Palau (sometimes spelled Belau or Pelew), officially the Republic of Palau (Palauan: Beluu er a Belau), is an island country and a United States Associated State located in the western Pacific Ocean, south west of the Philippines. It is geographically part of the larger island group of Micronesia. The country’s population of around 21,000 is spread across 250 islands forming the western chain of the Caroline Islands. The most populous island is Koror. The capital Ngerulmud is located in Melekeok State on the nearby island of Babeldaob. The islands share maritime boundaries with Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Early Palauans may have come from Polynesia and Asia. Depending on the origin of a family, Palauans may represent many parts of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. However, they are not traditionally considered to be Micronesian. For thousands of years, Palauans have had a well-established matrilineal society, believed to have descended from Javanese precedents.
Palau had limited relations before the 18th century, mainly with Yap and Java. Had it not been for shipwrecked islanders who took refuge in the Philippines, Europeans likely would not have found Palau until much later. Englishman Captain Henry Wilson was shipwrecked off the island of Ulong in 1783 and it was Wilson who gave the archipelago the name “Pelew Islands”.
In the late 19th century, possession of the islands was claimed by Britain, Spain, and Germany. In 1885, the matter was brought to Pope Leo XIII for a decision. The Pope recognized the Spanish claim, but granted economic concessions to Britain and Germany. Palau then became part of the Spanish East Indies, along with the Northern Mariana Islands, the Caroline Islands and the Marshall Islands. They were all administered from the Philippines. Spain sold the Palau archipelago to Germany in 1899 after which it was administered from German New Guinea, and a period of economic development began. German engineers began exploiting the islands’ deposits of bauxite and phosphate, and a rich harvest in copra was made. WWI intervened and the German period lasted only 15 years after which the League of Nations awarded Palau to Japan. The Japanese presence made Palau a major target for the Allied forces in World War II, and there were several major battles in the area.
After three decades as part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific under US administration, this westernmost cluster of the Caroline Islands opted for independence in 1978 rather than join the Federated States of Micronesia. A Compact of Free Association with the US was approved in 1986, but not ratified until 1993. Palau officially became independent on 1 Oct 1994.
Palau enjoys a tropical climate all year round with an annual mean temperature of 82°F (28°C). Rainfall can occur throughout the year, averaging a total of 150 inches (3,800mm). The average humidity over the course of the year is 82%, and although rain falls more frequently between July and October, there is still much sunshine. Typhoons are rare, as Palau is outside the main typhoon zone.
Babeidaob (Melekeok) – The largest island, with a population of roughly 6,000 people.
Koror – Home of the largest city of the same name.
Rock Islands – Made up of almost 300 mostly uninhabited islands, home to Jellyfish Lake a lake with millions of jellyfish with very weak stingers where snorkelers can safely swim.
Peleliu – About 700 people live here, mostly in the village of Kloulklubed.
Angaur – Remote southern outpost with about 200 inhabitants, site of a major WWII naval battle and a modern day surfing destination of some repute.
Sonsorol Islands – consists of Sonsorol and Hatohobei states, these islands are home to about 100 people way to the southwest of the rest of Palau.
Melekeok – new capital (pop. 381) This is on the island of Babeldaob and is a pleasant drive from Koror along the new road constructed by Daewoo. Head out over the bridge and the road to Melekeok is clearly signposted.
Koror – the largest city and former capital. Koror contains Palau’s only real concentration of shops, restaurants, and hotels. Many of the largest dive operators are also based here.
The South West islands of Palau are worth a visit if you have your own marine transport such as an ocean-going yacht. There is Sonsorol, Fana, Meriil, Hatohobei and Helen Reef, a conservation area. However be sure to take mosquito repellent if visiting Meriil as its local name is dancing island. Go there and you will find out why! If intending to visit any of these islands it is a wise idea to make the acquaintance of the governors at their offices in Koror itself. If you are lucky you just might be able to take a trip on the island supply vessel the Atoll Way. Sleeping is on a hard wooden platform along with the other souls who are either returning to their home islands or maybe the doctor from Peleliu island hospital who is making a routine visit to check up on the health of the islanders.
Visas. US citizens do not require a visa, and nearly all other visitors can receive a free 30-day tourism visa on arrival. For the latest information, contact the Palau Embassy in your country. Most travelers arrive by airplane from Guam, Korea, Japan, Taiwan (Taipei) or the Philippines (Manila). Visitors must have a current passport, and a return airline ticket to travel to Palau.
Plane is the only realistic choice. There is two airports, Airai (ROR), on Babeldaob and Koror.
Visitors can take United Airlines’ daily flights from Guam (~$600), which has connections to Japan and the United States, as well as from Manila, Philippines.
Delta Air Lines launched daily service to (ROR) from Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on December 2010 with connections on to many destinations throughout Asia as well as to its hub cities in the US (including Hawaii).
Asiana Airlines currently operates regularly scheduled flights from Seoul’s Incheon airport.
There are also chartered flights direct from Taipei, South Korea, and Japan on a variety of operators.
The airports are small and have few facilities, and it might happen that no taxis are available on arrival. The best option is to book in advance local transportation with your hotel, otherwise you should call taxi from downtown to pick you up. There are some car rental booths, but they might be closed on weekend. Again, if you need to rent a car, is better to book in advance.
Possible but not very easy.
Taxi and rented car. Lots of local taxis. If you rent a car, be prepared to drive slowly on some bumpy roads. Both left and right hand drive cars are present in Palau, which can cause some confusion. If you drive south, to Ice Box Park, please note that the facility behind it is a sewage treatment plant. Any other diving will be from a boat, after an hour or more ride and cost around $150 for a two tank dive. There are no dive spots or beaches on the main island – Koror. The road north was recently paved and is very nice… once you get past the airport.
Palau is most famous for scuba diving. One of the most famous dive sites – Blue Corner, with constant sharks and a high current – is located less than 1 hour’s boat ride from most resorts. Many live aboards like Ocean Hunter operate out of Palau. There are also tours to WWII battle-fields on Palau.
The Blue Corner, German Channel, Ulong Channel and Blue Holes are all amazing dive sites. You can dive the same site again and again and have completely different experiences each time.
Palau is also famous for its jellyfish lakes. These lakes contain jellyfish that have evolved away their stingers in the absence of predators. There are many tours which will go to the jellyfish lake to snorkel. SCUBA diving is not permitted, nor is necessary, in the jellyfish lake. Palau Jellyfish Lake  is included in the category of natural phenomena and scientific mysteries. Aside from the cost of the tour (around $100), there is $100 permit for the Jellyfish Lake which is valid for ten days.
Long Island Park offers a mildly interesting snorkeling area. It’s located just south of the two bridges that connect Koror and Malakal. From Koror, cross the first bridge and then turn left.
Icebox Park, at the southern tip of Malakal, offers a nice view. However, swimming is not advised as it is immediately adjacent to a wastewater outlet (clearly visible at low tide).
Nikko Bay is a great place for kayaking and snorkeling. A good place to launch your kayak is Ngermid Boat Pier. Head a few hundred meters south from the pier and you will see a floating wooden dock, under which lives a huge Napoleon fish. Snorkeling around the islets to the immediate west of the dock is quite impressive.
IMPAC, short for Imperial Palau Corporation provides day tours to the Rock Islands including Jellyfish tour and kayaking tours.
Splash, the dive shop attached to the Palau Pacific Resort is recommended. The equipment available for rental is of high quality, and either new or well maintained. The dive masters are also very experienced, responsible and know the dive sites very well. Angelo at Splash is highly recommended as a dive master especially if you have not dived in stronger currents. It should be noted that Splash runs a rather large, wide diveboat, containing 20+ divers.
Sam’s Tours is another dive shop in Palau that offers diving, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing and land tours. They have some great guides that provide educational and environmental information about the locales. Sam’s Tours uses small, fast narrow boats which carry 4~8 divers.
Palau Dive & Scuba. Small, personable service that brings together all the information on dive sites, conditions and dive centers for Palau.
Sara Guide Service, ☎ 488 6856. Environmentally responsible professional sports fishing guides in Koror. They have experienced Palaun boat captains and Japanese and Western guides that make you feel welcome. Catch and release fish and have a great time! Great food too on their 8 and 10m boats.
Palau Dive Adventures, ☎ 888-334-3483 (DIVE) is located on the premises of the popular Sea Passion Hotel. Palau Dive Adventures dive shop runs tailored group trips (8-10 divers) on a weekly (M-F) basis. Divers dive all week from the same boat, with the same group and dive guide. At night they stay in comfortable, land-based accommodations. The entire week’s dive site itinerary is tailored to the desires of the guests and the staff at Palau Dive Adventures works with the groups to ensure maximum time on the water by day and comfort on land at night. Palau Dive Adventures supplies Nitrox EAN 32 and will accommodate special dive needs and requests.
US English and Palauan are spoken widely and are the official languages, but some Palauans can speak Japanese.
Palauan is a mixture of languages that has Japanese, Spanish, and German words. Example: Mado (window) or Tanjobi (birthday) are Japanese words; Ikelesia (church) same pronunciation as Spanish Iglesia meaning church) The outer Islands of Palau, like Tobi and Sonsorol have a different language (their language is almost similar to the people of Chuuck, FSM) but they can speak Palauan too. Filipino (largely based on Tagalog) is widely spoken in hotels, restaurants, and shops due to the large number of Filipinos working in these establishments. Kuya (older brother) and Ate (older sister) are even used as general terms for calling out to people.
Palau International Coral Reef Center, ☎ 680.488.6950 (email@example.com). Very educational aquarium with a good souvenir shop. Emphasis of displays is on education. They include a topographical map of Palau; a recreation of a mangrove swamp, a sea grass aquarium; an inner reef aquarium; an exhibition of coral and another of the country’s famed jellyfish; deep-water aquariums and a couple of salt-water crocodiles to end the tour. Easy walk from downtown Koror in the direction of Malakal
Etpison Museum, Main Road, Koror, Palau (on the right side of the road coming from the airport going to Koror), ☎ (680) 488-6730. Monday – Saturday: 9am – 5pm. The museum is dedicated to the late Palau President Ngiratkel Etpison (1989-1993). The 3-story building houses 2 floors of Palauan and Micronesian artifacts, displays, photography and information. The top floor has restrooms, more displays, and a large gift shop selling art, jewelry, books and souvenirs. It also doubles as the French Consulate office in Palau. $10 (tourists).
Palau uses the US dollar as its currency. WCTC and Surangel and Sons are the two biggest stores with a grocery and department stores. There are numerous souvenir shops, convenience stores, and boutiques throughout Palau but the largest concentration is in downtown Koror.
W.C.T.C. Shopping Center, Koror (Located at the heart of Koror), ☎ 488-1633/2394/1484. 7:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M.. This is the shopping destination in town. It has a full-size grocery store, a drug store, digital photo printing, The Athlete’s Foot, and a full-service department store with a broad selection of local souvenirs.
Surangel and Sons Company, Main Road, Koror, Palau, ☎ +680 488-2608, . Sunday – Thursday (7am – 10pm); Friday (7am to sunset); Saturday (sunset – 10pm). The store has a grocery at the ground floor, department store on the second floor, and other shops and offices on other floors.
As you might expect from a remote island where tourism is the main industry, prices are comparatively high, and even a low-end daily budget would be around US$100/day. Meals in restaurants and cafes are generally between $5 and $10. Snack shops that also serve hamburgers, pasta, and rice meals offer food starting at $3. Meals in mid- to high-end restaurants start at $20.
Palauan storyboards are traditional wood carvings depicting Palauan myths and legends.
Almost everything. Palau has large communities from Taiwan, the Philippines, Korea, Japan and the USA and the local stores have evolved to supply their needs. So Koror offers an amazing range of foodstuffs in its stores, at a price of course. Japanese-inspired Bento lunch boxes are very popular.
The Rock Island Cafe in Koror is a great place for a quick bit of American-style food. It is located a little west of the Court House on Koror Island.
Kramer’s – on the wharf at Malakal. A bit hard to find for the first time but food is good and the nightlife always interesting.
Bem Ermii is in a small trailer near the courthouse in downtown Koror, and makes great burgers and milkshakes.
Carp is a good medium-range option with generous portions and well-prepared dishes of Japanese and local flavor, including coconut crab. It’s located adjacent to the Palau Royal hotel next to the dock that takes you to the Carp Island resort.
Keanos (Formerly Little Italy), Main Street, Koror (Across from Palasia Hotel), ☎ 488-6637. Keanos has an extensive, tasty menu, primarily Italian cuisine, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Anathias Cafe, Main Street (Across from Palau High School), ☎ 488-6491. 7 AM – 11 PM, Closed Sunday.
Several other places of note in Koror are the Taj, an excellent Indian restaurant, Fuji, a reasonably priced pseudo-Japanese restaurant and Dragon Tai on the way into Koror.
The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 21.
Red Rooster Beer. Despite its size Palau has a small brewery, to be found next to the West Plaza by the Sea hotel (see below). It offers Amber and Stout and three other beers.
Abai Ice in Koror is a small hut that offers fresh fruit smoothies — highly recommended.
There are many licensed establishments in Palau — from quiet little bars to “Japanese”-style karaoke bars complete with bar girls. For a decent affordable drink, try Sam’s Dive Shop or High Tide behind Neco dive shop. Alcohol is readily available at most stores. Public drinking is not allowed, and the local police are more than happy to inconvenience you if you are caught.
Q-ball Club, (Koror), ☎ 4881832. you can play pool and chill out
Palm Bay Bistro – Malakal (right behind West Plaza Malakal in south Koror before the Ice Box Plant), ☎ 488-3476. 7AM-9PM. Great steaks and pastas, and it has the best bartender in Koror with a jewel of a collection of signature drinks and coffees. Also serves Red Rooster Draft on tap and is located right next door to the Palau Brewing Company, Palau’s own microbrewery. Brewery tours also available upon request.
Palau offers a number of guest house style boutique accommodations. Some are close to or within Koror, some are not. These are available for international bookings via dive shops that offer holiday packages. Prices range from US$50 a night upward.
Rose Garden Hotel, Mcyuns, Koror, ☎ 680-488-7672, . Built into a hill side, the rustic Rose Garden has a lot of steps, which would be difficult for elderly or disabled guests to negotiate. The on-site restaurant serves large portions of good quality local, Japanese, Korean and American staples. A hotel shuttle is available to ferry you into town for $6.
Guest Lodge Motel, ☎ (680) 488-6320/21/22 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: (680) 488-5616). The Guest Lodge Motel offers a nice and clean place to stay if you just need a place to sleep and relax.
Ms. Pinetrees Hostel / Bed and Breakfast, ☎ (680) 488-2441 / (680) 775-3570 (email@example.com). This is a beautiful hostel-style villa with dormitory or private rooms. Air conditioning and wi-fi available; common areas make guests feel right at home—two living rooms, large outdoor terrace, dining room, and fully equipped kitchen, movie collection, etc. Guests can reserve a bed, room or the entire villa (sleeps up to 16 guests). Not located on the water, but down a quiet street and an easy two-minute walk to the main street with shops and restaurants.
Mid-range. There are also a number of nice basic hotels available in Palau.
Sea Passion Hotel, ☎ +680.488.0066. The hotel has many room types to choose from, including sea view and mountain view rooms accommodating 1-4 people in a room. On-site facilities include a dive shop (Palau Dive Adventures and a Watersports Center specializing in day snorkel and kayaking trips.
Airai Water Paradise Hotel & Spa, ☎ +680.587.3530. The hotel features three of the largest things of Palau—the largest storyboard full of Palau history, the largest water park with two water slides, and the largest olympic-sized swimming pool. Standard rooms, honeymoon suites, and newly renovated ocean view suites are available.
The Penthouse Hotel, ☎ +680.488.1941. The hotel is located in downtown Koror, just across from WCTC. A favorite among locals for meetings and functions. It has rooms with two double beds or a singe queen-sized bed. Each room has a refrigerator, TV, bathtub, and iron, ideal for businessmen and visiting students. Breakfast is not included in the rate but their in-house restaurant serves American, Palauan, and Filipino dishes plus baked goods and cakes
West Plaza by the Sea, ☎ +680.488.2133. Features 36 rooms overlooking the ocean lagoon and nearby islands. Rooms range from standard class to deluxe rooms with kitchenettes, and a penthouse suite on the roof deck with a large private veranda, whirlpool bath, kitchenette, and plenty of spacious living area. The Red Rooster Cafe offers a wide selection of Japanese Cuisine, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The nightly happy hour features Palau’s only locally brewed beer on tap, Red Rooster Draft.
West Plaza Desekel, ☎ +680.488.2133. Conveniently located near museums, restaurants and banks. West Plaza Desekel offers 30 rooms ranging from deluxe to standard accommodations. Located on the Hotel’s ground floor is the Deskel Market, a full service grocery store complete with ice-cold beverages, fresh local and imported produce and a large assortment of Western and Asian foods.
The Caroline’s Resort, ☎ +680.488.3754. A few minutes outside of downtown Koror, this charming option offers accommodation in several bungalows nestled in the hills amongst the jungle. The bungalows are quite well equipped with A/C, satellite TV, attached bathrooms and bar fridges. Each also has an external patio with views over the ocean. Guests have access to the Palau Pacific Resort’s amenities so you can enjoy the beach and pool during the day.
Splurge. There are lots of reasonably high-end resorts on Palau, most catering for scuba divers.
Palau Pacific Resort is a world-class resort on the outskirts of Koror. Known locally as PPR, it is very nice (beautiful beach, excellent restaurant, vaulted ceilings) but it is also quite a ways out of Koror (10-15 minute drive). They do run an hourly shuttle into Koror most evenings, or about $5 each way for a cab.
Palau Royal Resort. One of the newest hotels in Palau – catering largely to Japanese. Conveniently located in Malakal, only a couple minutes walk away from either Sam’s Dive Shop or Neco Marine.
Palau Community College offers both AS/AA degrees and occupational certificates. The campus library is open to the public, and offers computer terminals for community members and visitors to check email. The school is accredited through the Western Association of Colleges.
Palau is quite a safe country to visit. Walking in downtown Koror at night, even past midnight is quite safe. But as with any place in the world today, common sense prevails. Pedestrians should be careful, as sidewalks are limited even in downtown Koror.
The constitution prohibits private ownership of firearms. Mere possession of bullets (used as necklace or amulet by some) is punishable by law.
Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) still exist in Palau’s mangroves and in the beautiful Rock Islands and can potentially be found anywhere on the island. Despite their fearsome and, in some areas, very justified reputation, here they rarely grow to the immense size that they do in Australia and New Guinea. There was only one fatal attack by a crocodile in Palau within recorded history in 1965. The biggest crocodile in Palau’s history was 14′, 2″ in length – large, but this is an average size for saltwater crocodiles in most other countries. The rarity of attacks probably stems from the fact that there are no more than 450 adult individuals currently on the island. Snorkeling and scuba diving are very popular in Palau and there has never in recent history been a report of an attack on a tourist. Judging from a recent survey, it appears crocodiles are quite unjustly hate
Bull Sharks are common in the coastal waters and estuaries, so caution must always be taken while scuba diving or snorkeling.
Palauans have been known throughout history for their hospitality. Many Palauans are very understanding, and realize cultural differences and easily give respect for foreign visitors. Be sure however, to always pay respect to the local culture. As with any other ethnic group, rude remarks or any form of prejudice against the local culture is not taken kindly. Palauans can be just as angry and rude as they are kind. As long as you do not disrespect the culture, violate historic areas, pollute, or harm the ocean in any way, you will find the local atmosphere very laid back and easy-going. Note that Palau is a matrilineal society with very strict roles for men and women. Western ideas such as feminism are not standard to the Palauan population, and an overly zealous attempt at instilling such ideas is taken as annoying, ignorant, and obnoxious. Most Palauans however, gladly engage in such debates and find intellectual conversations interesting.
Almost all internet and telecommunications services in Palau is provided by Palau National Communications Corporation (PNCC). International sim cards (US, Guam, Philippines, Japan, and other countries) will be assigned a local number upon arrival as long as the phone can access GSM 900. This conveniently allows you to use your own cellphone and sim card without buying a $25 PNCC sim card. If you do not receive a local number automatically, you may have to manually select PalauCel or PNCC as the network provided. After receiving your local number, you have to load it with airtime available at a minimum of $10 prepaid card. To send and receive text messages or SMS, you need to change your message center to +680 779 0000.
Many hotels, restaurants, and coffee bars offer free wi-fi service. It may be relatively slow especially when there are several people trying to connect. PNCC also provides wi-fi service with prepaid cards available at $5 and $10 denominations. Wi-fi service is better in downtown Koror.
There is a $50 Embarkation Tax (consisting of a $35 Airport Departure Tax and a $15 Environmental Protection Fee) levied on most passengers departing by air.  The tax is paid just before you go through immigration and is cash-only. There is an ATM in the airport lobby.