Ultimate Travel Guide to Palau — Jellyfish Lake, Jacque Cousteau and Survivor!


When I first visited Palau in 2005, I never wanted to go. It was a 25 hour flight from NYC (with 4 connections), and I knew virtually nothing about it. Survivor hadn’t taken place there yet, and as a young travel writer, I was into more urban settings (I never thought I’d actually ever write a Palau travel guide), and didn’t think twice about it.

But then I heard about Jellyfish Lake, all the diving spots, and how Palau hadn’t changed for decades and felt like a time warp. The intrigue outweighed any hesitance, and it’s been one of my favorite destinations since.

Palau is a republic archipelago comprising more than 500 islands (only 8 are inhabited by a population of 20,000), Palau is Micronesia’s jewel. Its pristine beauty, wealth of water- and sun-drenched activities unique to the island and effortless knack for eco-friendliness attracts those seeking both adventure and relaxation.

While the reality show “Survivor” may have put Palau on the map by shooting here for Season two, it didn’t exactly rocket tourism numbers right away.

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What helped was the rise of social media, when curious influencers flocked over with selfie sticks, as well as better flight routes. When I had first visited 15 years ago, it felt like there were *zero* tourists, so I lucked out that time, but it’s great to see Palau is getting the attention it deserves.

In line with the laid-back Palauan lifestyle, there’s no rush to see everything. You’re on “island time.” While there’s not a lot to, there’s enough to keep you busy for a long visit.

The Ultimate Palau Travel Guide

Jellyfish Lake

When you first submerge into Jellyfish Lake, the water is a little murky and the hovering trees above contribute to the lack of clarity. But as you swim forward, the sunlight illuminates the lake to capture a surreal moment: stingless mastiga jellyfish come into view, transparent and serene, ranging from the size of your fingertip to the palm of your hand.

Before you know it, you’ve swum toward the motherload in the warm sunlight’s glow. There are millions of them surrounding you, pulsating and nonchalant, unresponsive as there are no predators in the lake. The experience is unreal, borderline divine, but completely awe-inspiring.

This is Palau, where natural wonders raise the bar for other unspoiled destinations.

One of best diving spots in the world, according to Jacque Cousteau

Diving is the main attraction, and Jacque Cousteau wasn’t bluffing when he said it was one of the best diving spots in the world. Serious water afficionados paid attention. In fact, Fish N Fins owners Tova and Navot Borrovski were so enthralled with the underwater world that they never left the island when they sailed here in 1993.

Their diving tours explore a range of approximately 40 spots (including the Big Drop Off, hailed as one of Palau’s best underwater dive sites) and diversity of dives, including wreck dives, wall dives, cavern dives and drift dives. If you’re not certified, the crystal clear waters make the perfect underwater paradise for snorkelers who’ll find themselves amongst more than 1,000 species of fish, diverse sea creatures, WW2 artifacts and colorful coral reefs.

Even endangered, giant clams—quite literally at 4 feet wide—makes the waters plunge-worthy in Clam City. Jellyfish Lake is a popular stop in their day-trip itinerary, and spa enthusiasts will love lathering themselves at the Milky Way, a marine lake inlet where the chalk-gray sediment makes a great mud mask.

Kayaking is unreal

Kayaking is one of the most popular methods to navigate the waters. Neco Marine offers the sought-after route in the Airai area, weaving through lush island formations to discover limestone caves that are naturally formed (not repercussions of WW2 bombings as guides will repeat). Some are large enough to explore inside, leaving you in awe of the natural erosion and coral.

Protruding nearby the shore is a Japanese war plane propeller while the remains of the body is submerged just a few feet away. En route to Nikko Bay, several pillboxes (bunkers) are cleverly masked in the shrubbery where Japanese soldiers hid in as lookouts.

A nice way to end the tour is a quick snorkel along Rembrandt’s Wall, the well-known coral wall embracing a variety of colors.

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Ultimate travel guide to Palau: Land tours to consider

Though Palau is a water destination, land activities abound, and it’s worth every mention in this Palau travel guide.

Sam’s Tours, an award winning diving tour operator, does offer scenic land tours that take you to historic stone monoliths and small villages in several of Palau’s states in the eastern coast of Babeldaob.

The trip concludes with a hike in Ngardmau, home of natural stream pools and a sublime spring waterfall hidden in the rain forest. When the sun hits at the right angle, an arching rainbow manifests in the pour.

With guides, land enthusiasts can venture deep into the jungles and find WW2 remains, including beer bottles, guns, shrapnel and helmets. Don’t be surprised if the guide (ask for Malahi) stops at local homes to visit a macaque monkey who will eat dirt from your hair, or feed caged fruit bats mangos shaken down from the nearby tree. End the 7-hour tour with Titum—a cold, fruit drink unique to the island—at one of the local markets.

Stay at Palau Pacific Resort

Simple island motifs and decor is reflected throughout Palau Pacific Resort. Rooms are large with private terraces and most face the ocean (PPR is the only beach resort in Palau).

Unwind in a private cabana, watch the sunset and, if you are so bold, try chewing betle nut, traditional Palauan pastime—a concoction of buuch nut, lime powder and tobacco wrapped in a pepper vine leaf—known to calm and keep you relaxed, as it has kept the Palauans since the 1700s (though keep in mind, tobacco is addictive!). You can also try taro or ukaib.

*Note: Palau Pacific Resort is closed during Covid-19. Check out its website for updates on when it may reopen for guests.

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Jimmy Im has traveled to 113 countries, stayed in over 600 hotels and has flown a million airmiles. He lives in New York City.

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