There’s plenty to experience in Palau, especially if you’re a diver and a shark enthusiast! Famed for hosting the world’s first ever shark sanctuary as formally declared by the President in 2009, Palau is truly a fantastic destination for scuba divers. There’s more to diving in Palau than just an abundance of sharks, however, with loads of magnificent coral reefs to explore as well as wreck sites dating back to World War II.
For non-divers, Palau boasts phenomenal weather and a multitude of topside activities including a World Heritage Site known as the Rock Islands. These islands originated as underwater coral reefs thousands of years ago and now manifest as small limestone islands protruding from the water’s surface. As if that wasn’t enough to convince travellers of all types to visit Palau, the area is covered in lush jungle complete with beautiful waterfalls too. History enthusiasts will be pleased to note that Palau is littered with historical ruins dating far back into history such as the Badrulchau monoliths, ancient stone structures dated at around 161 AD. There are also plenty of World War II sites of historical importance.
Dive Map of Palau
Best Diving Destinations in Palau
There are around 600 000 square kilometres of water surrounding Palau, and underneath you are almost guaranteed to find fantastic diving no matter where you choose to descend. With the choice to experience reef dives, drift dives, wall dives, wrecks and caves and the famous Jellyfish Lake, Palau is definitely a destination to add to the top of your diving bucket list! Beneath the surface of the water, Palau is home to some 1300 fish species and over 700 coral species, providing great variety and a colourful underwater landscape to enjoy. However, for many divers these wonderful varieties of fish and coral species come in second in importance to the main highlight of Palau diving: the sharks! Thanks to the often present rip currents, the water is rich with nutrients and attracts all sorts of smaller marine species, which in turn attracts the larger species such as shark, turtles and barracuda.
Before spending all your allotted time exploring the depths of Palau’s waters, divers should make a trip to the legendary Jellyfish Lake, where snorkelers are able to swim amongst around two million jellyfish. Although this would be a certain death sentence in other areas, the jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake are unable to sting, making this trip a truly unique experience and a ‘must-do’ whilst in Palau.
Many of the dives in Palau are drift dives as a result of the strong currents often present in the area. For near guaranteed sightings of white tip and grey reef sharks, the drift dive along Ulong Channel is a good bet. Those wishing to see manta rays should opt to dive in the German Channel, the site of a manta ray cleaning station where sharks are also likely to be seen.
The island of Peleliu, located on Palau’s southern tip, has fantastic wall dive sites where sharks and other large pelagics are regularly seen. Divers can expect to see dramatic underwater walls covered in all sorts of marine plant life including large sea fans, sponges and soft corals as well as fields of hard coral growing to impressive heights. Thanks to the presence of these deep walls and the many WWII wrecks, technical diving is growing in popularity in Palau. There are also reef diving opportunities in the calmer areas.
Without question, the most well-known dive site in Palau is Blue Corner, famed for regular sightings of sharks, manta and eagle rays, schools of barracuda, tuna and other large fish species. These great sightings form part of an adrenaline-pumping dive in strong, nutrient-rich currents where divers are required to hook-in for safety and simply float in the current, enjoying the fantastic marine life surrounding this coral shelf. After unhooking from the rocks at Blue Corner, divers enjoy a quick drift over colourful corals in pristine condition where the reef fish are present in their hundreds.
Due to its location, Palau is home to many WWII wrecks of historical significance some of which are only recent discoveries. Both ship wrecks and plane wrecks lie beneath the water’s surface and many offer divers the opportunity to swim through the wreckage and explore. In the lagoon, a 1940s wreck known as Helmet Wreck went down with its entire cargo of gas masks and unexploded depth charges, making for an interesting dive. Another shipwreck worth visiting is that of the Iro Maru, whose three masts are now completely covered in marine growth. This vessel also has gun turrets at the bow and stern.
Nearby the famous Blue Corner site is a fantastic dive spot known as Blue Holes. The holes in the top of the wall here are large enough to swim through and lead into an enormous cavern with great light streaming in from above, making for great underwater photo opportunities. Depending on the current, some divers may drift from Blue Holes to the famous Blue Corner site.
Another cave worth exploring in Palau is that of Chandelier Caves, where a shallow entry of only 10 metres will take divers into three large ‘rooms’ within the cave, each with an air pocket. Inside the caves divers will find impressive stalactites and stalagmites and upon exiting the caves the reef surrounding the area is teaming with marine life including the multi-coloured mandarin fish.
Getting to Palau
Palau forms part of Micronesia and is situated around 1400km southwest of Guam. Although there is only one airport located in Koror, Palau is surprisingly well-connected with the rest of the world, with flights coming in from Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Guam. United and Delta are the main air carriers and also connect Los Angeles and Honolulu in Hawaii to Guam, making it relatively easy for American tourists to visit via Guam. English is widely spoken in Palau, as is the local language of Palauan and also Japanese thanks to the large tourist population of Japanese in Palau.
Once in Palau, getting around is fairly easy via taxi and many tour operators run daily trips to the historical WWII sites, waterfalls and other must-see tourist attractions.
Where to Stay in Palau
The number of dive operators in Palau has greatly increased in recent years as the popularity of scuba diving in Palau has boomed. Divers are now spoilt for choice with the option of choosing a number of multi-day liveaboard trips or simply using the many shore-based dive operators to arrange their diving experiences in Palau. Many of the dive operators will offer trips to the same locations as the liveaboard options, however longer boat rides to the sites are needed when using shore-based dive operators.
For those wishing to make the most of their time in Palau, liveaboards are a good option to explore as many dive sites as possible and not just the most popular ones as is often the case with shore-based operators. Many of the liveaboards offer Nitrox to increase bottom time if staying aboard for a few days. Liveaboards come in the form of large catamarans and sailing yachts, many of which offer luxury accommodation and the ability to rent and/or buy equipment on board.
Some of the shore-based dive shops offering scuba training all the way to instructor level and can offer dive packages to include transportation and accommodation. You can also make use of these dive shops to arrange various non-diving day trips such as land tours, boat trips and kayaking expeditions.
As all the dive shops will explain, divers are required to obtain a diving permit when in Palau. The Koror State Permit is usually in the range of $50 for 10 days, whereas to dive around Peleliu will cost roughly $20 for 2 weeks. The permit allowing you to snorkel in Jellyfish Lake comes at a price of around $100, although it is recommended to research the latest information before getting to Palau as these fees are constantly changing. When leaving Palau, visitors are required to pay a $50 cash “Green Fee” that includes a contribution to environmental protection as well as your departure tax.
When to Visit Palau
Palau boasts a temperate, tropical climate with a much sought-after year-round temperature of 28°C. Although humid, rainy conditions are common, these conditions are most likely between the months of July to October. These months are also known as typhoon season. Water temperatures are comfortable throughout the year, remaining in the range of 27-28°C. For this reason, divers need only opt for a 3mm wetsuit, or in some cases a shorty will suffice.
Covered by lush marine growth and now protected by law from salvage, divers recently discovered the beauty and diversity of Palau’s wrecks.
Fish ‘n Fins the pioneer dive shop in Palau, and Ocean Hunter, Palau’s most exclusive live-aboard run the Annual Wrexpedition to explore the popular wrecks of Palau and rediscover forgotten ones.
More than a decade ago, Klaus Lindemann and Francis Toribiong set off on a mission. They wanted to find and document the sunken shipwrecks of the Palau Islands. Toribiong, a Palauan, had worked in his youth as a helper to his uncle salvaging some of the old WWII wrecks. He was now curious of what remained of these historical hulks. Lindemann had written the book ‘Hailstorm Over Truk Lagoon’ and wondered if a similar fleet held exciting finds and new discoveries.
Together, with just their skills and limited resources, they set out to find out the fate of the fleet after nearly 50-years beneath the sea. After a couple of years of successful hunting, many new wrecks were found and the book ‘Desecrate One’ was produced. In the years that followed, Toribiong sold his interest in his pioneer dive shop Fish ‘N Fins and moved to Oregon where his children where in high school and college. Lindemann’s health turned poor and he succumbed to brain cancer in 2001.
Marking their historic efforts, Fish ‘N Fins has hosted an annual “Wrexpedition” for the past years.
Normally, Palau isn’t thought of as Micronesia’s shipwreck haven but in truth, there are more sunken ships here than in the famous Truk Lagoon. While some WWII casualties have been salvaged, others are located in the Rock Islands, full of marine life and old artefacts.
Japan took control of the Micronesian islands in 1914 and ruled them until the end of World War II. They built the islands in the Palau archipelago into progressive and productive communities that specialized in mining, agriculture and fisheries. When the war came, the islands were also heavily fortified militarily. The islands of Angaur and Peleliu were the settings for fierce battles; the one on tiny Peleliu lasting for three bloody months.
Months prior to Peleliu, a two-day air-strike on March 30 and 31, 1944, designated as ‘Desecrate One’, sunk a major part of the Japanese fleet. Most were freighters, but small destroyers and many aeroplanes went down in the battles. Seaplanes were sunk at their moorings or while trying to escape.
Many war remnants still exist today on Babeldaob, in Koror town, on Peleliu and in Anguar’s jungles. For the diver, weeks and even months of exploration above and below the sea are available here. A week of Palau wreck diving opens doors to more exploration and can be very addictive. The most recent find, a United States Navy ship the USS Perry, was found off the tip of Angaur. It is a deep, technical dive but unique as a wreck dive. In the upper reaches of Velasco Reef, 100 miles north at the far tip of the archipelago, is the ship sunk by ex-U.S. President George Bush Sr. In between are ships with wonderful marine creatures in odd and unusual diving settings. Some are located in channels, others in river outlets, others in secluded Rock Island coves and there are quite few around the main harbour.
Most ships in Palau are in relatively shallow water at 45 to 120 feet. But the ocean still hides their easy location. Dubbed “The Lost Fleet of the Rock Islands”, this group of ships still enjoys very little diver pressure today.
One of the ships found after a lot of work by Toribiong was the Chuyo Maru. The discovery of this wreck came when the Francis and Klaus Lindemann had been looking, searching, identifying and exploring and were at the end of their week and the end of their safe diving time. Lindemann was scheduled to fly out the next day and decided to let accumulated nitrogen purge itself from his system. So when they took a morning spin to the old anchorage site near Koror to check out the bottom with the echo sounder, it was Toribiong who elected to dive down to check out an echo that looked like a large wreck on the screen. The trouble was, as far as Toribiong could recall, no one locally had fished there, and so the possibility of there being a wreck so close to a major population centre was pretty remote.
“I dived down and down and was almost at the bottom and still there was no ship”, remembered Toribiong. Resigning the sighting to some sort of phantom, he decided to ascend. “I picked up the anchor line and turned around and there it was”.
This ship is still in fine shape and is covered in coral and a home for fish. The bridge is in 70 feet of water and it is 90 feet to the deck. The top of the mast, the crosstree, is a garden of coral, sponges and fish. There is a resident school of barracuda that especially like the bridge aft areas. There are also many lionfish here that like to hide in the black coral branches and feed on the tiny fry.
The intact masts also attract various shoals of fusiliers. Cock’s comb oysters are thick on this wreck. The forward mast is especially nice with a great cluster of anemones and clownfish.
The bow is full of marine life and there can be a current running off the bow making it a good place to look for shoaling fish. The anchor chain stretches down sharply into the sand. Farther back, forward of the bridge on the port side, a large anchor lies on the deck.
Other ships that may be better known include Teshio Maru. This ship sunk while underway and now rests on its starboard side. It is one of the fishiest wrecks in Palau, with shoals of barracuda and Skipjack Tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis).
The Jake floatplane, an Aichi E13A or Jake type reconnaissance seaplane, is one of the most intact aircraft wrecks in Micronesia. It sits mostly upright with wings and one float still intact in shallow water not far off the Meyuns seaplane ramp.
The Ryuko Maru is near to the city, almost a snorkel from the Palau Pacific Resort along the northwestern shore of Ngargol Island. Covered in black coral trees and full of marine life like skipjacks and lionfish, the ship is a pleasant swim and there are parts that can be easily penetrated.
One ship full of artefacts is still unidentified. The Helmet Wreck was obviously being used by the Japanese for the war effort, but does not appear to be Japanese built. It is known as the Helmet Wreck after its cargo of helmets that are now fused together from being in the ocean for nearly six decades.
One of Palau’s most popular wrecks is the large freighter Iro Maru. It is beautifully overgrown with many forms of sessile marine life. Its sister ship, the Sata lies close by, upside-down, deep and basically undiveable on air.
“A wreck is like a house left abandoned. Each has a story to tell. You have to look at it, figure it out … find out its past”, Lindemann would say.
The dive-shop has developed a series of 3D computerized images of the wrecks. Called a D-Log, it is the first interactive CD-ROM of the Palau fleet. Divers can do a virtual dive on every wreck before entering the sea and actually doing the dive.
Wrexpedition is a great way to learn the history of Palau, the Pacific and WWII.