If you're imaging Palau as a paradise island with pristine beaches and coral reefs within meters from shores, you'll be disappointed.
The main island where most hotels are located (yours probably as well) is Koror, and it almost lacks any beaches.
The only public (meaning free of charge) place in Koror where you can find coral reef is Icebox Park, 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, where giant clams are being cultivated. There is no sand in the park, only grass, a few trees, and the concrete stairs leading to the sea. But the reef starts right away and is truly pristine. Chris even spotted a coral snake there. Plus, you might swim right next to the fenced pen, where the giant clams are kept, and peer through the holes.
There are also a few benches in the park and a big concrete arch - a popular spot for wedding photos as we managed to notice.
A few hundred meters from Icebox Park towards the port, there's a restaurant called Riptide. You'll find a small sandy beach there, but the owners charge 10 USD for using it, so we don't know whether there's any reef nearby or not.
Lacking decent beaches, Koror constitutes a good starting point for the boat trips to the Rock Islands. And the Rock Islands are the main reason people come to Palau.
Several tour operators organize such trips. We read many negative opinions about probably all of them, so we decided to have only one criterium when making a choice - the price.
The winner was IMPAC.
We went with them twice. And although we chose the same trip (snorkeling and kayaking in the Rock Island plus bathing in Milky Way), both times differed a bit when it came to picking the snorkeling spots. We were told it always varies, depending on weather and a skipper.
Previously the tour also included the Jellyfish Lake, but not anymore - the lake is closed for visitors. Imagine our disappointment when we heard the news! Fortunately, during the kayaking trip, we learned that there are more jellyfish lakes in Palau, and it is still possible to swim with them. We write about it in our article Jellyfish Lake in Palau.
With IMPAC, we visited three snorkeling spots altogether: Paradise Coral Reef, Rose Garden, and Secret Lake Point.
In our opinion, it was the most charming snorkeling spot we visited in the Rock Islands. The coral reef colors were fairytale vivid and full of marine life. We especially loved the huge Napoleon Fish swimming by in shoals.
W H A T T O S E E N E X T
Not really a lake, more a bay, separated from the ocean by a lone Rock Island. Around the island, you'll see the beautiful coral reef, full of a variety of species (Chris even saw a sea turtle here). This is also the place where you can find the giant clams. Just don't point them to the Palauan guides when you spot them. We did this and the guy killed it on the spot, crushing the shell and taking the mussel home (the clams are the local delicacy).
We know we were supposed to give you tips about snorkeling in Peleliu, but in fact, it will be just one tip - choose another place.
What attracts visitors to Peleliu is its sad history and the ubiquitous remnants of 1944 battle, scattered all over the island.
Beaches and coral reefs aren't on the menu. We write about it here: Peleliu Island, Palau.
To see what else you can do in Palau go to our article What to see and do in Palau.
And if you want to know how to see all these places in eight days, see our detailed itinerary here: How to plan a trip to Palau.
(Arakabesang Island, near Koror, you can get there in a car)
Palau Pacific Resort is a luxury hotel known for having access to one of the most beautiful beaches in Palau. Staying in Palau Pacific Resort is very expensive, but they offer a day pass to their beach. Unfortunately, it is also very expensive.
Currently, it costs 100 USD per person and includes a 35 USD voucher to be used in the restaurant (or for the sports equipment rental).
But the beach at the Resort was not only the most beautiful we’ve seen in Palau but one of the most beautiful we’ve seen ever. At the time of our visit, it was almost deserted. Besides a few hotel guests, there were no other visitors. Also, the coral reef is breathtaking, with a plethora of the famous giant clams that live just a few meters from the shore.
To read more, see our article Palau Pacific Resort.
The coral reef of Rose Garden is very vast, allowing to alienate from other snorkellers and admire the underwater world in peace and quiet. It is supposedly inhabited by large groups of Clownfish (better known as Nemo). Still, we haven't seen a single one of them. Despite that, we liked the place very much.