Surviving Palau

This small country attracts ‘Survivors’ and adventurers

By: Judy Koutsky

I was completely surrounded by jellyfish millions in fact. There are as many as 11 million of these squishy, soft, semi-slimy creatures present in Jellyfish Lake. So many that as I slowly snorkeled back to the dock, I received a massage: jellyfish rubbed my arms, belly, legs, face and feet.

Snorkel fins are banned here for fear that a mighty kick might take out a few dozen of these inquisitive creatures. While this might seem like a scene out of the Twilight Zone, it’s actually quite safe. The jellyfish ranging from the size of my thumb to those as big as my head have lost their ability to sting. Jellyfish Lake is one of the few places in the world where people can play with these creatures.

Welcome to Palau, where all things underwater seem possible. For many travelers, Palau is not a familiar country. However, the name conjures up images from the hit reality show Survivor, which filmed a season here. And like the TV show, this country attracts those adventurous of heart.

Palau is like the Serengeti of the sea; every time visitors think they’re completely wowed, something even more fantastic presents itself. After swimming in Jellyfish Lake, the bar was pretty high. Then I approached Clam City, an underwater cornucopia of beautifully colored red, green and blue giant clams.

It’s hard to one-up this tiny country in Micronesia. Jacques Cousteau, guru of the underworld, hailed Palau as having some of the best diving in the world. Unfortunately, I don’t dive, but fortunately, I didn’t need to. There are 1,400 species of shallow-water fish Hawaii boasts 570.

Palau is a water destination: Travelers can kayak to WWII sites and secluded beaches, hike through the jungle and fording streams to reach waterfalls, swim with dolphins and if your clients scuba, there are over 70 official dive sites.

Made up of 300 islands, Palau has a population of 20,000 and in terms of population and land mass is one of the smallest countries in the world. Yet this epicenter of biodiversity has attracted divers since the 1980s.

Tourism, however, is slow and steady, which suits Palauans just fine. New hotels, roads, bridges and hordes of travelers can be harmful to the coral and sea life, so there’s a concerted effort to grow at an environmentally sustainable pace.

But growing at a reasonable rate doesn’t mean Palau is short on tour operators or exceptional diving, snorkeling, kayaking and hiking packages.

Fish n’ Fins offers in-depth snorkeling tours of the Rock Islands. A full day tour includes stops at Japanese Zero (a WWII warplane wrecked on shallow reef), Jellyfish Lake, Clam City and Soft Coral Arch where snorkelers swim through a rainbow of soft corals lined within a natural archway. The tour also stops at the Milky Way (clay sediments makes for milky-colored water), and travelers can douse their bodies with mud for a natural exfoliation.

For a kayaking adventure, book Planet Blue at Sam’s Dive Shop, and be sure to request Ron Leidich. This tour is perfect for those looking to explore the islands via kayak as well as history aficionados. The tour includes visiting WWII bunkers and strategic sights, kayaking through caves and along rock formations and snorkeling with a variety of fish including baby black-tip sharks.

Dolphin lovers can swim with these animals at the Dolphins Pacific center, one of the world’s largest natural dolphin facilities.

After travelers have had their fill of water activities, they can take advantage of a little land-based fun by booking a bike tour in Angaur, Palau’s southernmost island. The flight from Koror, the main island, to Angaur offers aerial views of hundreds of islands ranging from a few feet to several thousand feet long. The flight path also takes travelers over Jellyfish Lake, where they can see schools of snorkelers and, if they look closely enough, jellyfish.

Once in Angaur, book a biking tour through Island Villas (the company also rents bungalows on the island). The two- to three-hour tour covers the majority of the island, including a visit to a WWII plane wreck, a ride past macaque monkeys jumping around the tropical trees and a stop at the pristine beachside.

The Belau National Museum and the Coral Reef Center are also worth a visit. The recently renovated Belau National Museum’s exhibits and the artifacts are well worth a few hours of time, while the Coral Reef Center provides an introduction to Palau’s marine ecosystem.

For an authentic island stay, Palau Pacific Resort a member of Pan Pacific Hotels and Resorts incorporates local Palauan design and motifs.

Palau’s laid-back, eco-friendly atmosphere is best summed up by the tourism motto, “Take only pictures leave only bubbles.”


Dolphins Pacific

Fish n’ Fins
Commission: 20 percent

Island Villas Bike Tours
Commission: 20 percent

Neco Marine
Commission: 20 percent

Palau International Coral Reef Center

Palau Pacific Resort
Commission: 10 percent

Palau Visitors Authority

Planet Blue at Sam’s Dive Shop: kayaking tours
Commission: 20 percent