Palau – day 5

We began our fifth day in Palau by exploring the islands in a new way: by air! After it, we did a roadtrip around Babeldaob, the largest island in the country. In Babeldaob, we discovered several traditional and modern monuments related to the Palauan culture and history.

When we began planning our trip to Palau, some of the pictures that impressed us the most were the sights of its many small islands from the air. Due to it, we decided that we had to go on a flying route over Palau, which we arranged as the first activity for the fifth day of our trip. There are two companies that offer such tours: Smile Air (by light airplane) and Palau Helicopters (by helicopter). Both follow similar routes, but the prices of Palau Helicopters are considerably more expensive. Therefore, we decided to go with Smile Air.

Our recommendation is to do route C, since it is the most complete (it takes approximately 1 hour) and allows you to enjoy the views of the entire archipelago from Koror to Peleliu, going above all of the Rock Islands. It comes at a price of $260 per person, plus a $10 supplement to have the side door open, which is highly recommended as it allows to take photos of much better quality (we were not charged for it). We also want to mention that the Smile Air team took care of booking a rental car for us, which they had ready for us to pick up after finishing the flight.

After picking us up at our hotel and taking us to the airport, we met our pilot, native from Japan. After showing us the plane with which we were going to fly, a Cessna, we started our flight! It was our first time flying in a light airplane, and it was a lot of fun. As we will show you below, on the tour we were able to recognize all the places and diving spots that we had visited during the previous days.

Cessna airplane

From the first minute, we were amazed by the views. Thanks to the good weather, we were able to enjoy the islands, channels and reefs of Palau in all their greatness. We moved towards the South, flying first over the island of Ngeruktabel. There we could see the Milky Way, easily distinguishable by the characteristic turquoise color of its waters (in addition to the many tourist boats that were in it!).

Koror – Ngeruktabel area

We continued towards the island of Mecherchar, the last large island before Peleliu. Although we had already sailed multiple times between the Rock Islands in the previous days, seeing them airborne is something completely different and impressive. In Mecherchar we passed above Jellyfish Lake. Thanks to their migratory patterns, which cause them to move in coordination and concentrate in different areas of the lake throughout the day, it is possible to see them from the sky! If you enlarge the second-to-last of the photographs that we leave you in the next gallery, you will be able to see a brown area in the right region of the lake, caused by the accumulation of golden jellyfish.

Ngeruktabel – Mecherchar area

In the following video from the Mecherchar area you can also see the concentration of jellyfish in the lake.

From there we kept moving south, flying over the area between Mecherchar and Peleliu. This is an area with abundant shallow reefs and smaller islands. It is also the region where Long Beach is, another of the best known sandy beaches in Palau, and named after the large stretch of sand that emerges when the tide is low. Here we could see the German Channel from the sky too. As we already mentioned, this canal was built by the Germans during their brief period of occupation of Palau. Its artificial origin can be identified by its characteristic straigthness and narrower width, compared to the rest of the natural channels of Palau. Shortly before reaching Peleliu we passed above Carp Island, which has a very characteristic star shape.

Mecherchar – Peleliu area

As we were flying over Peleliu, we were lucky to see the rainbow! This small island of just over 500 inhabitants constitutes by itself one of the states of Palau. One of the bloodiest battles of World War II took place in it. The last day of our unforgettable trip to Palau was devoted precisely to exploring this island, so we will tell you more details very soon! For the moment, here we show you the beauty of Peleliu from above.

Peleliu Island

After reaching the southern tip of Peleliu, we turned around and started to move back towards Koror. On the way back we flew over Ngemelis Island, surrounded by shallow coral reefs. Blue Corner, where we had dived a few days before, is close to Ngemelis Island. We understood then perfectly why it receives this name! As you can see in the next gallery, it is a triangular-shaped marine plateau that stands out as a turquoise corner in the deeper waters. Thanks to the crystal-clear waters of Palau, it was even possible to see the shadow of the boats at the bottom of the reef.

Ngemelis area

From there we headed towards what are perhaps the most emblematic among the Rock Islands: the Seventy Islands, known in Palauan as Ngerukeuid. It is a group of about 40 uninhabited islands located west of Mecherchar, and they are one of the most iconic places in Palau. They constitute a natural reserve with special protection, so access to them  is not allowed for tourists.

Seventy Islands

We continued north towards Koror, flying over the long island of Ngebedangel. On the way we flew very close to stormy clouds! Fortunately, our experienced pilot took care to keep us at a safe distance at all times. We were lucky that the storm only came at the end of our flight! After enjoying some good views of Koror, including the Japan-Palau Friendship Bridge that connects this state with Airai (south of the island of Babeldaob), we landed safely at the airport.

Ngebedangel – Koror area

Once on land, we picked up our rental car. As we mentioned earlier, most Palau tour companies can arrange car bookings for you. However, we found that the best way to take advantage of the time is to take the air tour in the morning, and then immediately pick up the car to visit the points of interest on the island of Babeldaob. For this reason, we hired the car through Smile Air.

Babeldaob is the largest island in Palau. With an area of 331 km2, it contains 70% of the land surface of the country, but only 30% of the population (distributed among 10 states). The island is surrounded by a circular road in very good condition, which makes it easy to visit it. Our route essentially consists of a counterclockwise tour along this road, stopping at the places of interest.

But before starting the route around the circular road itself, we took a detour towards the American Embassy in Palau, to visit the traditional meeting house (bai) of the state of Airai. On the way we saw the ruins of a Japanese communications center from World War II. As we will show you later, there are numerous ruins and remains of Japanese buildings and military vehicles around Palau, due to the period of several decades during which these islands were part of the Japanese Empire.

After reaching the end of the road, we turned left to arrive to the Airai bai. As you can see, it is quite similar to the one we had already visited around the Palau National Museum. This bai was built in 1890, and is the oldest of all that remain nowadays. In ancient times, there was a bai in each Palauan village, and they served as a meeting place for the elders who ruled it. Traditionally, the bai were built of ipil wood (a common tree in Palau and the Philippines) on a stone platform raised above the ground, and decorated with paintings depicting stories and traditional elements of Palauan culture. For example, the circles with an inscribed cross that are arranged in a row at the bottom of the frontal engraving are a symbol of wealth, and the open black shells painted at the bottom of the inner wooden beams represent giant clams (a traditional source of food and materials for making weapons).

Bai at Airai

After finishing our visit to the Airai bai, we returned to the circular road and started our tour around it. Our first stop was the capital of Palau, Ngerulmud.

Contrary to what one might think, the capital of Palau has not been Koror since 2006, despite being its largest city. Instead, the capital is Ngerulmud, a complex of buildings located in the state of Melekeok. It constitutes the smallest capital city in the world, and it includes the seat of government, the Palau National Congress and the seat of the judiciary. In Palauan, Ngerulmud means “place of fermented mud“. Mud is the Palauan name for the keyhole angelfish, and the capital receives this name because it sits on a hill where Palauan women traditionally offered fermented angelfish to the gods to gain their favor.

Ngerulmud, capital of Palau

Our next destination were Badralchau Stone Monoliths in the state of Ngarchelong, which is located at the northern tip of the island of Babeldaob. To get to them, we had to take an exit from the circular road towards the north when passing through the state of Ngaraard. After paying the entrance fee of $5 per person, we entered the archaeological site. The site comprises more than 30 basalt monoliths of various sizes (the largest weighing 5 tons), some of them with human features, and whose origin is still a mystery. It is known that they were not carved in Palau, but imported from somewhere else. In addition, they have been dated to the 2nd century AD, so they are almost 2,000 years old. There are various theories about their possible origin based on comparisons with similar artifacts found on other islands in Oceania, but none have been widely accepted. According to a traditional Palauan legend, they are the pillars of the bai where the gods gather.

Badrulchau Stone Monoliths

After going back to the car, we continued a further north along the road until reaching the northern tip of Babeldaob, where the ruins of a Japanese lighthouse from World War II are located. The entry fee is also $5 per person. A crater from the impact of one of the projectiles with which the area was bombarded is still clearly visible. From here you can also get nice views of the surrounding jungle and the ocean extending towards north.

Ruins of the Japanese lighthouse at the north of Babeldaob

After finishing our visit to the northern region, we returned to the circular road and made our way to the last stop on our route through Babeldaob: Ngardmau Falls. Located in the state of the same name, they are the largest waterfalls in Palau, and in all of Micronesia. We arrived at the entrance around 4:30 in the afternoon, so we barely managed to enter (they close at 5).

To get to the falls you have to follow a path through the jungle. It took us about 30 minutes to go through it, although we went at a fairly fast pace. The trail passes through the ruins of a former bauxite mine, where even railroad tracks still remain. At one point, the path splits into two. To get to the waterfalls, you have to keep right. After a small climb, you will be able to already see the waterfalls in the distance. Then, there is a descent with stone steps, after which the path disappears and you have to continue moving along the river (it is advisable to be careful because it is very slippery).

After a short while following the river, the path through the jungle resumes. Finally, after crossing a suspension bridge, you will reach the waterfalls. There you will find a rest area, and a walkway that leads to the lower part of the falls. They are 37 m wide and the drop is 30 m.

Ngardmau Falls

After enjoying the waterfalls and the refreshing environment, we started our way back to the entrance of the trail. We had to move quickly, as it was getting dark. Once in the car, we returned to Koror. We went back to the main street, and spent some time looking for souvenirs in the malls and small shops. We were surprised to see Christmas decorations everywhere in such a tropical climate, although that was to be expected since it was the end of November!

To finish such an adventurous day we went for dinner to Carp restaurant. It is a small family restaurant run by a very kind Japanese old woman, where Japanese and Palauan dishes are served. We were able to enjoy a variety of Japanese dishes, including sashimi and oyakodon (omelette with chicken served over a rice base). In addition, we were able to see another traditional Palauan dish: fruit bat soup!

Summary

Visited places:
  • Air tour C over Palau (flying over the area from Koror to Peleliu)
  • Japanese World War II communications center
  • Airai bai
  • Capitol at Ngerulmud
  • Badrulchau Stone Monoliths
  • Japanese World War II lighthouse
  • Ngardmau Falls

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Lara and Rafa

Lara and Rafa

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