Guest post by Latvian traveler and blogger Alina Andrusaite (www.reveriechaser.com). All the photos used in this article are taken by her husband Jekabs Andrusaitis.
Palau? Where is that? Most people would ask when we told them about our upcoming trip. When you have been to more than just a few countries, suddenly you start to understand the appeal of the less visited places, off the beaten track destinations.
For us, the most recent travel adventure to a relatively undiscovered paradise was the trip to Palau. Usually, only people who are avid divers have heard about this country, and it’s no wonder, as it is one of the best places to dive. The diving spot Blue Corner has been named among top 3 diving places in the whole world! The abundance of marine life here is unbelievable, and it’s not by accident that Palau was the first country in 2009 to establish a shark refuge (and, a major one – the size of France!) to stop fishing for shark fins in its waters. This country wants to make sure they continue preserving their waters for future generations as well!
But even for those who do not dive, it is definitely interesting to visit a country that is so unknown to the rest of the world and which is so far away from everything.
Palau (historically also Belau and Pelew) is a country consisting of 250 islands in the western part of the Pacific Ocean, and only about 20 thousand people live there. Its capital is called Ngerulmud. Palau has a sea border with Indonesia, Philippines and Federated States of Micronesia. 90% of visitors coming to Palau are from Korea, China, Taiwan and Japan, so you won’t find a lot of information in the English language about these islands, despite English being one of the official languages. The currency is the US dollar and the United States of America still has very significant influence on this country.
See for yourself why Palau is a true gem for travelers and learn what are the 10 top experiences not to miss when visiting this paradise! Or in other words – what to do in Palau?
Things to Do in Palau: 11 Top Experiences Not to Miss in Palau, Micronesia
1. Enjoying the Scenic Flight Over Palau
Wait for the most clear day (as it does rain a lot in Palau!) and take the scenic flight with a Cessna plane over the 70 protected islands in the Rock Islands of Palau. These islands cannot be accessed by sea and the only way to see them is from the air. This is the exact Palau postcard view, the scene that represents what Palau is all about.
2. Diving with Manta Rays and Other Marine Animals
The magical flying carpets of the underwater world, the curious giants whose wings can spread as wide as 5 meters and who each have a unique “fingerprint” – the black spots on their bellies. German Channel dive site of Palau is famous for just that – diving with mantas!
And you will see so much more – schools of yellow and blue fish, turtles and sharks!
3. Observing the Wildlife on the Ground
Exotic birds and lizards, as well as toads – and those size of a kitten! And boy, what kind of noise they make – it’s a rock concert on the wild side!
4. Swimming in the Milky Way
The Milky Way in the sky is impressively clear and beautifully seen in Palau, yet the real gem is the special little bay where limestone colors the water unreal neon shade blue. The experience is absolutely surreal, be that in a quiet day with no other visitors or Korean music blasting through speakers and other tourists snorkeling around, wearing life vests!
5. Finding Stone Money
Money, made of stone? How does that work exactly? Well, turns out limestone was a very rare material for Yapese who arrived to Palau from their home island of Yap, and so they came and made large disks of a limestone. And it became sort of a real estate, it is never being moved, only the ownership changes.
You can still see quite a few of them in Palau!
6. Seeing the Capitol
You may have been to Washington, Havana, but turns out, there is one more version of the famous Capitol, a tropical one in Palau. More surprisingly, the building looks like it’s made of foam rubber, there were no people when we visited it. Construction of it was jointly sponsored by China and the EU.
7. Learning All About the History of Palau in Etpison Museum
If you are curious to learn about the history of Palau, a lot about which has been discovered by the family who owns the museum, look no further! They also have an especially good book about Palau which will tell you all about how life was in Palau shortly before it was discovered by Europeans.
8. Seeing the Traditional Bai House
The traditional Palauan houses, called bai, are a work of art – beautiful drawings, rich history, and entrance to those used to be allowed only to men.
9. Visiting the Stone Monoliths of Palau
While some compare them to the moai statues you can see on the Easter Islands, we will just say that they are a little bit creepy. Stone sculptures, some believed to be foundation of the bai house, others – just angry faces. It is a location not to miss!
10. Seeing the Largest Waterfall in Micronesia – Ngardmau
The hike to Ngardmau waterfall is not just about the waterfall, but also about the history of the place, as the hike takes you through Japanese bauxite mining site, where jungle is taking over rail tracks. You see red ground covered in lush green jungle, you can walk on the stony surface of the river and swim in one of the many natural pools. Beware, the surface is extremely slippery all across the area!
11. Driving on the Busy Street of Koror, While Sitting on the Wrong Side
There is just one main street in the city of Koror, the former capital, yet how busy it is at all times seems unreal!
Since there is no public transport, private cars is about the only way to move around. The roads of Palau have been built by Americans, yet most of the cars here are from Japan and those have steering wheel on the right side, so you will have to get used to seeing things from the wrong side of the car. Driving anywhere outside of Koror is very peaceful, but you will immediately see who is a local driver and who is not – tourists obey the traffic signs, while locals drive as fast as they want to.
Locals say Americans put up whichever signs they had, and since there is no one to check the speed of cars (local police does not own that kind of equipment), you can drive as fast as you want to! That doesn’t mean that you should, though, as there are packs of stray dogs running out in your paths unexpectedly.
Alina Andrusaite & Jekabs Andrusaitis are a couple from Latvia, who document their travel adventures of hiking, diving and even getting married abroad on www.reveriechaser.com. Alina is the one to write and Jekabs is behind the award winning photography. They started blogging after winning National Geographic Latvia travel story of the year, and travel in their free time.
When not travelling, Alina works in marketing and Jekabs is a software architect. Since establishing their blog three years ago, they have been published in many Latvian magazines as well as abroad, and recently were featured in the Lonely Planet Traveller Magazine UK with the scenic flight picture of Palau you can see above.
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and a travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they have been traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On We Are From Latvia they share their experience and things learned along the way.