Have you ever felt so romantically adventurous and just give the globe google map a spin, point somewhere random, pack your bags and go? Everyone should do it once. I did with Palau, which at first glance I thought was a remote island in the Philippines, but which turned out to be a diver's paradise and one of the most exotic places I’ve ever been.
Where on Earth?
Consisted of a barrier reef and a cluster of islands in the Western Pacific, Palau boasts healthy hard and soft corals, wrecks, caves and abundant sea life, esp sharks, borders the Philippines, Indonesia and Micronesia. With strong political and economic ties with the US, the strongest cultural influence come from the States as well as Japan.
Palau offers diving fit for all levels of divers. Best known shark sites are no other than:
Blue Corner (near Rock Island). Almost synonymous to Palau diving and it truly lives up to its name. Thanks to the current movement, you can find huge schools of different fish species –– and of course sharks sharks sharks (mainly black tips). Sightings of tuna, rays and turtles are often, alongside jacks, barracuda, snappers and triggerfish in vast numbers.
Peleliu Wall / Peleliu Corner (Peleliu Island). First be warned that the current can be VERY strong, and it’s infamous for its downward currents. Divers have gone missing here so do choose your dive operator carefully. That said it's a magnificent site where you might encounter more fish and sharks than you have ever have on a single dive –– Virtually every meaty pelagic has recorded sightings here, from common reef sharks to bull, tiger, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, silky sharks, sometimes also marlin, sperm whales and killer whales.
A global leader in marine conservation, Palau created the world's first shark sanctuary the size of France in 2009, banning all commercial shark fishing within its exclusive economic zone. October 2015 Palau declared a National Marine Sanctuary, with 500,000 sqkm of No-Take Zone covering the entire country, benefiting 135 endangered species of sharks and rays.
When to Go
Good vis, warm waters, diving condition in Palau is good throughout the year. Despite tropical rainforest climate Palau sits outside the typhoon zone; even during rainy season it’s more afternoon thunderstorms, so do co in avoid the crowds and save some money.
Dry / High season: Nov–May
Manta & whale shark season: Jan–Apr
// 3mm full length wetsuit
// Reef hooks
Water temperature stays around a perfect 29-30C, slightly lower in Feb-Mar. I visited in March and with cold tolerance as low as mine I could start the day without a wetsuit and gradually add on with more dives. By 3rd dive I’d wear a 3mm.
Diving: Palau isn’t a cheap as a land-based dive destination. Among the main operators:
Sam's – a much larger operation with 7-8 divers onboard and churning out dives quite efficiently
Palau Dive Adventures – a small shop specialized in personalized service. I was a spoiled brat for 4 days. 2 tank dive is usually around $160 (I was able to negotiate $180 for 3 dives but that was 5 years ago!), including bento lunch box –– remains the best onboard meals I had on a day trip.
Food: $20-40 pp for dinner depends on restaurants. Jyu Jyu was my favorite Japanese-Palauan spot.
Palau Paradise Hotel (Budget). Korean owned, located in central downtown, close to restaurants and supermarkets. Rooms are basic but spacious, equipped with kitchenette. ~$100/night.
Palau Pacific Resort (Luxury). PPR in short, beautiful property, also the longest tenured luxury resort in Palau. Might be slightly far out but if you stay here you don’t have to go anywhere, for the best food (daily dinner buffet with changing themes. $40pp as of Mar 2014) and a house reef with excellent snorkelling. Plus all dive shops pick up from their private pier. ~$350/night.
Visited March 2014, land-based.