This pristine paradise is a dream destination.
Like giant green mushrooms scattered across a tranquil turquoise lagoon, the limestone Rock Islands of Palau seen from the air are one of the most exquisite creations of nature found in the world. The spectacular Rock Islands Southern Lagoon was inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2012. But that’s just the beginning. From sunburnt volcanic savannahs to forests concealing endemic plant and bird life, to coral atolls and reefs teeming with marine life, the Republic of Palau is truly Nature at her most majestic.
Within this archipelago is a marine diversity higher than most of Micronesia. Sharks thrive in waters that in 2009 became the world’s first shark sanctuary, setting an example that has been followed by many other island destinations. Palau’s rare dugong, known locally as the mesekiu, as well as endangered species such as the hawksbill turtle, or the chambered nautilus, a deep water shell species that inhabits only a few Pacific islands, can be found here.
Not only does Palau protect its marine life, it puts new species on the lists. Trapped in an enclosed body of water, the mastigias of Jellyfish Lake have completely lost their sting because they have not had to repel predators. Instead, they spend their days in privileged leisure, pulsating gently from one side of the marine lake to the other while catching the sun’s rays and farming their own food supply of algae. Snorkelling surrounded by them is fascinating and surreal. Discovered in one of Palau’s deep underwater caves, a prehistoric eel was named Protoanguilla Palau as recently as 2011. Rainbow-filled walls and channels on the fringe reef provide homes for at least 1450 species of reef fish and 400 species of reef-building hard corals, as well as 150 species of soft corals, gorgonians, and sea pens. Some of the famous residents and visitors include manta rays, black or red snappers, napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrot fish and pelagic species including the colossal whaleshark, marlins, and tornados of schooling barracudas. Outside of the reef are sports fishing opportunities beyond your wildest dreams and fully equipped charters to bring back the proverbial “big one”.
A democratic country that still abides by its culture and traditional leadership, Palauan villages were, and still are, traditionally organised around matrilineal clans. Men and women had defined roles. A council of chiefs governs the villages, while a parallel council of women holds an advisory role in the control of land, money and the selection of chiefs.
Palau is divided into 16 states with an individual clan system where Ngerulmud on the island of Babeldaob is Palau’s capital and Koror being the most inhabited. Palauans, a mixture of Melanesian, Micronesian, Austronesian, Japanese and Filipino descent, are hospitable and friendly.
Indigenous forms of ancestral and spiritual worship were replaced by Christianity when missionaries arrived on Palau. Today, 65 percent of the 21,000 Palauans are Roman Catholics while the remainder practise Christian denominations, Shinto, Buddhism and Chinese folk religions.
As one of the world’s most popular scuba diving and snorkeling destinations, Palau’s diving spots draw in tourists with their coral reefs, blue holes, hidden caves, vertical drop-offs and a huge mix of marine creatures, including evolutionary miracles like giant clams and stingless jellyfish.
Flights to Palau land at Airai, or Palau International Airport, which serves direct flights from Babeldaob to Guam, Seoul, Taipei and Manila. Tokyo-Narita has also been added to that list fairly recently, allowing connecting flights to many Asia-wide destinations and US cities. Chartered flights are available through various operators. A cruise to Palau would call at Malakal Harbour on the island of Malakal.
Micronesia is in many respects a tropical paradise. A romantic, uspoiled destination for the world traveller, the islands offer culture, adventure, and breathtaking landscape. Micronesia has a long and storied history, and today is rich in both traditional cultural practice and diversity.