EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PALAU
Located in the Western Pacific Ocean, the Republic of Palau comprises 340 islands and 16 states. A tiny country, its magical scenery includes natural wonders including pristine limestone and volcanic islands, emerald forests and shimmering turquoise lagoons.
The Origins Of Palau
Carbon dating suggests that Palau’s civilization begin in around 3,500 BC. The first contact by Europeans was in the 16th century, and the islands became part of the Spanish East Indies in 1574. Later sold to Germany in 1899, the country was then conquered by Japan during World War I, and then became a United States-governed Trust Territory in 1947. The islands finally claimed full sovereignty in 1994.
Palau’s economy is dependent on tourism, subsistence agriculture, fishing, and foreign aid. The Palau currency is the US dollar. Visa and Mastercards are generally accepted, and American Express is generally not.
The Palau culture is a rich mixture of Micronesian, Melanesian, Asian, and Western elements. The two official languages are Palauan and English. Japanese, Sonsorolese, and Tobian are recognised as regional languages, and Filipino is widely spoken in hotels, restaurants, and shops.
The society is organised around matrilineal clans, with strictly defined roles for men and women.
The Palau people are fierce about the preservation of their culture, and host regular cultural activities to celebrate its richness. The Palau Women’s Conference is held annually to discuss initiatives to strengthen Palau culture.
Just a quick note on cultural sensitivity.
Palauians are known for their hospitality, and they are largely very happy to welcome and show respect for foreign visitors and cultural differences. However, this respect should be returned.
Visitors to Palau should not violate historic areas, pollute the environment, harm the ocean, or denigrate the people or local culture.
The people of Palau have much experience in accommodating foreign visitors, and are tolerant of faux pas. So, a prompt apology for any inadvertent offence will usually be quickly accepted. In general, visitors will find the culture to very laid back and easy to adapt to.
Safety & Security In Palau
CRIME: Palau is a safe country to visit, and guns are strictly prohibited.
TRAFFIC: When travelling of foot, it is necessary to be careful as sidewalks are limited, even in the busier areas.
WILDLIFE: There are saltwater crocodiles found on the island, especially in Palau’s mangroves. They tend to be very small, and there are just 450 adults on the island. These pose almost no threat to people, with just one fatal attack in history – and that was in 1965. There are no reports of attacks on any of the many, many snorkelers or scuba divers who visit the islands every year.
Bull sharks are common in the coastal waters and estuaries, and it is necessary to be cautious around these.
Palau’s World-Class Waters
The number one activity in Palau is diving, and the islands boast some world-class sites. The seascapes and marine life are unparalleled, earning the region the appellation of ‘the underwater Serengeti’.
Blue Corner is perhaps the most famous dive site, and this is located just an hour’s boat ride from most resorts. German Channel, Ulong Channel, and Blue Holes are also highly recommended.
Popular dive shops include,
- Splash, attached to the Palau Pacific Resort
- Fish ‘n Fins, the oldest dive center in Palau
- Sam’s Tours, which offers diving, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, and land tours
- Palau Dive & Scuba, a small and personable service
- Sara Guide Service, environmentally-responsible
- Palau Dive Adventures, taking visitors on week-long trips, with comfortable, land-based accommodation
In addition, there are many ‘live aboards’, such as Ocean Hunter, which operate out of Palau. Expedition Fleet, is the largest privately owned live-aboard fleet in the Philippines.
The Palau islands are famous for the jellyfish lakes. These are home to jellyfish which have evolved without stingers, due to the absence of predators in their locales. A number of tour companies take snorkelling groups into the jellyfish lakes, usually charging around $100. Visitors will also need to purchase a $100 permit for the jellyfish lake, which is valid for ten days.
IMPAC (Imperial Palau Corporation) is one option. They provide day tours to Rock Islands, with jellyfish tours and kayaking.
Long Island Park is a decent option for snorkelling, and there are nice views from Icebox Park, at the southern tip of Malakal. Nikko Bay is also good for kayaking and snorkelling. The Palau International Coral Reef Center is educational aquarium with a good souvenir shop.
Palau’s Museums & Historical Sites
Palau is rich is WWII history, due to battles having taken place on the islands.
The Peleliu World War II land tour on Peleliu Island is just one of the history tours offered. This one is a good way to experience ‘Bloody Nose Ridge’ and ‘1,000 Man Cave’, sites of Marines battles and Japanese fortifications. Peleliu Island is also home to many tanks and other relics.
The island is 70 minutes by speedboat from Koror. The tours run every day and cost just $30.
The Belau National Museum in Koror offers rich insights into the history and culture of Palau, and is open every day.
The Etpison Museum is closed on Sundays, and comprises two floors of Palauan and Micronesian artefacts, displays, and photography. There is also a large gift shop, where visitors can purchase art, jewellery, books, and souvenirs.
A popular trek is to the Ngardmau Waterfall in Babeldaob. This is the largest waterfall in Palau, and the trail passes by key historical sites from the Japanese occupation, including an old locomotive and parts of a disused railway system.
The waterfall is also accessible by monorail and zip-line. Open every day, 9.00 am until 5.00 pm, there is a $20 entry fee.
The Stone Monoliths of Ngarchelong are another must-see in Palau. A series of 39 stone monoliths built in 100 AD, the stones are four-foot tall and the largest weighs five tonnes. They are open to the public every day, from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, and the entry fee is just $5.
Shopping In Palau
There aren’t a huge number of shops or shopping centres in Palau, and the country is not cheap. A low-end daily budget is around $100 per day.
WCTC and Surangel and Sons are the two biggest shops in the country. WCTC has a full-size grocery store, a chemist, digital photo printing facilities, and a full-service department store. And Surangel and Sons comprises a grocery store, a department store, and some smaller establishments.
Visitors will find a number of souvenir shops, convenience stores, and boutiques throughout Palau, and the largest concentration of these is in downtown Koror.
Eating In Palau
You can grab snacks in Palau, such as burgers and rice meals, for around $3. For meals, you will pay $5-10 in restaurants and cafés, or $20 and upwards in more high-end places.
The palettes of the large immigrant communities from Taiwan, the Philippines, Korea, Japan, and the USA are well catered for by the local grocers. Visitors will find plenty of international food in the shops. Japanese-inspired Bento lunch boxes, for example, are very popular.
The Rock Island Cafe in Koror serves American-style food; the Taj is an excellent Indian restaurant; Fuji offers reasonably-priced pseudo-Japanese food; and Keanos has an extensive, tasty menu of Italian cuisine.
Other recommended eateries include Kramer’s, on the wharf at Malakal. The food is good here and the nightlife is vibrant. Bem Ermii is located in a small trailer near the courthouse in downtown Koror, and serves great burgers and milkshakes. Carp is a good medium-range option, offering Japanese cuisine with a local flavour.
For ambience, there is Anathias Cafe, which plays American jazz in its enclosed downstairs section and open air upstairs space.
There are many licensed establishments in Palau, and the legal drinking age is 21.
Alcohol is available to purchase from most grocery stores, but public drinking is strictly forbidden and firmly policed.
Palau’s own brewery is Red Rooster Beer, providing Amber, Stout, and three other beers.
Next door to the brewery itself is Palm Bay Bistro, Malakal, an establishment serving local beers, and great steaks and pastas.
Other highly recommended bars include Q-Ball Club, a great spot to play pool and chill out, and Abai Ice in Koror, a small hut serving fresh fruit smoothies.
Hotels And Guesthouses In Palau
As you’d expect from a country so dependent on tourism, Palau has a variety of accommodation options, serving a range of budgets.
The Rose Garden Hotel is built into a hill side, and has an on-site restaurant serving large portions of good quality local, Japanese, Korean, and American dishes. Situated on the best view in town, a hotel shuttle is available for free to and from the city and the airport.
The Guest Lodge Motel is a decent option for smaller budgets. A little rundown in appearance, it is clean, friendly, and well-appointed inside.
Ms. Pinetrees Hostel / Bed and Breakfast is a hostel-style villa, with dormitory and private rooms and large communal spaces. Air conditioning and Wi-Fi are available. Guests are welcome to reserve a bed, a room, or the entire villa for up to 16 guests. The establishment is located just two minutes from the main street.
The Sea Passion Hotel offers many different types of room, including some with sea views and others overlooking the mountains. The rooms accommodate between one and four people each. The hotel’s on-site facilities include a dive shop (Palau Dive Adventures) and a watersports centre specialising in day snorkel and kayaking trips.
The Airai Water Paradise Hotel & Spa boasts the largest storyboard of Palau history, the largest water park with two water slides, and the largest Olympic-sized swimming pool in the country. There are a variety of rooms available, including standard rooms, honeymoon suites, and ocean view suites.
The Penthouse Hotel is located in downtown Koror, and provides a choice of rooms with two double beds and rooms with a single queen-sized bed. Each room has a refrigerator, television, bath, and iron. With meeting facilities and convention spaces, this establishment is popular with businessmen. The hotel restaurant serves American, Palauan, and Filipino cuisine.
West Plaza by the Sea offers 36 rooms, each overlooking the ocean lagoon and nearby islands. The rooms range from standard class to deluxe with kitchenettes, and there is a penthouse suite on the roof deck with a large private veranda, whirpool bath, kitchenette, and spacious living area. The Red Rooster Café is also based here, serving Japanese cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Happy hour every evening features Palau’s locally Red Rooster Draft.
West Plaza Desekel has 30 rooms, ranging from standard to deluxe to accommodate different budgets, and is conveniently located for museums, restaurants, and banks.
Caroline’s Resort is a unique establishment. Comprising several bungalows situated in the hills of the jungle, the resort is just outside downtown Koror. The charming bungalows are well equipped with satellite television and bar fridges, and external patios with ocean views. Guests have the option of being served breakfast on their private patio.
Among the high-end options are the Palau Pacific Resort. This world-class resort benefits from a beautiful beach and excellent restaurant. Alternatively, there is the Palau Royal Resort, one of the newest hotels in Palau and with a largely Japanese clientele.
The COVE Resort Palau is a waterfront haven designed for adventure and relaxation. The resort offers 71 rooms and three suites, each very well-appointed and served by room service and complimentary international daily buffet breakfast. Guests have the use of the largest lagoon pool in Palau, a relaxed island cocktail bar, and concierge assistance. The hotel restaurant is the Hungry Marlin Restaurant and Bar.
The Regions Of Palau
The key regions of Palau are,
- Babeldaob (Melekeok): the largest island, with a population of 6,000
- Koror: home to Koror City, the largest city in the country
- Rock Islands: 300 mostly uninhabited islands
- Peleliu: home to 700 people, most of whom live in the village of Kloulklubed
- Angaur: just 200 inhabitants, and a highly regarded surfing destination
- Sonsorol Islands: located in the southwest, and home to just 100 people
The Cities Of Palau
There are two key cities in Palau: Melekeok and Koror.
Melekeok is the capital, despite a tiny population of just 381 people. Located on the island of Babeldaob, it is a short drive from Koror along a road constructed by Daewoo.
Koror is the larger of the cities, and the former capital of the country. It is home to the largest area of shops, restaurants, and hotels, along with many dive operators.
Getting In And Out Of Palau
Travellers to Palau from the Marshal Islands, Micronesia, or the US or Samoa can stay in Palau for up to a year without a visa. Israeli citizens can stay for up to 90 days. Citizens of Bangladesh and Myanmar should apply for a visa before arrival, but all other visitors can obtain a free 30-day tourism visa upon arrival.
All visitors need a current passport and a return airline ticket to be granted entry to Palau.
Travellers should also note that, as of December 2016, there is a $50 embarkation tax levied on air travel passengers as they leave the country. This comprises a $30 green tax and $20 head tax. It is paid in cash as you move through immigration control.
For up-to-date information, contact the Palau Embassy in your own country before arrival.
Travelling By Plane To Palau
There is just one airport in Palau, and this is located in Airai on Babeldaob. The airport is small, dirty, and has few facilities. There is no Wi-Fi, no air conditioning, and very few seats. There is nowhere to purchase even a bottle of water, and there are likely to be no taxis at Arrivals. Be warned!
Your best option is to contact your hotel and arrange a taxi in advance. It is also possible to call a taxi to come from downtown to collect you. Taxis are expensive, charging $20-30 for the six-kilometre trip.
Car rental may also be available, and again this should be booked in advance via the hotel.
Other Means Of Transport To Palau
It is possible to get to Palau by boat, but not at all easy. Private boat hire, or the ‘government-run boats’, are cheaper alternatives.
Taxis and car rentals are available. When using taxis, note that they are not metered and fares are negotiable with the driver.
If you choose to rent a car, be prepared to drive slowly to accommodate bumpy roads and to meet the 40 km/h (25 mph) national speed limit.
Key Contacts In Palau
Palau Postal Services
The official postal service of Palau is the United States Postal Service. USPS treats Palau as a territory, for the purposes of travel.
Palau Internet And Telecommunications
Almost all internet and telecommunications are provided by the Palau National Communications Corporation (PNCC). An international SIM card can be assigned a local number upon arrival, and this permits use of a mobile phone and SIM card without the $25 PNCC SIM card. The PNCC provides Wi-Fi services with prepaid cards available at $5 and $10 denominations.
Free Wi-Fi can be found in many hotels, restaurants, and coffee bars, but this is relatively slow and unreliable. The Wi-Fi reception is at its best in downtown Koror.