Although Palau, an archipelago in the South Pacific, isn’t frequently on the radar for American travelers, avid divers and marine enthusiasts are usually aware of the nation’s myriad underwater attractions. It’s hard to believe that in a nation as small as this one, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a list of just five favorite places to snorkel, but indeed limiting my list took some creativity. There are easily more than 20 dive and snorkel sites that take underwater adventurers through caves, channels, walls and even sunken ships. Even more ideal is that many of these sites loan themselves well to both diving and snorkeling so couples with diverging preferences can enjoy the same programs.
Big Drop Off
Black Tip Shark
Big Drop Off is located along a deep vertical wall running along Ngemelis Island. The wall drops more than 900 feet, so the site is popular with both divers and snorkelers. The coral and variety of fish here is truly amazing, but I admit that this location will always be special for me, because it is the first time I ever swam with sharks. The sharks generally seem pretty uninterested in the humans floating above, but still, what a powerful rush to watch Mother Nature in full action.
Part of the same wall system as Big Drop Off, Ngemelis Wall has its own charms. This is a drift snorkel, which when timed with the correct tides, requires very little work at all on the part of the snorkeler. The boat dropped us so that we were literally pushed along the site by the tide. As we snorkeled along, I saw some of the biggest clams I’ve ever seen in my life, which our guide told us can grow to be as big as 250 pounds. Although the current can seem daunting, this is also an excellent location for beginning swimmers, as the water does most of the work here.
This protected beach is a hugely visited site, especially during the lunch hours. It might feel a bit like every visitor in Palau is sharing the site with you. Still the volume of visitors can work in the snorkelers favor, as most boats come complete with plenty of snacks to attract marine life to the surface. Fish swarm around the boats, so even the most cautious swimmer can put on a life vest and catch plenty of underwater action. Nervous swimmers should be aware, however, that sharks are also hip to the fact that this is a fishy hang out. Less than 20 feet off the beach, numerous sharks patrol the area, seeking their own fast food snack.
Rock Islands Kayaking
Kayaking in the rock islands cannot be missed. Even without snorkeling, the arches and rock formations in this area are simply spectacular. The water is so clear that we could easily see the bottom of a partially submerged sunken vessel from our Kayak. Also, despite Palau’s large number of visitors, this excursion seems to be a bit off the radar, and we rarely encountered anyone else. Now add to the mix that there are nearly countless places we could “park” our kayak and snorkel to our hearts content. Truly a not-to-be-missed experience.
After a long morning of swimming and snorkeling, I was less than excited about climbing up a steep ridge to get to the protected lagoon that is known as Jellyfish Lake. But once I got to the lake, where nearly five million stingless jellyfish make their home, I was so glad to have made the trek. Because the jellyfish have been living in this land-locked sea lake for millennia with no natural predators, evolution has taught them that they do not need the protection of stingers. The lake is so rife with these jellyfish that it almost feels like swimming in a giant, scenic vat of pea soup. I literally could not move without fearing that I’d accidentally harm one of these gorgeous creatures. This wonderful experience is an absolute Palau must-see adventure.