Diving: Koror in Palau

Manta at the Cleaning Station at German Wall, Koror, Palau DPI 0634

Introduction

You’re reading this because you’re considering a diving holiday in Palau right?  You go to Palau to see what’s beneath the water, so this information is for you as a diver.  Sure, there are National Parks, and Palau saw action as a place of strategic importance during WW2 – but you can read that stuff – and you should read that stuff – on Wikipedia.  Here’s the divers’ version of Palau.

Manta rays heading straight through at German Channel Koror Palau

Palau was created as a raised limestone plateau, which the forces of nature have carved into hundreds of islands, each with a tropical green coat of foliage.  The terrain below the water line is similarly varied with shallow reefs, deep drop-offs, vertical holes, and horizontal caves and tunnels.  There are numerous currents from far and near making the waters highly nutritious and supporting a food chain from plankton to mantas, and snappers to sharks and everything in between.  So obviously, it’s a diving Mecca.  You might want to read about some of the dive sites before you come back to find out how to dive this fascinating place

Location

Palau is approximately 3000 km north of  Uluru! (ie about 800 km due east of the Philippines). It’s hence fairly remote but as such obeys Richie’s Inverse Law of Diving which states: ‘The harder it is to get to – the better the diving will be!’ It’s nearest neighbour is Yap, about 300 km to the north east, and in the same direction, Guam, which is another 600 km onwards. Interestingly, Guam has direct flights from Cairns. Check out the Getting There below.

Dive Centres

There are a number of Dive Operators on Palau catering for different types and nationalities.

We dived with Richard Barnden and Paul (Unique) Collins who run Unique Dive Expeditions which offers the chance to experience a different type of diving in Palau, one that is structured around the moon phases and the tides. The moon has one of the biggest influences on the oceans and can trigger some rare and unique biological events such as spawning aggregations.  You can read more about that experience below.  But first, I’d have a read of Sam’s Tours – possibly the most organised dive centre anywhere on the planit.

View Dive Centres

Dive Sites

Coming soon:

  • Mantas in German Channel
  • Blue Corner
  • Pelilui Coral Gardens

In addition to:

View Dive Sites

Where to Stay

Limestone stalactites in Chandelier Cave Koror Palau

There are a reasonable number of up-market hotels and resorts. My advice here is to book via your dive operator, as some are more convenient than others depending on who you’re diving with.  You’ll probably be able to negotiate a deal as part of a package too.  If this doesn’t work for you, and you prefer to work something out for yourself, you can peruse what’s on offer the Palau Visitors Centre.

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Where to Eat

Frenzy of feeding fish at German Channel Koror Palau

Let’s be honest, Palau’s terrain does not lend itself to acres of flat arable farmland, so most of what you’ll be eating and drinking there has been shipped in in a container.  However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not good, or that you won’t be able to find exactly what you fancy.  Here are some establishments I can personally recommend.

  • The Bottom Time Bar and Grill at Sam’s Tours.  Fully licensed bar, and exactly the kind of grub you need after a full days diving. Beautiful sunsets guaranteed.
  • The Drop Off Bar and Grill on the other side of Main St from Sam’s adjacent NECO’s, has an extensive selection of both food and drinks, and a relaxed ambiance about the place.  The previous president dropped in for quiet beer and a chat with friends whilst we were having a pleasant drink there.
  • Kramer’s Café at Pirate’s Cove – also nearby to the above – serves International and Pacific Island dishes in generous portions. Try the famous Hammerhead sauce!  This venue also has live music some evenings which certainly beats your typical hotel lobby light muzak!
  • Finally, the Indian Restaurant on Main St in Koror is a must.  The proprietor personally selects and imports his own ingredients, and the flavours and aromas in the dishes are testament to his culinary skills.  Perhaps save this one until last – before your non-diving day before you fly.

How to Get Around

Shark-at-Ulong-Channel-Koror-Palau-DPI-0594

There are three main islands – north to south and in rapidly decreasing size are Babeldaob, Koror and Malakai – all connected via a tar-sealed road: Main St.  The airport is on Babeldaob about 10 kms from Koror centre, where we stayed, and our dive operator was on Malakai.

However, getting around is no problem as the accommodation and dive operators have air-condition people movers and will typically ferry you to or from their establishment.  If you’re heading out to a restaurant – book a transport or a cab.  The ‘down-town’ area is about 1 km long and walkable.

Other Activities

Here are four activities for the non-divers or non-diving day.

  • Hire a Kayak for a day or half a day
  • Take a helicopter tour around the islands
  • Go snorkelling in Jellyfish Lake
  • Go on a walking tour of one of the islands.

Note that some marine park activities require permits, which will be available via the operator.  just check whether then are included in the price quoted.

Local Information

Snorkeler points Go Pro Camera at jellyfish and demands Take me to your leader at Jellyfish Lake Koror Palau

In most respects, Palau is western. The currency is the US dollar, power sockets are US.  No inoculations are required.  There are no dangerous snakes, spiders or box jellyfish.  Safety standards are at Western levels.  You’ll be granted a free 30 day Visa on arrival, and be charged $50 ‘Departure & Green tax’ (cash only!) on departure.  Still, ensure you have travel insurance, and you’re up to date with your DAN subscription.

Getting There

Manta ray soars passed at German Wall Koror Palau

China Airlines (Taiwan – not to be confused with some Chinese airlines with similar names) fly directly to Palau from Taipei – but not every day.  They have direct flights from Sydney and Brisbane (sorry Melbourne!) to Taipei, but again – not every day.  You’ll need to play with dates if you don’t want a layover in Taipei.  We had a very interesting 24 hours in Taiwan on our way there, and direct connection on our way back. China Airlines also fly directly from many other cities to Taipei, so well worth keeping them in mind if your trip to Palau is part of a bigger adventure.  (www.china-airlines.com)  Their whole timetable is available as a PDF which makes things easy.

Both Korean Air and Asiana fly directly to Palau from Seoul, and Japan Airlines fly directly to Palau from Tokyo; the 5 hour flights cost around US$500. At the time of searching, I couldn’t find any other serious airlines who fly directly to Palau; this might give you a hint as to where most of Palau’s visitors come from.

United Airlines fly from Manila to Guam (via Yap) and on to Palau for about US$550.  This would be useful if you’re considering diving in Guam as part of your trip, or if you’re en route from or to the US. There are direct flights from Cairns to Guam.

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