How to see Palau
Babeldaob Island - Koror Island (Palau Pacific Resort) - Rock Islands - Angaur Island - Peleliu Island - Babeldaob Island (Ngerbodel, Ngermid, Aimeliik, Ngardmau, Badrulchau, Melekeok, Ngerulmud)
Palau is a little country located in the western Pacific Ocean. It is inhabited by only 18 thousand people but somehow manages to host about 50 thousand tourists each year. The visitors outnumber the locals, and yet Palau is listed as one of the least visited countries in the world. However, the flow of tourists grows systematically and along grows the consideration about their influence over the Palauan environment, the country's main treasure. Perhaps to keep the hordes of tourists at bay, the Palauan authorities regularly increase the fees the visitors are obligated to pay. It makes Palau also one of the most expensive destinations in the world. To give some examples: you'll be expected to pay 50 USD in total for the departure tax, 50 USD for the Rock Islands use permit in Koror (valid for 10 days), around 30 USD for some other permits if you visit other states...Yes, Palau is costly but what you'll experience here is simply priceless.
We arrived in Palau at dusk. The outlines of the Rock Islands were still visible below, but we sat on the wrong side of the plane so we could barely catch their glimpses (our advice: try to get seats at the right, not left, side of the plane when landing in Palau).
At the airport, we were picked up by the hotel owner (we arranged the transportation with her before arrival. It was cheaper than getting a taxi).
Getting to the hotel took us maybe 20 minutes. Most of the hotels are located on Koror Island, and the airport is located on Babeldaob. But you can move between both islands smoothly thanks to the numerous bridges and good quality roads.
We stayed in Palau Guest Lodge (Koror) and very much liked it. It is a budget guesthouse, centrally located (near the post office), with spacious rooms equipped with TV, internet connection and a landline phone (free calls within Palau - it has proved very useful for us).
We hadn’t planned any activities in Palau prior to arrival, and it was too late to find one, so we decided to spend the first day leisurely. To do so, we took a taxi to Palau Pacific Resort. Chris remembered the hotel from his previous visit and was very happy to go there again. It is a luxurious resort, and we couldn’t afford to stay there, but fortunately they offer day passes for those who only want to enjoy the beach and the reef.
As we already mentioned, Palau is an expensive destination. And each year it is getting even more costly. Palau Pacific Resort is no exception. At the reception, we were told that the cost of a day pass increased from 30 USD to 100 USD… With bleeding hearts, we forked out 200 bucks and… spent one of the best days of our life there. So yes, it was worth every penny.
The beach is beautiful, but what lures the visitors is the coral reef. It starts maybe 10 meters from the shore and offers something you might not see anywhere else, even in Palau – the giant clams. Palau is known for the giant clams, but since they are considered by the locals a culinary delicacy, their number decreases. It happens despite the efforts of the Palau Mariculture Demonstration Center, where many years ago a program of culturing the clams has been launched (you’ll find the clam hatchery near the Icebox Park, we write about it later).
At the end of the day, we even spotted a huge sea turtle, grazing a few meters from the shore.
Click on the link to see our pics and tips on what else to do in Palau Pacific Resort on your day pass.
At the reception, we spotted the IMPAC agency, and we booked a tour for the next day.
In the morning we were picked up from the hotel and taken to the dock from where all the IMPAC tours start.
We wanted to book a tour that included the famous Jellyfish Lake, but we were told that it is no longer an option. The lake still exists, but unfortunately the same cannot be said about the poor jellyfish. During the previous months, Palau experienced some horrible drought that somehow afflicted the jellyfish, reducing their number almost to zero. The environment authorities hope to rebuild their population, but in the meantime, the tourists are prohibited from swimming in the lake.
So instead we chose a tour to the Rock Islands that included snorkeling, kayaking, and swimming in Milky Way.
With kayaks, we visited one of the marine lakes where we discovered other species of stingless jellyfish – the huge ones with long tentacles. It was such an amazing experience that we decided to take the same tour again a few days later, only to see the jellyfish once more.
We also enjoyed the snorkeling a lot and we can recommend a snorkeling spot called Paradise Coral Reef where we spotted a flock of huge Napoleon fish (the tour operators change the snorkeling spots almost every day, so if you want to go to some specific place, arrange it with the captain before the trip, they usually don’t mind).
We took a taxi to the airport, as today we were flying to Peleliu Island with Pacific Mission Aviation (PMA). The flight was the only activity in Palau we booked ahead. It was necessary as PMA offers scheduled flights only twice a week and their Cessna planes accommodate only five passengers.
PMA's mission is to serve the people of Palau by providing emergency medical evacuation, search and rescue, disaster relief, maritime patrol for illegal fishing and other services as situations arise. It is possible thanks to the funds gathered from their commercial activity – the scheduled flights to Peleliu and Angaur islands and also the charter flights over the Rock Islands.
We really wanted to see Rock Islands from above (when you see our photos you will know why). We considered chartering the plane first, but since the price was 400 USD and there were only two of us to share the cost, we decided the better option would be to fly to Peleliu. It cost us 100 USD each (so half of the charter flight in total), and the plane had to fly over Rock Islands anyway. Plus we were curious about Peleliu – the island where the biggest battle in Micronesia during WWII took place.
Conveniently, the ferry from Peleliu to Koror operates on Sundays, so it is possible to fly to Peleliu with PMA on Saturday and come back to Koror by ferry the very next day.
The flight was fantastic, thanks to our great pilot from Germany, Stephan. We can definitely say that out trip to Palau wouldn’t be complete without this amazing adventure with Pacific Mission Aviation.
To see the details on how to book the trip and what to know before the flight, go to our article Scenic flight over the Rock Islands in Palau.
From Peleliu airstrip (it was a weird feeling to land on something so porous!) we were picked up by the Wenty’s Sunset Inn manager. He drove us a bit around the island, showing the sad remnants of WWII – rusting tanks, empty bombshells, bunkers… In the meantime, some torrential rains had started, and we were forced to explore the island from the car. Soon it stopped raining, but during the rest of the day, it rained a couple of times more – short, torrential rains. And it was a dry season in Palau! So if you plan any longer treks, you’d better walk with your rain coats at the ready.
In the afternoon we wanted to swim in the ocean (Wenty’s location at the beach seemed to be perfect for this purpose), but water near the northern shore of Peleliu appeared to be muddy and unappealing, so we decided to go for a walk along the beach instead (only possible during low tides).
Later on, we strolled to the “town” (well, a hamlet barely) in search of food and fun. We also took some great sunset shots.
To read more about what to see and do in Peleliu go here.
in 8 days
In the morning we strolled along the beach some more.
At 11 the hotel manager drove us to the ferry. We were told that the ferry leaves to Koror island every Sunday at noon and that it is a small vessel, sometimes too small for all willing passengers, so it’s better to come earlier. We arrived in the ferry port at about 11.10, and it was already half full. But when it left Peleliu at 12, there were still a few seats available. The tickets were sold on board. They cost 15 USD per person (plus a fee for each piece of luggage. Ours were just small bags, as we left the main luggage in our hotel in Koror).
The ferry was very fast (and very new; a gift from the Japanese government after the previous vessel had sunk) – the whole trip took us about an hour and a half.
In Koror, we still had some time left before sunset, so we decided to go to the Icebox Park, which is located within walking distance from the port. The name of the park comes from the times when it was the site of an ice-making plant.
Now it's a tongue-shaped green peninsula, housing Palau Ministry of Tourism and Mariculture Demonstration Centre (mentioned before), where giant clams are being cultivated. It was Sunday, and the Centre was closed, but the floating "pens" where the bigger clams are being kept are located in the public area. It was a very interesting thing to see.
In the park, there are the concrete stairs leading to the sea so if you want to snorkel it is possible to do so. Chris wouldn't be himself if he didn't. There's a nice reef near the shore, where he even spotted a coral snake.
From the park, you can take a dirt road to Malakal Hill and enjoy the view on the Rock Islands. We didn't go there - our memory of the view from the PMA Cessna from the previous day was irreplaceable.
From the Icebox Park, we walked down along the tarmac road to Riptide. It's a restaurant with an outdoor space and a beach. We sat on the beach, but soon one of the Riptide staff came to charge us 10 USD each for using the beach. We learned that in Palau there are no public beaches, only private, and even if you just want to relax, no swimming, you have to pay. Anyway, it was nearly the sunset, so we decided to call a taxi from the bar and go back to the hotel.
In the morning Jeff picked us up from the hotel. We checked out and took our luggage, as at 4 pm we had to be at the airport.
We started with Ngerbodel - the only anthropomorphic sculpture in Palau depicted with a torso (the other ones are just heads). It is located in Koror on a private property. The family of owners celebrated some feast and first refused to show us the statue. Then they agreed but charging us 10 USD each, which was way too much. Chris reached a bargain and managed to see the statue, but couldn’t take any pictures.
Then we went to see another anthropomorphic figure, “the Mother and Child Stone” in Ngermid village. Also in Koror, the sculpture supposedly depicts a woman holding a child in her arms.
From there we went to Aimeliik state, to see the famous bai, depicted on so many pictures from Palau. Near the bai, there’s the ancient stone road leading to a holy water source.
Also in Aimeliik we saw the ancient terraces, built for the unknown reason (most probably they served as agriculture structures).
Not far from the terraces we visited a Japanese bunker from WWII with a perfectly preserved cannon. From the tarmac road, we spotted nicely shaped bauxite mining areas, shaped as pyramids and by some tourists mistakenly taken as the ancient terraces.
But our favorite part of this trip was a trek to Ngardmau waterfall. We think Ngarmau should be on everyone’s list of top things to do in Palau. We especially enjoyed the return from the waterfall by toy train.
From Ngardmau waterfall we went to the very northern tip of Babeldaob from which the ferries to Kayangel island leave. We visited a place there with a stone sarcophagus – the only one found in Palau. On the same premises, you can also see a huge stone head and a stone trough of unknown purpose.
The next destination was Badrulchau – the most famous historical place in Palau. It is a field of monoliths of unknown origin and purpose, some of them shaped as stone faces. Located in picturesque surroundings and shrouded in mystery, Badrulchau is a must for everyone.
From Ngarchelong state we went to Melekeok. On the way we stopped on one of the causeways to take some pictures of Ngerulmud, the weird capital of Palau, looming out of the distance.
But we passed Ngerulmud, to go to Melekeok village first, to see a Mengachui stone head. It is located on a private property, and the owners are the Omenckngar family. Besides the intriguing stone head, they have a large collection of the traditional paintings and an interesting building (a small museum) to accommodate them. The head of the family is a historian, and his knowledge of Palauan heritage is impressive.
A few hundred meters away we took pictures of Odalmelech – the biggest and the most famous stone head in Palau (and two smaller stone heads nearby).
On the way back we stopped in Ngerulmud. The visit has left us filled with mixed feelings – we couldn’t understand why all those gigantic buildings were erected in the middle of nothing.
Ngerulmud was the last place we wanted to visit in Babeldaob and Jeff dropped us off at the airport.
Today again was the day with the IMPAC tour. We mentioned before that we loved their kayaking trip over coral reefs and to the jellyfish lake so much, that we paid for another one, identical. Well, it wasn't. It all started with the bad weather - clouds, wind and rains since morning. We hoped it would brighten up but it didn't. Our little ship with 20 people onboard struggled with huge waves and at some point we thought maybe we crossed the safety line. But the staff was unmoved so maybe it just seemed dangerous to our inexpert eyes.
Fortunately, the storm stopped when we reached Longlake (the place where IMPAC keeps their kayaks), and the sky was more or less clear when we were kayaking, snorkeling and applying clay face masks in Milky Way (read about the details of the tour here).
In the very morning (at 7 am) Chris called Ngellil Nature Island Resort (we hadn't managed to contact them earlier) and booked a tour to Yapese Stone Money island.
At 8:45 we were picked up from the hotel and transferred to their marina.
It appeared we joined another couple who booked a kayaking tour. Together we started in one boat, but we left them with the kayaks and two guides on the way. We continued to Metuker ra Bisech only with a skipper.
Metuker ra Bisech is a place in Airai state where the quarry for the famous Yapese stone money was located. The money was produced in Palau and transported 400 kilometers in simple canoes to Yap.
Soon it is to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage list and probably will become one of the main attractions in Palau, but for now, it is a place completely forgotten by tourists.
The skipper left us on the shore and told us to climb a stone path until we see the stone money disc. He said he would wait for us in the boat until we come back. We reached the giant money disc, it was very impressive. The path went on up the hill, and we followed it until we reached the quarry. The whole place is located in a jungle and the path quickly becomes overgrown with plants, some with sharp thorns, so it might be a good idea to wear long pants and good shoes.
After we had come back to the boat, the skipper took us to a place where the wreck of the Zero fighter from WWII was sunk. We also saw the propeller of another crashed plane from WWII.
The kayaking couple hasn't finished their trip yet, so we had to wait for them. While waiting, the skipper showed us the two caves where the couple was kayaking, named White Wall and Blue Cave. They both looked like fun, and we regretted we didn't have more time for another kayak tour.
After the tour, we went to the Belau National Museum. We started with the beautiful bai (men’s meeting hall) exhibited outdoor, near the entrance to the museum. We also enjoyed the indoor collection, especially the pieces of artwork. Of course, Chris spent much of his time near the two anthropomorphic stone figures. In our opinion, the museum is a must for anyone interested in getting at least some glimpses of Palauan history.
In the museum, we met Jeff, one of the staff, who appeared to be very knowledgeable and passionate about the Palauan culture. We made a deal, and he promised to organize for us a tour around Babeldaob island the next day.
W H A T T O S E E N E X T