Diving in Palau is a truly amazing experience...
On our last dive of the holiday, we dropped down into German Channel and waited around the Manta cleaning station to see if we would be lucky. We'd already had one complete dive here with a full 40 minutes of Mantas, and one without, so it was fifty/fifty whether we'd see them. Even so we did not expect what happened. The mantas came in and then after ten minutes of lazily getting cleaned they decided to check us out. For the next 30 minutes they swam around us and then started coming head first towards us (you suddenly learned exquisite bouyancy control and how to breath as slowly as possible!). Only lack of air made us head for the surface and as we stoped at 5 meters, they swam up to us one final time as if to say goodbye.
That is just one of many superlative dives we had during a week and a half and if you look at a dive site map of Palau we barely covered 10 percent of all that is on offer. Yet we saw so much. Dropping down through blue holes into top lit caverns, drifting along sheer walls with countless sharks in the blue and on the wall, wonderful coral gardens with turtle after turtle, hooking on at blue corner and riding the currents with the sharks and the huge Napoleon Wrasses, experiencing the most beautiful drift dive along Ulong Channel. It goes on and on.
Wreck divers also have a lot to choose from. There are a lot of wrecks from the Descerate One operation that the US Pacific fleet launched against the Japanese towards the end of the second world war. All the ships were hiding inside the Palau lagoons and so sank in relatively shallow water. Some highlights we dived are the Helmet Wreck, the Teshiu Maru, Chuyo Maru, Buoy 6 Wreck, and Jakes Sea Plane. Advanced divers can easily stay within recreational dive limits on the decks and superstructures, whilst more adventurous divers can get inside to look inside engine rooms etc. None of these wrecks should really be dived by open water divers. Also, because most of the wrecks are within the lagoons, visibility can be dreadful (5-10 meters in most cases).
Visibility on the reefs however is another matter entirely, good 20 meter (60 feet) visibility is standard. Water temperature is a steady 28 degrees centigrade, and as already aluded to, the marine life is nothing short of stunning. Sharks are present on every dive, turtles common (some big ones too), and the coral is pristine. The fish are not afraid of divers, hanging in the current (a reef hook is essential for some of Palau's better dive sites), I made friends with a 3 foot long Napoleon Wrass. First he swam next to me, 2 feet from me, then he decided to use me as a slip stream to hang in the current literally inches away from my fins, whilst I learnt new yoga positions trying to see him.
Diving of this caliber does not come cheap or easily, Palau is an archipelago of countless islands in a cluster on the edge of Micronesia. The closest jumping off point is Manilla in the Philipines and getting to Palau is therefore a long stretch (we took 37 hours and 3 flights from the UK). US divers will have it almost as bad. It's also not cheap to stay, eat or dive. Dollars do not go far on an island like this. If you want to live well then the best hotel on the island is the Palau Pacific Resort, however, more cost effective accomodation is available. There are also a few different dive operators around to choose from, but prices for diving will be uniformally high.
The largest island in Palau (Babeldaob) is actually the one you see the least of. You see it when you fly in and leave, as it is home to the airport, and if you hire a car you can drive round it on your last day for a few interesting sights. It also holds the capitol buildings for Palau, a weirdly austentatious statement in the middle of nowhere.
All the action is in Koror, a group of small islands joined together by bridges at the south of Babeldaob. Here most of the population live and all the dive centres and hotels operate. The dive sites start here and work down through hundreds of islands all the way to Peleliu and Angaur to the south. Typical journey time can be anything from 5 miinutes if diving a wreck to a good 40 minutes for the more remote stunning reefs. Fast boats take you to and fro across stunning blue waters and past islands that remind you of the set from James Bond movies. A typical days diving will be punctuated by lunch on a nearby island beach. Diving on air or Nitrox is standard in most dive centres. There are around 66 known dive sites available.
There are also a couple of special things you can get up to. Palau has a inland brackish lake that is filled to bursting with Jelly Fish. You snorkel, not dive it due to the water at depth being poisonous. The Jellyfish do sting, but the sting is so poor that you cannot feel it. They also exists by getting energy from symbiotic bacteria that feed off sunlight, so you find them congregating in sunny patches in the lake - if you go in, you cannot help but touch them. Also, they are pretty fragile creatures so fins are frowned upon. I absolutely hate Jelly fish but I had to check it out - it was a fascinating if slightly unnerving experience!
The second thing is to try and hook up with a dive guide who knows where to find Mandarin Fish. They are tiny, about an inch in length, and hard to find in the shallow corals, but they are extremely pretty with vibrant colours!
Nothing more to say really, except that I would go back in a heart beat, the cost and the time of getting there is paid off with style.