Words and photos by Coalatree Ambassador Ryan Erickson
Known for its clear waters and pristine coral reef systems, Palau is an underwater paradise for scuba divers and snorkelers. It’s a paradise which isn’t well known yet, but it’s too good to keep secret for long! Here’s a list of my top 4 must-do things when visiting this tropical island.
1. Dive the famous "Blue Corner"
I’d never recommend going to Palau unless you plan on spending a good amount of your time scuba diving or snorkeling. That’d be like going to the Serengeti and not doing a safari. Speaking of, due to the crazy amounts of diverse sea life thriving there Palau has earned itself the nickname “the Serengeti of the Pacific.”
The crown jewel dive spot is the world famous “Blue Corner.” Here, a gradual reef shelf drops off into extremely deep open ocean. Ocean currents bring in big ocean critters from the deep water to feed on the nutrients around the fertile coral reef shelf. This is a drift-dive where divers are dropped off and the prevailing ocean current pushes them for over a mile along the reef. There’s no need to kick or swim with your arms. You simply tuck and enjoy the ride as you observe the underwater aquarium.
We then used a “reef hook” (a line attached to you with a hook on the end of it, which you hook onto the reef) to stay in one place against the current so that we could sit and observe the insane amounts of underwater wildlife. One large Grey shark in particular wouldn’t quit circling us. We were definitely keeping our eyes on him.
Over the course of our dives we saw tons of sharks, sea turtles, huge sting rays, yellow-fin tuna, barracudas and my favorite sighting, a giant Manta Ray with about a 12-foot wingspan that gracefully floated right over my head.
2. Hike Ngardmau Falls
If that wasn’t enough to keep you entertained, Palau also has some amazing hiking and waterfalls. Palau’s best waterfall, Ngardmau Falls, is a must see. We took a long ride to the far side of the island through lush palm groves, filled with flowers and any kind of fruit you could imagine. After hiking down a steep ridge, the trail descends deep into the thick rainforest following some old military train tracks left over from World War II. The trail then follows a beautiful river, which you eventually cross over on a rustic suspension bridge before finally ending up at a clear freshwater pool, teaming with fish. Ngardmau Falls flows from a 120-foot cliff into the pools. You can explore it by walking behind the waterfall and also cool off with a swim in the clear pools. It’s perfect.
3. Snorkel Jellyfish Lake
Arguably the most amazing experience in Palau is swimming in the otherworldly, freshwater jellyfish lake. The lake is situated in the crater of one of Palau’s Rock Islands. There are millions of jellyfish in the lake, which have evolved and become stinger-less over thousands of years, so it’s safe to swim among them. It is a surreal experience floating underwater surrounded by an infinite arena of jellyfish; it feels like swimming with millions of aliens. It was definitely one of my most memorable travel experiences.
4. Fly over the famous Rock Islands
Another must-do is a scenic flight over the famous Rock Islands. The Rock Islands need to be seen from the air to be believed. Of the over 300 islands in Palau, one particular group called “The Seventy” are by far the most beautiful and untouched. This area is home to over 700 species of fish, 13 species of sharks, 51 species of birds and some of the healthiest coral reefs in the Pacific. Commercial fishing has been banned in this area and only scientific research vessels are allowed to enter these waters, which means a scenic flight is your only option to see this marvel. From the air you can really appreciate the scale and vibrant shades of blues and greens of the ocean lagoons and the jungle-green islands.
We flew around the Rock Islands in a 4-seater Cessna airplane and our pilot was a real wild man. He allowed us to take the doors off the plane so we could get a better view and he did multiple banking passes just 500 feet above the ocean surface.
For such a small island, it packs a really big punch. Palau is a tropical water world with pristine coral reefs, shipwrecks, amazing sea life, and incredible diving and snorkeling, but there’s also a lot of great adventures on land. If you’re looking for a tropical destination full of adventure that is far off the beaten path, Palau is the place for you.