms are the remnants of Japanese occupation left behind by soldiers encamped in the area during WWII. Other historical aspects are of a much older vintage—we’ll also visit the site of a traditional Palauan village abandoned five hundred years ago. Here we gain an appreciation for the ingenuity of the islanders who navigated the high seas to discover this incredible place.

Wreck of WWII-era airplane underwater

Palau Underwater

Our aquatic experiences begin on the surface with a sea kayaking tutorial. Shortly after we head to Nikko Bay, where low tide exposes an intriguing secret. A tunnel through the rock leads to the incredible reefs of Disney Lake. Typhoons and other weather events typically disrupt reefs at regular intervals, but not so here—the shelter provided by the surrounding cliffs keeps the coral serene and undisturbed. Surviving untouched for hundreds of years has created a flourishing ecosystem where coral grows atop coral in delicate shapes that would be impossible in rougher waters.

As incredible as that experience is, the following day’s trip might be even more otherworldly. Jellyfish Lake sounds like a no-go zone for swimmers, but don’t panic—the teeming jellyfish life here has evolved to be stingless. Geological shifts over time have created saltwater lakes surrounded by mangroves, where harmless jellyfish drift before your amazed eyes. This is truly one of the most unforgettable snorkeling experiences in the world—and one found only in Palau.

View from underwater while surrounded by jellyfish in Palau's Jellyfish Lake

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Palau’s most popular dive site, Blue Corner. Visibility here is typically excellent, the better to spot parrotfish, rays, reef sharks, hawkbill turtles, giant clams, and other diverse life. It’s simply astounding, but Palau has yet another trick up its sleeve.

On Day 7, get ready to watch worlds collide. Snorkelling around West Ngeruktabel will expose you to sunken tanks, planes, and other WWII-era wrecks studded with coral. It’s a fascinating reflection on human history, as well as a demonstration of nature’s inexorable power. Experiencing the surprising juxtaposition is just one more way to make the most of a trip to this tropical paradise.

Read more about the Palau: Snorkeling and Kayaking Odyssey here
If you’ve enjoyed reading and are inspired to join us or have questions about the adventure featured in this post, please give us a call at 1-800-941-8010 or send us an email at [email protected].

A school of fish near a reef


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