Located in the heart of the Pacific, the tiny island country of Palau is an untamed diving, snorkelling and kayaking paradise. Until recently, Palau’s major tourist influx has been from Japanese, Korean and Chinese visitors, but more and more visitors from farther afield are starting to make the trek to the middle of the Pacific in search of pristine reefs, staggering landscapes, a rich history and a vibrant, hospitable culture.
Made up of over 200 forested rock islands that erupt like mushrooms from the crystalline waters, Palau’s sandy beaches are hidden beneath dense vegetation. The island of Koror forms the core of island life and two-thirds of Palau’s population live and work here. Right-hand drive cars tootle down the left-hand oriented roads, American-style diners alternate with Japanese influenced restaurants, and large charismatic locals try and convince sceptical foreigners to try the local delicacy of fruit bat.
Its location has resulted in Palau being home to some of the world’s healthiest and most impressive UNESCO-designated reefs. Thriving corals swirl around the rock islands, their marine populations teeming with a bounty few other places can boast. Indeed, not a dive site list exists that doesn’t rank Palau’s Blue Corner amongst the top three sites on the planet.
Snorkelling and kayaking in Palau are also popular and provide the opportunity to experience the wonders of the country’s sub-aquatic life. Shallow reefs, glass-like water and the sheer plenitude of marine life allow for incomparable aquasports experiences. And it isn’t just in the tropical seas where strange creatures thrive, for Palau is also home to one of the most ecologically sensitive and unique evolutionary phenomena; Jellyfish Lake. In the murky waters of the lake, thousands of jellyfish have evolved, predator-less since they were cut off from the sea millions of years ago, their poisonous stings long unnecessary, and so, forgotten. To snorkel slowly amongst these gentle creatures is to float through an alien world.
While it’s easy to see Palau's beauty, a closer look will reveal scars from the ferocious battles that took place on these shores. Ship and plane wrecks remain buried in dark lagoons, long-forgotten bunkers and their rusted machine guns dig into the rock islands. For Palau’s modern history is tumultuous and has seen it swap hands from Germany to Japan to the United States. The strong Japanese presence during WWII saw it become an Allied target, and bloody and devastating battles ensued with great losses on both sides. Palauans voted, just 19 years ago, to become an independent state, and are today the proud inhabitants of one of the world’s newest countries, albeit one with an ancient Pacific culture.
While Palau may be remote and untamed, it is precisely these attributes that make it one of the world’s last unspoilt natural beauties. It stands as a living aquarium of healthy marine populations and vibrant corals, a proud and thriving Pacific cultural centre and a memorial to the battles once fought in these turquoise waters.