Palau Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Palau, a pristine paradise in the western Pacific Ocean, beckons travelers with its mesmerizing natural beauty and vibrant marine life. Comprising over 300 islands, this Micronesian nation is renowned for its turquoise waters, lush jungles, and remarkable underwater wonders. Palau offers an idyllic escape for those seeking adventure, relaxation, and a close encounter with the wonders of the ocean.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Palau as a tourist is during the dry season, which typically runs from November to April. This period offers pleasant weather and ideal conditions for outdoor activities, especially underwater exploration. Here’s what to consider during the different seasons:

  1. Dry Season (November to April): This is the high tourist season in Palau. During this time, you can expect warm temperatures, calm seas, and excellent visibility for snorkeling and diving. However, it’s also the peak of the wet season in some parts, so occasional rain showers are possible. Be sure to book accommodations and activities in advance, as it can get busy.
  2. Wet Season (May to October): This season brings higher humidity and more rain, especially from July to October. While rain can be a drawback, it’s also the best time for surfers, and it’s less crowded. The lush green landscapes are in full bloom, and the rainforests come to life during this period.
  3. Intermediate Seasons (May, June, October): These months serve as a transition between the dry and wet seasons. You can enjoy good weather and fewer crowds, making it a good time to visit if you want to avoid the high season.

Keep in mind that Palau’s tropical climate can be unpredictable, and occasional rain showers can occur even during the dry season. Palau’s attractions are open year-round, but your choice of when to visit should depend on your interests. If you’re primarily interested in water-based activities like diving and snorkeling, the dry season is your best bet. However, if you prefer a more budget-friendly and less crowded experience, consider visiting during the wet season, especially during the transitional months.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Palau as a tourist is relatively straightforward, and there are several modes of transportation to choose from:

  1. Rental Cars: Renting a car is one of the most convenient ways to explore Palau, particularly if you plan to visit multiple islands or explore more remote areas. Most car rental agencies are located on Koror Island. Be aware that you will need a Palauan driver’s permit, which can be obtained at the rental agency or through your hotel.
  2. Taxis: Taxis are available in Koror and are a convenient option for short trips or transfers between your hotel and the airport. Taxis are metered, and you should confirm the fare with the driver before starting your journey.
  3. Bicycles: Some tourists choose to explore Koror Island by bicycle. Biking is an eco-friendly and leisurely way to see the sights at your own pace.
  4. Boat and Ferries: To travel between islands in Palau, you can use local boats and ferries. They provide access to more remote areas and offer a scenic way to explore the archipelago. Speedboats are available for private tours or island hopping.
  5. Public Transportation: Palau has a limited public bus system, primarily on Koror Island. This is a more affordable option for getting around within the main island.
  6. Guided Tours: Many tour operators offer guided tours to popular destinations and activities. These tours can be a convenient way to explore Palau’s natural wonders, including marine excursions, kayaking, and jungle hikes.
  7. Walking: In downtown Koror, you can easily explore on foot. Many of the main attractions, shops, restaurants, and hotels are within walking distance of each other.
  8. Air Travel: If you plan to visit more remote islands in Palau, you can take domestic flights from Roman Tmetuchl International Airport on Babeldaob (Koror) to various destinations in the country.

It’s important to plan your transportation based on your itinerary. If you intend to explore beyond Koror Island, consider a combination of rental cars, boat transfers, and domestic flights. Additionally, ensure you check the availability of transportation services and tours, especially if you plan to visit more remote locations in Palau.

What’s the Official Language?

The official languages of Palau are Palauan and English. English is widely spoken and understood, especially in urban areas, among government officials, and in the tourism industry. Here are some basic English words and phrases that can be helpful for tourists visiting Palau:

  1. Hello – Hello
  2. Good morning – Good morning
  3. Good afternoon – Good afternoon
  4. Good evening – Good evening
  5. Thank you – Thank you
  6. Yes – Yes
  7. No – No
  8. Please – Please
  9. Excuse me – Excuse me
  10. Sorry – Sorry
  11. What is your name? – What is your name?
  12. My name is… – My name is…
  13. How much is this? – How much is this?
  14. Where is…? – Where is…?
  15. Restroom – Restroom or toilet
  16. Food – Food
  17. Water – Water
  18. Help – Help
  19. Cheers – Cheers (used when toasting)

While English is widely spoken, knowing a few basic Palauan phrases can also be a sign of respect for the local culture:

  1. Alii – Hello
  2. Ak mo melim – Thank you
  3. Ke kmal meral mle blechoel – I’m very sorry
  4. A uaisei – Yes
  5. Tia el mora – No
  6. Ba bai – Please
  7. Kede mo osisiu – Excuse me
  8. A kldat a klokul er tia el chelbacheb – What’s your name?
  9. Nemal kerei el terenget – My name is…
  10. Kemeral – How much?
  11. Kau k mo ongeim el chad? – Where is…?

Being polite and respectful in your interactions with locals will go a long way in making your trip enjoyable, as Palauans are known for their warm and friendly hospitality.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Palau offers a range of accommodation options to suit different preferences and budgets. Most accommodations are located on Koror Island, which is the main tourist hub. Here are some options for where to stay in Palau:

  1. Hotels and Resorts: Palau has a variety of hotels and resorts that cater to different budgets. These range from luxury resorts with overwater bungalows to mid-range and budget-friendly options. Some popular ones include Palau Royal Resort, Palau Pacific Resort, and DW Motel.
  2. Guesthouses: There are guesthouses and locally run accommodations that offer a more affordable option for travelers. These can provide a chance to experience local culture and hospitality.
  3. Vacation Rentals: You can find vacation rental properties, including apartments and houses, which are especially suitable for longer stays and for those who prefer more independence.
  4. Eco-Lodges: Some lodges and accommodations in Palau are focused on ecotourism, allowing visitors to experience the natural beauty of the islands while staying in eco-friendly facilities.
  5. Dive Resorts: If you’re primarily visiting Palau for its world-renowned diving sites, consider staying in a dive resort, which often offers dive packages and easy access to dive boats.
  6. Hostels: While less common in Palau, there are a few hostels available for budget-conscious travelers.
  7. Homestays: Some Palauan families offer homestays, which provide a unique opportunity to experience local life and culture. These can be arranged through local contacts or tour operators.
  8. Liveaboards: For divers, liveaboards are another option. These are boats that offer accommodations and allow you to explore remote dive sites over multiple days.

When choosing where to stay in Palau, consider your budget, the activities you plan to engage in, and the locations you want to explore. Be sure to book accommodations in advance, especially during the peak tourist season, as Palau can get quite busy. Whether you’re seeking luxury or a more authentic local experience, Palau has a wide range of options to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Palauan cuisine offers a blend of flavors influenced by its Micronesian, Asian, and Western heritage. While in Palau, be sure to try some of the following must-try foods and dishes:

  1. Fruit Bats (Fanihi): Fruit bats are a traditional delicacy in Palau. They are often served in a coconut milk soup with vegetables and can be found at local restaurants.
  2. Taro (Dasheen): Taro is a staple crop in Palau and is used to make various dishes like taro chips, taro cake, and the popular taro and coconut milk dessert called “taro in coconut milk.”
  3. Coconut Crab (Kuok): The coconut crab is the largest land-living arthropod and is considered a delicacy in Palau. It is often prepared with coconut milk and is known for its rich flavor.
  4. Red Snapper: Palau offers some of the freshest seafood, and red snapper is a common choice. It’s usually grilled or served in dishes with local herbs and spices.
  5. Rice and Fish: A simple but delicious combination, rice and fish are commonly served with a variety of local sauces and flavors.
  6. Poke (Pokey): A favorite dish in Palau, poke is made from raw fish, typically tuna, marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, and various spices. It’s a tasty and healthy option.
  7. Pichi-Pichi: A sweet and chewy dessert made from grated cassava, coconut milk, and sugar. It’s often served in small bite-sized portions.
  8. Fried Chicken: Fried chicken is a popular fast food option in Palau, and you can find local variations and flavors at roadside stands.
  9. Local Fruits: Sample a variety of tropical fruits like papaya, mango, guava, and breadfruit, which are commonly served fresh or in fruit salads.
  10. Local Beer: Palau produces its own beer, Red Rooster and Golden Bud, which are refreshing options to complement your meals.
  11. Local Snacks: Try traditional Palauan snacks like taro chips and coconut candies, which make for great souvenirs to take home.
  12. Eating with Locals: For an authentic experience, consider eating with locals, whether through homestays or at local family-run restaurants.

Palau’s cuisine is a unique fusion of flavors, combining local traditions with ingredients from the sea and land. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor these distinctive dishes during your visit to this tropical paradise.

What to See? 🔍

Palau is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, both above and below the water. Here are some must-see places and attractions for tourists in Palau:

  1. Rock Islands (Chelbacheb): This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Palau’s most iconic attractions. The maze of lush, mushroom-shaped limestone islands is a paradise for kayakers and snorkelers.
  2. Blue Corner: A world-famous dive site, Blue Corner offers thrilling drift dives and the chance to see sharks, pelagics, and colorful reef fish.
  3. Jellyfish Lake: Located on Eil Malk Island, this marine lake is famous for its non-stinging jellyfish. Snorkelers can have a unique and mesmerizing experience swimming with these fascinating creatures.
  4. Ngardmau Waterfall: The largest waterfall in Palau, Ngardmau Waterfall is a beautiful natural wonder surrounded by lush jungle.
  5. Palau Aquarium: Located in Koror, this attraction offers a chance to observe marine life up close in a controlled environment. It’s perfect for those who want to see Palau’s underwater diversity without diving.
  6. Peleliu: Visit Peleliu Island to explore World War II historical sites, including the remains of battlefields, bunkers, and the poignant Peace Memorial Park.
  7. Ulong Island: Known for its breathtaking coral reefs and diverse marine life, Ulong Island is a must-visit for divers and snorkelers.
  8. Milky Way: A popular stop during island-hopping tours, Milky Way is a natural pool of white limestone mud. Visitors often apply the mud for its supposed skin benefits and take a dip in the crystal-clear waters.
  9. Bai (Traditional Meeting Houses): Explore these traditional meeting houses in various locations, where important ceremonies and meetings are held.
  10. Carp Island: A serene and picturesque island with beautiful beaches and coral reefs, ideal for relaxation and snorkeling.
  11. Malakal Island: This area has numerous dive shops, restaurants, and hotels, making it a central hub for tourists. You can book dive trips and water activities from here.
  12. Belau National Museum: Learn about Palau’s history, culture, and natural heritage through exhibits and artifacts at the National Museum in Koror.
  13. Caves: Palau features several fascinating caves, including the Chandelier Cave, which is known for its unique stalactites and air chambers.
  14. Dolphins Pacific: A marine mammal research and rehabilitation center, Dolphins Pacific offers the chance to swim with dolphins and learn about these incredible creatures.
  15. WWII Wrecks: Palau is known for its WWII shipwrecks. Divers can explore sites like the Iro Maru and Chuyo Maru for a unique historical underwater experience.

Palau’s natural beauty and rich history provide an array of attractions for visitors to explore. Whether you’re interested in diving, snorkeling, cultural experiences, or simply enjoying the serene island life, Palau has something to offer every type of traveler.

What to Do? 📸

Palau offers a wide range of exciting activities and experiences for tourists. Here are some must-do things during your visit to this stunning destination:

  1. Scuba Diving: Palau is renowned for its world-class scuba diving. Explore the underwater wonders, including vibrant coral reefs, unique marine life, and famous dive sites like Blue Corner and the German Channel.
  2. Snorkeling: Even if you’re not a diver, you can still enjoy Palau’s marine beauty. Snorkel in places like Jellyfish Lake, where you can swim among harmless jellyfish.
  3. Island Hopping: Take an island-hopping tour to explore the Rock Islands, visit pristine beaches, and snorkel in different locations. These tours offer a great way to see the diversity of Palau’s natural beauty.
  4. Kayaking: Paddle through the calm, turquoise waters of the Rock Islands and mangrove forests. Guided kayaking tours are available for all levels of experience.
  5. Bird Watching: Palau is home to a variety of bird species. Don’t forget your binoculars and visit designated birdwatching areas.
  6. Visit Jellyfish Lake: A unique experience, swim among non-stinging jellyfish in this marine lake on Eil Malk Island.
  7. Hike to Waterfalls: Explore the lush jungles of Palau on hiking trails that lead to picturesque waterfalls, such as the Ngardmau Waterfall.
  8. Learn About Palauan Culture: Visit local villages and experience traditional Palauan culture, including dances, crafts, and unique ceremonies.
  9. Rock Island Cafe: A local favorite, Rock Island Cafe on Malakal Island is known for its delicious Palauan food. Try local dishes like taro and coconut milk.
  10. Visit Historical Sites: Explore WWII historical sites, including battlefields and remnants of Japanese and American presence on Peleliu Island.
  11. Relax on Beautiful Beaches: Enjoy the pristine beaches of Palau, such as Long Beach on Koror Island, perfect for a day of relaxation.
  12. Manta Ray Snorkeling: Take a boat trip to see and snorkel with graceful manta rays at cleaning stations.
  13. Try Local Craft Beer: Taste local craft beer at Palau’s first microbrewery, the Palau Brewing Company.
  14. Cultural Tours: Join cultural tours that offer insights into the traditional way of life, history, and customs of Palauan people.
  15. Sunset Cruise: Enjoy a breathtaking sunset cruise in Palau’s clear waters, complete with scenic views and a chance to spot dolphins.
  16. Stargazing: The clear night skies in Palau provide an excellent opportunity for stargazing. Join a stargazing tour or simply find a quiet spot and admire the stars.

Palau is an adventurer’s paradise, offering a wide range of activities both on land and in the water. With its rich culture, history, and natural beauty, there’s something for every type of traveler to enjoy in this Micronesian gem.

Culture and Safety 🦺

Culture:

  1. Respect for Local Customs: Palauans are known for their warm and welcoming hospitality. Show respect for local customs and traditions, such as removing your shoes before entering someone’s home.
  2. Conservative Dress: While beachwear is acceptable at resorts and beaches, when visiting local villages or cultural sites, it’s important to dress modestly, covering shoulders and knees, out of respect for local norms.
  3. Greetings: Palauans place importance on polite greetings. Use “Alii” as a friendly greeting, and a simple “Kedmesiich” means “thank you.”
  4. Etiquette: Be polite and maintain a calm demeanor in all interactions. Shouting and aggressive behavior are generally frowned upon.
  5. Tipping: Tipping is not customary in Palau, as a service charge is often included in bills at hotels and restaurants. However, leaving a small tip for exceptional service is appreciated.

Safety:

  1. Water Safety: Palau is a haven for water activities, but be cautious when swimming or snorkeling, as strong currents and tides can be unpredictable. Always follow safety guidelines provided by tour operators.
  2. Marine Life: While snorkeling or diving, be aware of potential marine hazards such as sea urchins, fire coral, and lionfish. Avoid touching or disturbing marine life to protect both the ecosystem and your safety.
  3. Sun Protection: Protect yourself from the strong Pacific sun by using sunscreen, wearing hats, and staying hydrated.
  4. Insect Repellent: Palau has tropical conditions, so use insect repellent to guard against mosquitoes and other insects, especially in jungle areas.
  5. Health Precautions: Be sure to have any necessary vaccinations and medications, including those for mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever.
  6. Food and Water: While the water in Palau is generally safe to drink, you might prefer bottled water, especially in more remote areas. Ensure that seafood is cooked thoroughly to avoid foodborne illnesses.
  7. Transportation: If renting a car, be aware that the roads in Palau can be narrow and winding. Drive cautiously, follow speed limits, and use seat belts.
  8. Emergency Services: Familiarize yourself with the local emergency numbers for police (110) and medical assistance (911).
  9. Coral Reefs: Coral reefs are delicate ecosystems. Avoid touching or standing on them, and do not collect marine souvenirs, as this can harm the environment and is illegal in Palau.
  10. Environmental Protection: Palau places great emphasis on environmental conservation. Respect and follow the local regulations, such as not littering, to help preserve its natural beauty.
  11. Local Culture: Be respectful of Palauan culture and customs, and ask for permission before taking photos of individuals or in culturally sensitive areas.

Palau is generally a safe destination for tourists, and the local culture is welcoming and friendly. By following safety guidelines and showing respect for local customs, you can have a safe and culturally enriching experience in this beautiful island nation.

Conclusion

As you conclude your journey in Palau, you’ll leave with memories of a true tropical paradise. The vibrant coral reefs, crystal-clear waters, and friendly locals make this destination a haven for nature enthusiasts and water lovers. Palau is not just a place; it’s an experience that will leave you with a profound appreciation for the wonders of the natural world and a longing to return to its pristine shores.