Palau is an island chain comprised of eight main islands and more than 250 smaller ones, all located about 400 miles east of the Philippines. Palau is organized into sixteen states with Melekeok, both a town and state, as its capital. The largest city and main tourist destination, however, is Koror, which used to be the nation’s capital prior to October, 2006. Other top destinations of Palau include Rock Islands, Peleliu, Badeldoab, and Angaur. Today, tourism in Palau is thriving, attracting more than 50,000 people each year, scuba diving being its main draw. Palau, after all, is perhaps to scuba divers what the Swiss Alps are to skiers. But visitors of these beautiful islands will get more than just a first-rate diving experience. Palau is also great a tropical beach vacation that can be enjoyed in the comfort of fairly modern facilities, infrastructure, and amenities.
Palau’s history dates back to 1000 BC when it was believed people either from Melanesia, Polynesia, Malaysia, or Indonesia arrived and settled on the Rock Islands. Palau was first discovered in 1783 by the English Captain Henry Wilson who was shipwrecked and stranded between Peleliu and Koror. The Chief Ibedul in Koror and his men helped Wilson rebuild his ship. In 1885, the islands were claimed by the Spanish who later transferred them to Germany, who exploited the island’s natural resources. The Japanese took control of Palau during WWI and helped shift the islands’ economy from a subsistence-based to a market-based economy. After WWII, the islands came under the administration of the United States who helped improve the infrastructure and education of the country. Palau recently gained independence in 1994 when it entered a Compact of Free Association with the United States.
Today, Palau is most famous for being rated as one of the best diving destinations in the world by scuba aficionados. Palau’s crystal-clear waters, large lagoons and natural reefs, gardens of multihued corals, underwater caverns, plunging walls, and schools of unique marine life explain why it has been dubbed one of the underwater wonders of the world. There are over 700 species of corals and sea anemones as well as 1500 species of fish, including the spadefish, butterfly fish, barracuda, snapper, triggerfish, Napoleon wrasse, manta and eagle ray, hawksbill, cuttlefish, green turtle, and a host of various reef sharks. The diving infrastructure and the quality of the diving tour operators in Palau are also top-notch. You can buy or rent high quality diving equipment at Fish ‘n Fins or at Sam’s Tours, both in Koror. Some of the popular dive spots are located off of Peleliu Island or near the German or Ulong Channel. The most famous of the diving areas is Blue Corner, characterized by its high currents and swarms of sharks. Blue Holes is another amazing dive site.
In addition to scuba diving, Palau also offers other natural attractions, including the famed Jellyfish Lake known for its sting-less jellyfishes. This lake has been an enclosed body of water for several millennia such that the jellyfishes have lost their sting, not having had to fight off other predators for years. Especially on the island of Badeldoab, there are also a number of remote waterfalls, lush jungles, and undiscovered caves that can be explored and hiked through via the trails. Along the way, you’ll be able to witness the still-active and inhabited Palauan villages.
The best beach resort area in Palau is definitely Koror. There are long stretches of sugary white beaches, resort swimming pools, local and boutique shops, and fine restaurants of every cuisine from Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Indian to Italian, Greek, and Palauan. Swimming, sportfishing, kayaking, dolphin watching, snorkeling, and sailing can also be enjoyed around this area.
Palau is also a great place to visit some cultural and historic sites. One of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific actually took place on the island of Peleliu, and today there is a WWII Memorial Museum there where you can tour the battle sites, tanks, artillery, and shrines and monuments associated with the battle. The Chades er a Mechorei is also an important Palauan heritage site. It is a sophisticated causeway built without modern technology by the ancient Palauans, a demonstration of the skill and ingenuity of these people.