Palau. Republic of Palau
When asked to sum up the diving draw of Palau, Wayne Hasson was to the point: “On one dive, you can see almost everything that swims in the western Pacific. There’s so much soft coral and deep water, just about anything can happen.”
The Republic of Palau consists of 200-plus islands, on the southern edge of the Philippine Sea, roughly 600 miles east of the Philippines and 400 miles north of Irian Jaya (New Guinea). North to south, the islands comprising Palau stretch 400 miles, and are for the most part contiguous on a single barrier reef. Palau is one of the world’s youngest independent nations, having established its sovereignty in 1994 after bouncing from Spanish to German to Japanese rule. Most of Palau’s 20,000 residents live on four islands—Koror, Angaur, Badeldaob, and Peleliu. Diving is concentrated around the southern half of the archipelago and the Rock Islands (sometimes known as the Floating Garden Islands), which are the picture of tropical beauty, with requisite white sand beaches and swaying palm trees. Below the surface, a constant supply of reefs and walls, more than 1,300 species of fish—and a handful of wrecks—provide steady stimulation. “Most of the reefs at Palau reach right up to the surface,” Wayne added. “You never need to dive more than a hundred feet, and you never have to fight against the current. You only need to dive fifty feet to take in the shark circus at Blue Corner.”
Blue Corner is the site that perhaps best defines the Palau experience; it also happens to be Wayne’s favorite spot. “I could dive that one dive every day for a week, four or five times a day, and it would be different every time,” he said. “It’s a magical place where everything seems to eventually pass by, going up or down the reef with the tides.” Blue Corner juts out from the reef, beginning in shallow water and dropping off precipitously into blue water. The corner helps create the current that brings sea life by. Divers will generally begin drifting with the current until they come upon a concentration of sea life; then they’ll hook in on some rocks along the reef to take in the show. “I love diving with schooling barracuda, big schools of snapper and horse-eyed jacks, and gigantic Napoleon wrasse, all passing by with the tide,” Wayne continued. “I’ve seen fifty sharks—gray-reefs and white-tips—suspended in the blue water; they’re not eating, but they’re probably thinking about it. When you do get to see them feed, it’s quite a treat. They work together, circling around like an army to trap fish up against the reef, or they bust into a school to get their bite of the day. Sometimes you get so close, you can see their eyes roll back in their head as they watch you while swimming by. It gets your heart going. People don’t generally get bitten by sharks, but it’s occurred to me that if you were to get bitten, you’d want the animal to look you in the eye before doing it.”
Palau.Travel guide at Wikivoyage
The Napoleon wrasse (also known as humphead or Maori wrasse) is a favorite fish for many visitors to Palau, thanks to its approachability and large size; some reach well over six feet and 300 pounds. “In my opinion, the Napoleon wrasse has more personality than anything else that lives in the water column,” Wayne continued. “They’re a big, jowly green creature, remarkably friendly. This is in part because divemasters at the Blue Corner would feed them hard-boiled eggs. They wouldn’t have to even show the wrasse the egg, they would go for the pocket where the egg was resting. When the egg was presented, the wrasse would take it in its mouth, strip off the shell, and spit it out. If they figure out that you’ve got something to eat, they’ll stick right next to you; you can’t pry them away.” (The practice of offering wrasse hard-boiled eggs has been discouraged, as poultry products are not typically part of the fish’s diet.)
While day dives are available from the island of Koror, enthusiasts will get the greatest exposure to Palau on a live-aboard. The regimen on the Palau Aggressor goes like this: “You’ll get up around six-thirty, have a sweet roll and coffee or full sit-down breakfast. By eight A.M., you’re off in the tender boat, about to begin your first dive. After an hour below, you’re back to the boat, where fresh-baked goods await. Guests have an hour or two topside to work at the camera table or recline in a hammock. By eleven, you’re on your second dive; lunch is served at twelve-thirty. By two-thirty, you’re diving again. When you return, hors d’oeuvres are waiting. There’s another dive at five P.M., dinner at seven, and, if anyone wishes, a night dive. We save dessert for anyone who wants a treat after their evening dive.”
There are a number of celebrated sites—German Channel, Big Dropoff, Shark City, and Turtle Cove, to name a few—that divers will want to visit. One Palau attraction that’s a bit away from the reef is known as Jellyfish Lake, on the island of Ali-Malik. There are some sixty saltwater lakes among the Rock Islands; some have a tidal flow, some receive water through cracks in the islands’ limestone strata. Eons ago, moon and mestiga jellyfish were separated from the open water and trapped in the lake. As these jellies face no predators in their sanctum, they’ve evolved to the point where they no longer have the ability to sting—and they have multiplied into the millions. After a steep but brief climb up a forested trail, you’ll come out upon the brilliant blue lake, and its ethereal denizens, flitting just below the surface. No trip to Palau is quite complete without a few hours snorkeling Jellyfish Lake.
If You Go:
Getting There: Travelers from the western U.S. reach Palau via Guam and Manila. Service is offered by Continental and Continental Micronesia (800-231-0856; www.continental.com).
Best Time to Visit: You can dive Palau year round, though you’ll find dryer weather in early spring and wetter weather from May through September.
Accommodations: There are several live-aboards serving Palau, including the Palau Aggressor (877-348-2628; www.aggressor.com), the Big Blue Explorer (877-417-6160; www.palauscuba.com), and Ocean Hunter (+680-488-2637; www.oceanhunter.com). If you choose to stay on shore, accommodations are highlighted at www.visit-palau.com.
Dive Shops/Guides: Dive Palau (+680-488-3548; www.palaudive.com) and Fish’r’Fins (+680-488-2637; www.fishnfins.com) both offer day trips.
Recommended by Wayne Hasson