If you’re looking for a unique travel destination that is off the beaten path, then you need to add the Micronesian island of Palau to your bucket list. Surrounded by miles upon miles of water, Palau is a tiny speck on the map in the middle of the Western Pacific Ocean, still it is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, coral reefs, culture and history—you’ll never run out of things to do in Palau. Here are some of the best ones to include on your trip.
1. See the 81st Infantry Division Memorial
The 81st Infantry Division Memorial commemorates the Division’s role in the Battle of Angaur during World War II. It was the last major battle fought in the Mariana Islands campaign and one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific War. Additionally, this served as the temporary gravesite for American soldiers who died in battle. The Memorial is surrounded by a garden with native plants and trees.
2. Check Out the Construction of Airai Bai
The Airai Bai is Palau’s oldest bai (men’s meeting house) and is situated on a stone platform at the heart of Airai village. What makes this over 100 year old structure even more fascinating is that they did not use nails, screws, and even rope to hold everything together, just the wood.
Traditionally, bais serve as a meeting house for the chieftains, the women and outsiders need special permission to enter. Today, visitors can get the chance to learn about Airai Bai’s construction and their culture and traditions.
3. See Badrulchau Stone Monoliths
The Badrulchau Stone Monoliths on the hill slopes at Babeldaob Island’s northernmost point are probably Palau’s largest and oldest archaeological site. It is composed of 52 basalt megaliths (which are around 7+ feet tall!) arranged in two rows, some of which have faces etched onto them. It is unclear what these stone structures were used for, but legend has it that these were used to support a large bai the gods built, which could hold a thousand people inside.
4. Visit the Belau National Museum
The Belau National Museum is a significant historical institution and the oldest museum in the Micronesia region. It is a museum in Koror, Palau, with over 4,500 artifacts and art collections showcasing the culture and history of the Palauan people. In addition, they have an extensive research library containing over 5000 volumes. They also made a traditional bai for visitors to see, and is one of the museum’s key features.
5. Dive the Blue Corner Wall
If you love diving, a trip to Palau certainly warrants visiting one of its world-famous dive sites: Blue Corner.
Located 25 miles southwest of Koror, this triangular-shaped reef plateau forms part of Palau’s barrier reef. The shallowest points are around 25 feet which go further to 100 feet as you go outward. The dive ends at the edges of the Blue Corner, leading to a sheer vertical drop into deeper waters of the open ocean.
Because of the strong tidal currents in the area and teeming reefs, you’ll find plenty (and I mean PLENTY) of marine life such as Moorish idols, Napoleon wrasses, and most especially, sharks. A reef hook is also a must so you can remain in place as you watch the diverse marine life at the edge of Blue Corner.
For more experienced divers (with a cavern diver rating), you can find another dive site to the north, a large underwater cavern called the Blue Hole (with one of the passages also connecting to Blue Corner).
Neco Marine did took me to the Blue Corner, where the lucky certified divers were surrounded by grey and white tip reef sharks, while I snorkeled trying to spot a stray shark from the top of the water. And I did see a lonely one from the ocean’s surface.
6. See the Artifacts at the Etpison Museum
The Etpison Museum in Palau is a unique museum that houses artifacts from the country’s past. The museum has three floors, including a section on traditional Palauan boats, another on historic houses, and a third on the country’s history. The artifacts on display also include traditional clothing, weapons, and tools, as well as a section dedicated to the history of Palauan women.
For souvenirs and gifts to remember your visit by, you can find a large gift shop on the top floor which sells books, clothes, carved storyboards, and so much more.
7. Dive the German Channel
World-class dive sites fill Palau, and the German Channel is no exception. Located 23 miles southwest of Koror, the place got its name because of the artificially dug channel the Germans made that cuts straight through Palau’s barrier reef during the early 1900s. You can see this impressive line from the air, connecting the lagoon with the ocean.
Today, the German Channel is a haven for divers and regarded as Palau’s number one Manta hotspot because of its many ‘cleaning stations’ (where small fish ‘clean’ larger fish like mantas).
8. Relax on Honeymoon Beach
On Peleliu island, 23 kilometers from Koror island, there is a little, charming beach called Honeymoon Beach. With its white, fine sand on the coast (and on the bottom), hammock-filled tropical gardens, stunning sea vistas, and distinctive sunsets, the beach is truly a paradise and a frequent spot for divers and snorkeling enthusiasts. The beach is also perfect for beachcombing and picnics.
9. Cross the Japan-Palau Friendship Bridge
The Japan-Palau Friendship Bridge is an arch bridge that spans the ravine between the Koror and Babeldaob islands in Palau. It is one of the few bridges in Palau that can accommodate both cars and pedestrians and is a popular spot for tourists to take photos.
The bridge was built in 1997 with Japanese aid via Kajima Corporation and completed in December 2001. It got its name to commemorate the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Palau, and serves as a symbol of the close relationship between the two countries.
10. Take a Dip in Jelly Fish Lake
Jellyfish Lake is a marine lake located in Eil Malk, Palau. The lake got its name from the millions of golden and moon jellyfish that call it home. Twice a day these jellyfish migrate between the west and east sides of the lake. Because of the lake’s isolation and the jellyfish living off of the algae attached to them, their stingers pose no threat to humans, making it a perfect opportunity to go swimming with them! It is one of the top things to do in Palau!
Visitors will need a special Rock Islands/Jellyfish Lake pass before they can enter the lake. And although swimming and snorkeling are okay, scuba diving is prohibited for two reasons:
- the scuba tank’s bubbles are harmful to the jellyfish if it collects beneath their bellies
- the high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide 15 meters below the surface is lethal to humans, and is absorbed through the skin. Of course, this means snorkelers should avoid going near this layer.
Instead of navigating to Jellyfish Lake on your own, Sam’s Tours can easily take you there.
11. Snorkel Around Kayangel Island
Kayangel Island is a remote island on the northernmost part of the country, 24 km north of Koror. The island is known for its untouched beaches, coral atolls, and different species of bananas.
Visitors to Kayangel can expect to experience a calm and relaxing experience, whether it be long walks on the beach, snorkeling its emerald waters, or having a taste of their bananas or seeing their giant coconut crabs! So if you’re looking for a quiet getaway from the noise of city life, Kayangel is the place to be.
12. Explore Koror Island
If it’s your first time visiting Palau, Koror Island is the perfect place to start your adventure. Right from the get-go, you’ll come across some of the best tourist spots in the country, like Nikko Bay and the Japan-Palau Friendship Bridge. And since Koror is at the heart of the country, it’s easy to hop from one tourist destination to the next, from the Rock Islands to Babeldaob to all other nearby islands.
13. Checkout the Largest Freshwater Lake in Palau: Lake Ngardok
Lake Ngardok is the largest natural freshwater lake in Palau and in all of the Micronesia region. Visitors can catch a glimpse of several species of wildlife and flora while hiking the beautiful scenery around the lake. Some of these include crocodiles, bladderworts (a type of carnivorous plant), the rare Common Moorhen, and Palau’s national bird, the biib (Palauan Fruit Dove).
14. Stroll the Long Beach Sandbar
Palau has quite a few ‘hidden’ gems for travelers to discover, and Long Beach is one of them. It is a scenic beach on Koror Island that shows itself during low tide.
During this time, a narrow stretch of white sand with a backdrop of emerald blue waters appears, connecting two rock islands. This makes it a perfect opportunity to take a stroll and take some photos. You might even get the chance to see a starfish or two.
As this is one of the most popular places in Palau, the place can get a little bit crowded at times, especially since it only appears during the low tide. Be sure to ask the locals for directions on how to get there!
15. Visit Malakal Island
The petite sized Malakal Island is located on the western part of Koror Island. While most of the popular places are in islands like Babeldaob or the Rock Islands, Malakal has quite a few surprises of its own.
You’ll find plenty of restaurants to choose from, such as the open air Drop Off Bar & Grill (try out their poke bowl and Tsunami Burger) and Carp Restaurant (huge serving portions, plus one to add for your weird food bucket list: bat soup). If you just want to sit back and relax, you can also take in the seaside and island views at the IceBox Park on the island’s southern part.
16. Swim in the Milky Way Lagoon
For some, a relaxing (and rejuvenating) vacation is never complete without some form of pampering, whether it be a massage or a spa treatment to melt the stress away. And here in Palau, you will surely not be disappointed.
The Milky Way Lagoon on the Rock Islands is Palau’s natural mud bath. It got its name because of its white, clay-like sands, which visitors can also put all over their bodies for its therapeutic properties. Of course, you’ll also get to enjoy other activities like scuba diving and swimming.
17. Go to Ngardmau Falls
Ngardmau Falls (also known as Taki Waterfalls) is a broad waterfall found on the north central east coast of Babeldaob, in Ngiwal. It is also Palau’s tallest waterfall, with a height of approximately 20 meters (65 feet).
This scenic waterfall features a viewing platform and picnic tables around the bottom. Visitors can also plunge in its waters, perfect for cooling off after hiking. You can reach this by going on a 20-30 min hike through the lush jungle. Alternatively, you can hop on the monorail, which takes you near the waterfall.
18. Explore Ngerukewid
Ngerukewid is one of the most postcard-worthy views in Palau. With its peculiar-shaped islands surrounded by a sea of blue and emerald, it’s easy to see why tourists love it.
Although the name means ’70’ in Palauan, it is actually a collection of 37 small coral islands, which also serve as a nesting site for sea turtles. Because it is a protected area, visitors are only allowed to see Ngerukewid aboard a plane or a boat (which is moored closely).
19. Kayak Nikko Bay
Nikko Bay is a unique limestone environment known for its thriving corals and exotic sea creatures. Located in Koror, it is home to one of the most diverse coral reefs on Earth. Because it is sheltered from the wind and waves, it makes for the perfect spot to do some kayaking. You’ll be treated to limestone caves, sheer cliff walls, and natural archways in a sea of trees as you paddle around its waters.
Of course, don’t miss out on what’s in the water. From diploastrea to red sea fan to 8-banded butterflyfish and more, it will surely be a treat for marine enthusiasts and tourists alike.
20. Visit the Palau Aquarium
The Palau Aquarium is a great place to learn about the local marine life and their environment. It features Palau’s five unique marine ecosystems: mangroves, inner reef, outer reef, reef crest, and seagrass. Of course, you’ll also see the creatures that inhabit those places, such as mudskippers, sharks, angelfish, corals, and snappers, to name a few. And to add more to the experience, you’ll also get to see the fishes in action during feeding time (which varies for each fish). For souvenirs, head to their Giant Clam Gift Shop, where they sell shirts, posters, and more.
21. Take in the History on Peleliu Island
The islands around Palau each have their own stories to tell, and one such island is Peleliu. It is known as the location of the Battle of Peleliu during World War II, with traces of the past still present today in the form of rusted military remains and underwater shipwrecks. The island has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a US National Historic Landmark.
Some must-see sights to catch a glimpse of the island’s history include the Peleliu World War II Memorial Museum and Peleliu Shinto Shrine.
22. Explore the Rock Islands
The Rock Islands (also known as Chelbacheb) is a collection of around 250 to 300 small limestone and coral islands found between Koror and Peleliu. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site
in 2012, and has attracted tourists with its beaches, blue lagoons, and umbrella/mushroom-shaped islands. It also serves as an important bird area, home to Palau’s endemic birds like the Palau ground doves and biib.
Be sure to check out Ngermeaus Island if you’re looking for fresh seafood and a chance to meet sharks, and Dolphins Pacific to learn about and meet dolphins.
23. Windsurf at Salty Wind
Salty wind is a windsurfing spot in Palau that is known for its strong wind and waves. The wind here is ideal for windsurfing, and the waves provide a challenge for experienced surfers. The area is also popular with kitesurfers and windsurfers, as the wind is strong enough to provide good conditions for both sports. There are several windsurfing schools in Palau that offer lessons for beginners, and there are also several competitions held here each year. Salty wind is a great spot for both experienced windsurfers and beginners alike.
24. See Stone Money
Palau was once a limestone quarry site for the Yapese people, who carved the limestone into (mostly) human-sized stone money they call ‘rai stones’ (palan in Palau). They then take the stones back to their home island of Yap, which is approximately 500km away from Palau. What’s interesting is that the rai stones’ value depends on how dangerous the journey back to their island is.
Today, remnants of these ancient stone money can still be seen in Palau (and around the world), one of which is on Metuker ra Bisech in Airai. The ones at the island of Yap are also still used by the Yapese people in traditional ways, like as a marriage gift.
25. Go to The Capitol
The Capitol is home to the Palau National Congress in Ngerulmud (the administrative capital of Palau). It is located along the east coast and is a 40 min ride from Koror. The palace’s design is based on the US Capitol, making it stand out from the rest of the buildings you will see around Palau. Although there are no interior tours, visitors can instead explore the Capitol’s grounds, which provide picturesque views of the landscape and the sea.
26. Visit the Site of Survivor: Ulong Island
If you’ve watched Survivor: Palau, you might remember Ulong Island as the home of the ‘Koror’ and ‘Arai’ teams. However, you’ll find that there is so much to discover about the island.
For one, it is considered to be one of the best drift dive spots in the world due to its strong currents. Some of the cliffs are also home to an impressive display of Palauan cave paintings, which you can visit by hiking.
. . .
As you can see, there are plenty of things to see and do in Palau. Whether you’re looking for an island adventure or relaxation, this idyllic island Micronesian nation has something to offer. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to Palau today!
Best Tips for Visiting Palau
Getting There: Roman Tmetuchl International Airport is the main airport in Palau however, it’s also important to let you know that there are seven major hubs for flights to Palau’s Roman Tmetuchl International Airport (ROR), and half of them have a direct flights from the United States and Canada. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. Upon landing at the Roman Tmetuchl International Airport, there are no taxis or means of public transportation. You must therefore have pre-arranged transportation from the airport to your hotel or guesthouse.
Where to Stay in Palau: It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. Palau Central Hotel is a great choice in the Koror district. For something on the less expensive side, try Palau Hotel located in Koror. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the The Pristine Villas and Bungalows at Palau Pacific Resort. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Car rentals and limited bus service can mostly be located in the city of Koror. Taxis are available all over Koror and Malakal, and if you want to go around the islands you can go on ride public ferries, join a tour for a day trip or rent a charter boat.
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing at Travelex Insurance.
Universal Adapter: Your American plugged equipment will need an adapter. I use the Celtic Universal Adapter, which has brought me around the world with no problems.
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