14 terrific reasons to visit Palau

Ridiculously scenic and impossibly lush, the Micronesian nation of Palau is a must-visit island destination.

To describe Palau as beautiful would be to sell the Pacific archipelago short. Among the constellation of domed emerald islands, you’ll find glassy waters and prismatic reefs dotted with pastel parrotfish. White tropicbirds with trailing tail feathers dance around verdant mangroves that spill over the islands’ perimeters at gravity-defying angles.

Located in the West Pacific, The Republic of Palau is an archipelago state with a population of just 20,000 people. Harbouring some of the most biodiverse reefs in the world, it has garnered international acclaim from the diving community. However, there are myriad things to do in Palau beyond exploring its underwater worlds. From its rare matriarchal customs to tasty tropical treats, we’ve identified 14 of the best reasons why you need to visit Palau now.

Sea anemone fish and coral while snorkelling in Palau
Palauan waters are incredibly biodiverse © Adobe stock

Reasons to visit Palau, Micronesia

1. The UNESCO-protected Rock Islands

It’s physically impossible to take a bad photo in the Rock Islands of Palau. The UNESCO area comprises more than 440 uninhabited limestone islands encircled by cerulean lagoons of exceptional visibility. It’s one of the main reasons why tourists visit Palau.

On an island snorkel tour with Neco Marine, explore the crystalline shores of Ngermeaus Island, swim with harmless golden blubbers at Jellyfish Lake and visit the Natural Arch, an incredible limestone formation resulting from thousands of years of erosion. While the islands are spectacular by boat, the ideal vantage point is from above. You’ll have the best views of the Rock Islands if you join an aerial tour with Smile Air.

Aerial view of Palau Rock Islands 70 Islands
The Rock Islands are a UNESCO site © Adobe Stock

2. World-class diving

There’s no need to endure a lengthy, seasick-inducing boat ride to access Palau’s wondrous marine environments; the world-class Rock Islands are just 10 minutes from Palau’s main land mass. Palauan reefs have been named one of the seven underwater wonders of the world, boasting tiered plating corals that drop off into sapphire abysses, giant clams and black tip reef sharks patrolling schools of neon angelfish. While you can see it all through a snorkel mask, plunging to greater depths will see you swimming alongside elegant manta rays and leopard sharks. Palau’s most famous dive sites are the Ulong Channel, Blue Corner and German Channel. Of all the reasons to visit Palau, its aquatic wonders are high on the list.

Reef shark and schooling fish bait ball in Palau
Snorkel or dive alongside Palau’s amazing marine life © Ron Leidich

3. Excellent island eats

From sticky coconut sweets to pandanus-wrapped crab and soursop fruit, Palau is overflowing with local delicacies. The infamous fruit bat soup, while not for the faint of heart (it’s exactly what it sounds like), is a unique Palauan specialty you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.

Palau’s contemporary culinary scene still bears the influence of eight decades of foreign occupation. While traditional Palauan food can be found at local markets, it’s more common to see bento boxes and teriyaki grills on restaurant menus. Indulge in an assortment of fresh-caught fish and giant clam sashimi at the Japanese-Palauan fusion restaurant Tori Tori, or get stuck into a plate of buffalo wings at the US-style Canoe House diner. For international dining with a view, head to the waterfront restaurant Elilai at sunset.

4. Long live the matriarchy!

Fed up with the patriarchy? You might be on the wrong part of the planet. Palau is one of the world’s last remaining matriarchal and matrilineal societies. Celebrated for their wisdom, women traditionally have authority over the land and clan finances, and inheritance is passed down through the mother’s bloodline. Rather than weddings, Palauans hold first-birth ceremonies. This ritual involves repeated herbal steaming baths that help the woman’s body recover from childbirth.

You can meet Palau’s female powerhouses during an Airai Cultural Heritage Tour led by the communal aunties of the Airai state. The experience includes a visit to a centuries-old bai meeting house, traditional hibiscus bark skirt weaving, a hands-on taro cooking class and a delicious traditional-style lunch.

Traditional Bai meeting house in Palau
The village chiefs who meet in traditional Bai houses are elected from a council of women © Adobe Stock

5. Fascinating WWII relics

History buffs rejoice; Palau is home to a plethora of WWII artifacts you can explore on land or sea. From sunken Japanese gas ships and aircraft (there are more than 50 scattered throughout Palauan waters) to hidden hillside bunkers, these relics reflect Palau’s knotty history of military occupation. After being sold to Japan by Germany in WWI, Palau witnessed a bloody battle between Japan and the United States in 1944. Palau was then under US power until 1994 when it gained independence. The Etpison Museum is a fantastic place to learn more about Palauan history.

seaplane wreck from WWII in Palu
Discover seaplane wrecks from WWII in Palau © Adobe Stock

6. Palau is a safe country with welcoming locals

With smiling locals, reliable infrastructure and low crime rates, you have every reason to feel right at home when you visit Palau. One of the best places to experience the community spirit in action is at the 680 Night Market, held twice a month on Saturdays by the Japan-Palau Friendship Bridge. Expect a lively atmosphere packed with local crafts, live entertainment and fragrant food and drinks such as hibiscus iced tea. Don’t be surprised if you see a few familiar faces around; the event is enjoyed by both tourists and Palauan residents. You might even spot your local tour guide watching the Palauan dance performances or manning one of the stalls. There’s a hotel bus shuttle service for USD$2 per person.

Palauan community together at sunset on Independence Day
Palau offers a friendly community atmosphere © Palau Visitors Authority

7. You’ll leave looking 10 years younger

While the crystal-clear waters of Palau are the main drawcard, don’t discount the cloudy pools. Nestled in the Rock Islands is a natural mud spa boasting opaque turquoise water and (local legend has it) time-reversing properties. It goes by the name of the Milky Way. It’s customary to lather palmfuls of silky white limestone mud from the bottom of the lagoon all over your face and body, which leaves your skin fresh and glowing.

8. Palau is paving the way for sustainable tourism

Despite its humble size, Palau is an international role model for its outstanding marine conservation. Traditional Palauan communities have lived in harmony with the land and sea for thousands of years as the local culture prioritises a deep respect for nature. More recently, the nation established the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, signed its Dugong Protection Act into law in 2015, and was the first country to ban non-reef-safe sunscreen in 2020. Several countries have since followed suit. Palau has also banned extractive activities such as fishing and mining in 80 per cent of its marine territory (around 500,000 square kilometres), forming one of the largest fully protected marine reserves in the world. Palau’s most unique sustainability policy, however, is the Palau Pledge. All visitors must sign the pledge on their passports when they enter the country, vowing to respect Palau’s environment and local culture during their stay.

Jellyfish Lake Palau
Palau’s famous Jellyfish Lake © Adobe Stock

9. Authentic art forms

One of the best reasons to visit Palau is its range of exciting craftsmanship experiences. At Tebang Woodcarving Shop, test out your skills in ornamental wood carving, a modern adaption of the pictographic symbols found in traditional Palauan bai houses. At Belau Eco Glass Center, blow your very own glass souvenir from recycled bottles while learning about Palau’s circular economy initiatives. You can even discover the ancient art of celestial navigation when you sail on Moana’s real-life boat, a traditionally carved Micronesian canoe, with Paddling Palau.

Traditional woodcarving Palau
Take a Palauan woodcarving workshop © Palau Visitors Authority

10. There are few tourists

There’s nothing worse than arriving at a dreamed-of destination only to have the moment squandered by crowds of selfie sticks. But Palau is no Ha Long Bay. You won’t have to elbow your way through to get a glimpse of the archipelago’s magnificent attractions. In fact, you’re unlikely to pass more than a handful of other boats even when exploring Palau’s most popular sites, making it an excellent reason to visit. Perhaps this is due to Palau’s small size, or that the country remains relatively unknown beyond keen scuba divers, but the Palauan government is wary of overtourism. Following an overwhelming wave of Asian visitors, the government halved the number of flights from China to Palau in 2015.

11. It’s the perfect place to play castaway

If there’s one place that feels appropriate to unleash your inner Tarzan, it’s Palau. Dance among hanging vines, climb ancient rock structures and crack open fallen coconuts. A Fish ‘n Fins land tour makes it easy to explore cascading waterfalls, while their Nikko Bay kayak tour will have you paddling over coral meadows dotted with indigo starfish towards bat-filled marine caves.

Waterfall in Palau
Explore myriad waterfalls and seaside caves © Maddison Toddman

12. Mysterious stone monoliths

The basalt monoliths that puncture the island of Babeldaob are an unmissable archeological attraction in Palau. Some local legends state the stones were commanded into position by seven demigods who were planning to build a bai meeting house. Others claim they arrived as a result of a Portuguese shipwreck. While the original purpose is somewhat of a mystery, these multi-tonne columns bear a striking resemblance to the monoliths found in Tonga and on Easter Island.

The mysterious rock faces of Palau's stone monoliths
The peculiar rock faces of Palau’s stone monoliths © Adobe Stock

13. Year-round tropical weather

One of the more practical reasons to visit Palau is its terrific climate. While the best time to visit Palau is generally considered to be during the dry period from December to April, the Pacific nation is a fantastic destination for all seasons. Palau offers year-round average temperatures of 28 degrees Celcius (that’s both air and water), meaning you can enjoy a breezy beachside lifestyle no matter when you visit.

Palau Rock Islands boat trip
Palau boasts warm weather year-round © Josh Burkinshaw

14. Palau offers a range of accommodation

Whether you’re travelling with family, friends, alone or for business, Palau’s varied accommodation options give you a great reason to visit. Cove Resort prioritises space and comfort, while Palau Royal Resort boasts a luxurious private beach and a generous buffet breakfast. Both resort hotels are conveniently located near Koror’s main dining strip and snorkel tour operators. On the higher end of the scale, Palau Pacific Resort‘s watertop bungalows are perfect for romantic getaways. Budget-conscious travellers can opt for Airbnb apartments.

The pool at Cove Resort Palau
The pool at Cove Resort © Maddison Toddman

Palau traveller Q+A

Where is Palau?

Palau is located in the western Pacific Ocean in the subregion of Micronesia. Its closest neighbours are Guam, Yap and the Philippines.

Is Palau a country?

While it is frequently confused with Palawan in the Philippines, The Republic of Palau is a sovereign nation. The United States and Japan maintain strong diplomatic relations.

What is the capital of Palau?

The capital of Palau is Ngerulmud, located on the largest island of Babeldaob. Ngerulmud replaced Koror as the capital in 2006. Most hotels in Palau are located in or close to Koror.

How to get to Palau from Australia?

Nauru Airlines offers a direct flight to Palau from Australia that takes just six hours. The inbound flights of this new ‘Palau Paradise Express’ servide depart once a week on a Tuesday evening from Brisbane and return from Koror on Wednesdays. You can also get to Palau with United Airlines, Korean Airlines, China Airlines and those that offer direct flights from Guam, Manila and Taipei.

What currency is used in Palau?

The currency of Palau is the US dollar because Palau was controlled by the US following the end of WWII until 1994 when it gained independence.

For more information, visit the official Visit Palau website.

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