Palau is a small island country located in Micronesia, East from the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean. With just over 20,000 inhabitants distributed among its 16 states, it is one of the smallest and least populated countries of the world. Since Second World War, it has kept a tight relationship with the United States (and in fact, the official currency is the American dollar). During the last few decades, several policies aimed at protecting its crystalline waters have been introduced in the country, which have allowed the ocean floors and the marine life that lives in them to be very well conserved. Indeed, most of its territorial waters are considered as a marine sanctuary, where activities such as large-scale fishing and mining are banned.
Since we started diving, one of our dreams was to visit Palau. Therefore, during our trip to the Philippines, we decided to spend one week in this tropical archipelago. While it is not a cheap destination, it was completely worth it. It is very hard to find anywhere else in the world islands with oceans of such amazing colors, extremely well preserved and full of marine biodiversity. Here we show you a small sample of its natural wonders, that we hope to bring you in full detail in the next few posts.
How to get to Palau
You are probably wondering how to get to such remote islands. The country has a single international airport (Roman Tmetuchl International Airport), located at the island of Babeldaob (the largest island in Palau). Currently, there are regular flights from only 5 cities: Yap (Federated States of Micronesia), Guam (United States), Manila (Philippines), Taipei (Taiwan) and Seul (South Korea). Arriving to the first two options is difficult (and expensive) by itself, since they are also small Pacific islands. Therefore, it is frequently necessary to transit through the Philippines, Taiwan or Korea. In all cases, the flights are expensive, and include a $100 fee used for conservation of the marine sanctuary (without which, on the other hand, the waters and marine life of Palau would not be so well preserved). For this reason, we recommend you to check the flight prices well in advance. We flew from Manila, since we had already planned to visit the Philippines, and bought the return tickets at $650 per person, although we have sometimes seen prices a bit cheaper.
For most citizens of most countries, it is not required to obtain a visa before entering Palau for staying in the country for tourism purposes for up to 30 days. However, it is required to show a booked return ticket on arrival. We also recommend to arrange the pick up at the airport with your hotel beforehand.
There isn’t much public transportation in Palau. Luckily, most companies that offer touristic services have available shuttles that will pick you up and take you back to your hotel (although they frequently require that the hotel is located in the state of Koror). This includes operators of island tours, diving centers and even restaurants.
A regular and clearly established taxi service is not available either. If you ask for one at your hotel, it is likely that they will just call someone with a car they know to give you a lift. Most frequently, there will be no taximeter, so it is highly recommended to set the cost before starting the ride with the driver.
It is also possible to rent a car at a cost of around $50 per day with insurance included (after asking at several places, we found that the price does not vary much). There are multiple companies that offer rental cars, and if you ask your hotel or almost any tourism business, they will arrange it themselves or put you in touch with the appropriate contact. Renting a car is almost mandatory if you want to visit the island of Babeldaob, where many of the land points of interest of Palau are located. The car can be rented and driven with most national driving licenses, but it is recommendable to also bring an international driving license if possible.
Accommodations at Palau are not especially abundant, and prices are a bit expensive. Most hotels recommended by the main touristic guides (as well as those included in touristic packages that include accommodation) had prices that were out of our budget. However, if you search beyond the most famous options, you can find decent hotels at more reasonable prices. We stayed at LEHNS Hotel & Apartments, where we payed $220 for 7 nights. The hotel also offered the option to purchase internet access via a WiFi network available in most of the country at a cost of $5 for 3 days.
It is also important to note that in many places in Palau it is advised not to drink tap water. Therefore, we recommend that you buy bottled water as soon as possible.
There are several diving centers in Palau, most of them of very high quality. We chose Neco Marine, since not only they offered slightly lower prices than other centers, but also they prepared the most completely itineraries. Their very professional team assisted us with every question we had during the booking process. After arriving to Palau, they gave us an extraordinary service at all levels during our stay, and made all diving days with them unforgettable. Our instructors, Iked Etpison and Sheldon Wang, took us through the best routes at each diving point, which allowed us to enjoy all the marine life that Palau has to offer. Furthermore, many of the members of the Neco Marine team are native from Palau, so they were able to tell us many details and traditions of Palauan culture which would have been impossible to discover in any other way.
Most activities and tours in Palau require a permit valid in the area or state where the activity takes place. The cost of the permit varies depending on the type of activity and area. However, you will almost certainly require a permite for the Rock Islands, since many touristic attractions of Palau are located in their area. This permite can be purchased from most touristic companies, and is valid for 10 days. You have to be careful not to lose it, since it must be shown before the beginning of each tour in the area.
There are two variants of this permite: the basic Rock Island permite (at a cost of $50 per person), which allows you to go snorkelling, diving and on any kayak or boat tour anywhere around the Rock Islands except at jellyfish lake, and the extended permit with access to the jellyfish lake ($100 per person). Even though it can seem excessive to pay double the price just for access to an additional lagoon, as we describe in the post for day 4, it is an amazing and unique experience, so we completely recommend obtaining the extended permit and visiting the lagoon. The permit is not restricted to activities with the company through which you purchase it, and is instead valid with any company (or even for going on your own). We bought it from Neco Marine, and later used it during our tours with RITC and IMPAC.
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