Palau (Belau) is a group of islands in the Micronesia area of Oceania, to the southeast of the Philippines.
After three decades as part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific under US administration, this westernmost luster of the Caroline Islands opted for independence in 1978 rather than join the Federated States of Micronesia. A Compact of Free Association with the US was approved in 1986, but not ratified until 1993. Palau officially became independent on October 1, 1994.
Early Palauans may have come from Polynesia and Asia. Depending on the origin of a family, Palauans may represent many parts of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. However, they are not traditionally considered to be Micronesian. For thousands of years, Palauans have had a well established matrilineal society, believed to have descended from Javanese precedents.
Palau had limited relations before the 18th century, mainly with Yap and Java. Had it not been for shipwrecked islanders who took refuge in the Philippines, Europeans likely would not have found Palau until much later. Englishman Captain Henry Wilson was shipwrecked off the island of Ulong in 1783 and it was Wilson who gave the archipelago the name "Pelew Islands".
In the late 19th century, possession of the islands was claimed by Britain, Spain, and Germany. In 1885, the matter was brought to Pope Leo XIII for a decision. The Pope recognized the Spanish claim, but granted economic concessions to Britain and Germany. Palau then became part of the Spanish East Indies, along with the Northern Mariana Islands, the Caroline Islands and the Marshall Islands. They were all administered from the Philippines. Spain sold the Palau archipelago to Germany in 1899 after which it was administered from German New Guinea, and a period of economic development began. German engineers began exploiting the islands' deposits of bauxite and phosphate, and a rich harvest in copra was made. WWI intervened and the German period lasted only 15 years after which the League of Nations awarded Palau to Japan. The Japanese presence made Palau a major target for the Allied forces in World War II, and there were many several major battles in the area.
Palau enjoys a tropical climate all year round with an annual mean temperature of 82 °F (28 °C). Rainfall can occur throughout the year, averaging a total of 150 inches (3,800 mm). The average humidity over the course of the year is 82%, and although rain falls more frequently between July and October, there is still much sunshine. Typhoons are rare, as Palau is outside the main typhoon zone.
The South West islands of Palau are worth a visit if you have your own marine transport such as an ocean-going yacht. There are Sonsorol, Fana, Meriil, Hatohobei and Helen Reef, a conservation area. However be sure to take mosquito repellent if visiting Meriil as its local name is dancing island. Go there and you will find out why! If intending to visit any of these islands it is a wise idea to make the acquaintance of the governors at their offices in Koror itself. If you are lucky you just might be able to take a trip on the island supply vessel the Atoll Way. Sleeping is on a hard wooden platform along with the other souls who are either returning to their home islands or maybe the doctor from Peleliu island hospital who is making a routine visit to check up on the health of the islanders
US citizens do not require a visa, and nearly all other visitors can receive a free 30-day tourism visa on arrival. For the latest information, contact the Palau Embassy in Washington DC .
Plane is the only realistic choice. There is only one airport, Airai (ROR), in Koror. Most visitors arrive on Continental Micronesia's daily flights from Guam (~$600), which has good connections to Japan and the United States, as well as from Manila, Philippines. Delta Air Lines launched daily service to (ROR) from Tokyo-Nartia (NRT)as of December 2010. Also recently launched flag carrier Pacific Flier flies to Brisbane, Australia and Manila.
There are also chartered flights direct from Taipei, South Korea, and Japan on a variety of operators.
Possible but not very easy.
Taxi and rented car. Lots of local taxis. If you rent a car, be prepared to drive slowly on some bumpy roads. Both left and right hand drive cars are present in Palau, which can cause some confusion. If you drive south, to Ice Box Park, please note that the facility behind it is a sewage treatment plant. Any other diving will be from a boat, after an hour or more ride and cost around US$150 for a two tank dive. There are no dive spots or beaches on the main island - Koror. The road north was recently paved and is very nice... once you get past the airport.
English and Palauan are the official languages, although some islands also give official status to their own languages.
Palau is most famous for scuba diving. One of the most famous dive sites - Blue Corner, with constant sharks and a high current - is located less than 1 hour's boat ride from most resorts. Many live aboards like Ocean Hunter operate out of Palau. There are also tours to WWII battle fields on Palau.
The Blue Corner, German Channel, Ulong Channel and Blue Holes are all amazing dive sites. You can dive the same site again and again and have completely different experiences each time.
Palau is also famous for its jellyfish lakes. These lakes contain jellyfish which have evolved away their stingers in the absence of predators. There are many tours which will go to the jellyfish lake to snorkel. SCUBA diving is not permitted, nor is necessary, in the jellyfish lake. Palau Jellyfish Lake is included in the category of natural phenomena and scientific mysteries.
Expedition Fleet, is the largest privately owned live-aboard fleet in the Philippines. Their ships operate all over the Philippine Island and Palau. Expedition Fleet is known for experienced and professional Dive Masters as well as excellent service on board.
Splash, the dive shop attached to the Palau Pacific Resort is recommended. The equipment available for rental is of high quality, and either new or well maintained. The dive masters are also very experienced, responsible and know the dive sites very well. Angelo at Splash is highly recommended as a dive master especially if you have not dived in stronger currents. It should be noted that Splash runs a rather large, wide diveboat, containing 20+ divers.
Fish 'n Fins is the oldest dive center in Palau. They currently have two live-aboard vessels, as well as seven smaller (and faster!) dive boats, operating from the base in Koror. The guides are very professional and are more than willing to share their extensive knowledge of the ocean and the life in it. Divers can use Nitrox EAN 32 for the same price as air. Gas mixtures for technical divers are also available.
Sam's Tours is another dive shop in Palau that offers diving, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing and land tours. They have some great guides that provide educational and environmental information about the locales. Sam's Tours uses small, fast narrow boats which carry 4~8 divers.
Palau uses the US dollar as its currency.
As you might expect from a remote island where tourism is the main industry, prices are comparatively high, and even a low-end daily budget would be around US$100/day.
Palauan storyboards are traditional wood carvings depicting Palauan myths and legends.
Several other places of note in Koror are the Taj, an excellent Indian restaurant, Fuji, a reasonably-priced pseudo-Japanese restaurant or Dragon Tai on the way into Koror.
Red Rooster Beer.Despite its size Palau has a small brewery, to be found next to the West Plaza by the Sea hotel (see below). It offers Amber and Stout and three other beers. Abai Ice in Koror is a small hut that offers fresh fruit smoothies -- highly recommended.
Many licensed establishments in Palau -- from quiet little bars to "Japanese"-style karaoke bars complete with bar girls. For a decent affordable drink, try Sam's Dive Shop or High Tide behind Neco dive shop. Alcohol is readily available at most stores. Public drinking is not allowed, and the local police are more than happy to inconvenience you if you are caught.
Palau offers a number of guest house style boutique accommodations. Some are close to or within Koror, some are not. These are available for international bookings via dive shops that offer holiday packages (such as Sam's Tours). Prices range from US$50 a night upward.
There are also a number of nice basic hotels available in Palau.
There are lots of reasonably high end resorts on Palau, most catering for scuba divers.
Palau Community College () offers both AS/AA degrees and occupational certificates. The campus library is open to the public, and offers computer terminals for community members and visitors to check email. The school is accredited through the Western Association of Colleges.
Palau is quite a safe country to visit. Walking in downtown Koror at night, even past midnight is quite safe. But as with any place in the world today, common sense prevails. Pedestrians should be careful, as sidewalks are limited even in downtown Koror.
Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) still exist in Palau's mangroves and in the beautiful Rock Islands and can potentially be found anywhere on the island. Despite their fearsome and, in some areas, very justified reputation, here they rarely grow to the immense size that they do in Australia and New Guinea. There was only one fatal attack by a crocodile in Palau within recorded history and that occurred in 1965. The biggest crocodile in Palau's history was 15 feet in length- large, but this is an average size for saltwater crocodiles in most other countries. The rarity of attacks probably stems from the fact that there are no more than 150 adult individuals currently on the island. Snorkeling and scuba diving are very popular in Palau and there has never in recent history been a report of an attack on a tourist. Judging from a recent survey, it appears crocodiles are quite unjustly hated by the locals, in harsh contrast to the worship they are given by the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The reasons for this are unclear.
Bull Sharks are common in the coastal waters and estuaries, so caution must always be taken while scuba diving or snorkeling