If you like ‘Big Stuff’, Palau is the capital of big stuff. One of the best places in the world to dive with sharks, mantas and big schools of pelagic fish including Jacks, barracuda, snapper and bump head parrot fish. For many divers, Palau is the Holy Grail of scuba diving.
The fact that in 2015 the small nation declared 80% of their territorial waters off limits to commercial fishing is one of the reasons why. There are numerous currents from far and near making the waters nutrient-rich, supporting a food chain from plankton to mantas, and snapper to sharks and everything in between. Now that Palau has reopened international borders to fully-vaccinated visitors, we thought it was worth revisiting five BIG reasons to tick Palau off your Dive Bucket List.
5. Ulong Channel
“Since my first drift dive round Portland Bill off the south coast of England over 30 years ago, I’ve never lost that temptation to spread my arms wide, assume the posture of a Spitfire flying at high speed and low altitude over the terrain below. Start the dive reef-hooked on, watching Ulong’s Shark Show, the sharks almost parading past us, until our dive guide calls us over to start flying.
“The Channel has a coarse sandy base with coral of all types lining the shallow sides which are abundant with fish. We fly over lemon sharks, reef sharks, large potato cod, giant clam shells and the flight ends in what can only be described as an entire forest of lettuce coral.”
For author and underwater photographer Nigel Marsh, it’s Palau’s wrecks that are the main attraction.
“Most people think of Palau for sharks, mantas and beautiful corals – which is true, but the wreck diving in Palau is also amazing with many wrecks to dive and most in accessible depths.
“The Iro Maru stands out for me as memorable and fantastic wreck and well worth a few dives. After taking a direct hit to the engine room the Iro now sits in a perfectly upright position in 40 metres of water with the deck at around 25 metres. At 143 metres in length there is so much to explore with large guns on both the bow and stern. If you wish to go deeper into the wreck you can take a swim around the bathroom and cabins and then a slow swim back to the bridge area, which is covered in beautiful corals. The masts are the perfect way to finish your dive with large anemones and clownfish, lionfish and excellent corals in the shallows – perfect for the safety stop.”
3. German Channel
German Channel would have to be one of Palau’s most famous dive sites. Jayne Jenkins explains why.
“At German Channel there is excitement from the moment we drop in the water. Manta rays are the highlight at this dive site, so our dive plan was to swim to the two manta ray cleaning stations, but we get distracted by a leopard shark just below the boat and then massive schools of circling Jack fish delay our plan further.
“Arriving at the station we are not disappointed as two mantas cruise by to be cleaned and soon joined by three more. The way they can glide with the slightest of motion or just hover in the current is simply mesmerizing. Having one of these intelligent creatures look into your eyes is an experience never to be forgotten. A few reef sharks hovering nose down also being cleaned joined the mantas to make the perfect dive.”
2. Jelly Fish Lake
Palau was my first big dive adventure, and my favourite Palau adventure is Jellyfish Lake.
“Most people that have heard of Palau almost certainly heard of Jelly Fish Lake, a lake created when water levels surrounding this limestone island changed, trapping two species of jellyfish within. The two types of jellyfish here, the golden and the moon jelly fish, are harmless, having lost their sting in an evolutionary process.
“While these jellyfish are trapped inside the lake, their natural predators are trapped outside. The lake connects to the ocean by cracks in the limestone rocks and although it connects to the ocean, the environment is closed off to changing conditions.
“The golden jellyfish follow the sun and move around the lake so always look where the sun is shining. There are few to begin but the closer you get they start to increase into thousands, and it feels like you are snorkeling through a massive lava lamp with the blobs of jelly-like substance floating around. It is an experience not to miss.”
1. Bump Head Parrot Fish Spawning
For Jayne Jenkins, the new moon and full moon spawning experiences are the most exciting to experience in Palau.
“After 45 years of diving this was one of – if not THE – most exciting dive I have ever experienced.
“When I was told it was a 5am start I wondered if the effort was going to be worth it. Dropping into clear blue water we swim a few minutes before the Bump Heads slowly began to cruise by with numbers increasing by the minute. It was amazing, imagine 1000 bump head parrotfish swimming by, and then the excitement when they spawn.
“It is definitely one of the biggest adrenalin rushes being in middle of this circling mass orgy. Bump heads form groups of up to 10 individuals, charging to the surface to release their eggs. The speed they travel is incredible and when the eggs are released, they continue on their journey. The whole experience lasts about an hour.
“And was it worth the early start? A resounding YES.”