Palau is pretty much everything you’ve ever dreamed of in a little paradise that’s far from everywhere but unlike anywhere. It has the best underwater marine life and coral I have ever seen. The varieties of fish are varied and abundant while the coral sparkles and exudes incredible color combinations in the hot afternoon sun. The Rock Islands are what you dream about in bed or at work as they are simply spectacular and unlike anywhere else I have seen. It’s an otherworldly feeling and Jellyfish Lake is indescribable as it feels like you’ve been invaded by millions of little aliens with pulsating brains. The only downside about Palau is it’s very expensive and of course the fact it is so far away. However, if you can swing the time and the cash, it is truly unique and has this jaded traveler humbled by the experience and wishing for more.
Where else to begin when describing the splendor of Palau than the Rock Islands? These 368 limestone islands are absolutely stunning. They’re kind of like the Thai islands meet Vietnam but way better than either. Sporadically situated around the main islands of the country, the Rock islands are like chunks of limestone that grew out of the coral below and blossomed with beautiful nature. They awesomely contrast the shimmering azure and dark blue waters below and around each corner of each island is a different viewpoint and look.
Some of the islands are like little atolls and some are pretty big. All are covered in trees or foliage of some sort. Some have amazing little beaches and some have cool rock formations. Some make you feel like you were in a lake in Oregon somewhere and some make you feel like this is what the South Pacific is supposed to be like. Any way you slice it, you are surrounded by the most peaceful and beautiful islands you can imagine. Again, these are the islands you dream about visiting. It really doesn’t get much better than the Rock Islands.
After cruising around hitting different dive and snorkel spots around the islands, we headed up to Jellyfish Lake which is in the middle of one of the islands. There are apparently five different jellyfish lakes in Palau but this is the only one that tourists can visit. It is called Jellyfish Lake because it is naturally stocked with millions and I do mean millions of non stinging jellyfish that are orangish salmon in color and the top of them pulsate like a brain in some weird alien show. You can touch them gently and they are impossible to avoid because there are so many of them. They follow the sun and congregate as a large group in it.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like snorkeling in Jellyfish Lake (top picture). It’s seriously like being in another dimension. I’ve never experienced anything like it anywhere on Earth and this is an experience that cannot be missed. It is the only place on the planet that has this type of thing and it’s one of the best kept secrets in travel. While the Jellyfish Lake is worth the trip in and of itself, the rest of the islands are absolutely killer as well as you can see.
As I said with Yap, the marine life is amazing but the main difference between Yap and Palau and the reason that Palau is the best diving on the planet is because of the sheer volume of fish, the thousands of varieties and the amazing colors and steep drop-offs of the coral cliffs. They are truly spectacular. I wish I had an underwater camera to show you guys some pictures but they wouldn’t even do it near justice. The fish get so close to you that it’s possible to actually grab some. The schools of fish are immense and it’s normal to see sharks swimming or sleeping along with rays and all types of marine life, most of which you’ve never seen before. The enormous clams are awesome and close up as you approach them and if you push water at them they really clam up-it’s a fun game to play! Flying fish are also everywhere and they are always fun to watch hop in and out of the water. Basically Palau’s marine life is like watching a National geographic special and it’s as good as it gets.
On another day I took a full day kayak tour around the Rock Islands which was also amazing and snorkeled at different spots. The peacefulness of being in the Rock Islands is again tough to explain. At times I was the only person around for as far as I could see and there were no noises-none. Occasionally a native bird would fly around or some flying fish would jump out of the water…it was awesome. Again, the kind of place you dream of seeing. And what better way to see the islands than by kayak, one of the best exercises and the most relaxing way to cruise around the flat waters of the Rock Islands.
As far as the mainland is concerned, it’s OK. There really isn’t much to see or do other than go out on the water but there are some decent restaurants and cheap convenience stores. The hotels are pretty expensive and budget accommodation is tough to come by at least for anywhere relatively central. I stayed at the West Plaza Malakal Hotel for about $70. It was pretty basic but very comfortable and more importantly walking distance to all the restaurants, bars and dive shops, including Sam’s Tours, the one I used each day. They, like the rest of the island were pretty expensive but well worth the money when you consider what you are seeing. They also include a good lunch, drinks and friendly and knowledgeable guides who let you do your own thing and don’t talk too much which I liked. Plus I had good people on my tours with me including some very interesting military families and adorable kids.
I ate at a few different places including Taj which was a very good Indian place with fair prices and hotel pick up and drop off because it’s on the main island of Koror-the capital. I also tried Dragon Tei which was text boxed alone by Lonely Planet in their write up of Palau practically climaxing about how good it was so I had to give it a try. It was very average at best. They didn’t have half the things on the menu, I was the only in the place and the beer was flat. I was pretty disappointed and usually LP delivers pretty good recommendations on restaurants, especially when they box one in particular but this time they flubbed it.
Additionally, Palau has numerous burger carts around the islands and they are fantastic. They aren’t Shake Shack (NYC) or In N Out (West Coast) but they are pretty damn good and a nice change from constant fish and poki; my favorite cart was Bemermii. Speaking of poki, I just had amazing fresh poki from Drop Box which hosted the 20th annual fishing derby on the Malakal and I was the beneficiary of seriously awesome tuna that melted in my mouth. Probably the best I’ve had in Micronesia.
There’s not much in terms of real nightlife because after a whole day underwater and in the sun, you are pretty beat but Kramer’s is far and away the place to be on Palau and it was walking distance from my hotel. The German owner runs a good place with decent food-I had the garlic fries and poki. He also serves the freshest Red Rooster on tap which is the only beer brewed on Palau. There are four types: light which tastes like horse piss (you know…what you’d imagine horse piss to taste like); wheat which is fantastic; amber which is also great; and stout which I didn’t try. Kramers is also a good place to meet fellow travelers and share diving stories from the Rock Islands.
Palau is a place where everyone has a story including the prisoners who make storyboards (below) about the way they see their loves and sell them to tourists. You don’t end up in a place like Palau on a whim and those visiting are always sad to leave as you feel a part of the goings on. I am sitting in the airport awaiting my nightmarish flight up to Hawaii with like 100 stops in between through Micronesia. But this is what I signed up for and I am sure it will be fun…although they took my toothpaste because it was over 3 ounces although there was only about one left. Also, I didn’t have a little zip lock baggy and they tried to snag my shaving cream but I convinced some Taiwanese lady to give me hers after she got through security. Small victory, but a win nonetheless. I know I am rambling because I am exhausted so I will stop here and eventually post this from Hawaii. Stay tuned.
Paradise Under Palau
May 31, 2010 by 8 Comments