Gem of the Jungle

Palau’s new Jungle River Boat Cruise


By: By Monica Poling


Jungle River Boat Cruise
The Jungle River Cruise is open daily, but its distance from Koror makes it advisable to book a reservation in advance. Programs are commissionable for travel agents.

The boat cruise doesn’t have its own Web site yet, but additional information can be found on the Palau Visitor Authority Web site.

Palau Visitor Authority

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I wondered to myself if my guide knew that I’m a complete Disneyphile when he recommended the Jungle River Boat Cruise. Strangely, however, I was not in California or Florida, but rather visiting Palau, a small country in Micronesia.

Although Palau isn’t generally well known in the U.S., it does have a well-deserved international reputation as a world-class location for diving and snorkeling. Some Americans may also recognize Palau from the pages of their history books, as the country was the site of strategic and bloody battles during World War II.

This jungle cruise is the real deal — not a Disney ride. // (c) Monica Poling
This jungle cruise is the real deal — not a Disney ride.

While in Palau, I had been exploring some of the nation’s lesser-known visitor activities. I traced the history of Micronesia at the Koror Museum and the Etpison Museum; I watched artisans craft traditional Palauan woodcarved storyboards; and I played dolphin trainer for an afternoon at the Dolphins Pacific adventure. I even stood on the very beaches and battlefields that made Palau so important to General MacArthur in his quest to regain control of the South Pacific. So far, the trip had been a lot more stimulating than I might have guessed.

On this day, however, I was seeking a more meditative experience, so I set off to visit the real-life version of one of my favorite Disney attractions. I was not exactly sure what to expect from the river cruise, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I was imaging the equivalent of a two-person powerboat cruising the river.

Once again, I found I was underestimating the Palauan tourist experience.

After driving for nearly an hour, we arrived at the visitor entrance area where we were greeted by owner Billy Takamine. He told us that this land had belonged to his family for generations, and only recently, paved roads had been extended as far as his river outpost, providing the access visitors need for the attraction.

I wasn’t sure if I was disappointed or amused when Takamine told us that he spent several years in Anaheim and that he’s almost as big a Disney fan as I am. Actually, the Disney Jungle River Cruise served as part of the inspiration for his own real-life jungle cruise program.

Beyond the name, however, there are very few similarities between the two rides. First, we set off on a 10-minute hike over forested terrain until we reached the mouth of the river. Here, we boarded an aluminum boat and began our leisurely two-hour excursion.

Our group was mostly quiet as we took in the mangrove trees lining the river. The silence was broken, however, as a guide pointed out Rosie, one of the crocodiles that lives on the river. The boat operators brought along raw chicken and hot dogs, which they hung off a stick in order to bring Rosie closer to us. Rosie chomped on her midday snack as the group excitedly snapped pictures of her.

Next, we cruised to the mouth of the river, where it meets the ocean, before turning back. Along the way, we enjoyed stories about Palauan history, culture and wildlife, while soaking up stunning river vistas.

Upon returning to the welcome area, we found that Takamine had not wasted the best snacks on the crocodiles. Although his operation has no electricity, the staff had performed magic with a barbecue grill — laying out chicken, smoked short ribs and a large variety of fresh fruit for our group to feast on.

While this attraction is a time commitment, it was well worth a morning away from the beach — even if no hippos were "shot" in the process.