Snorkeling the Underwater Wilderness of Palau, Micronesia
The Republic of Palau is a cluster of volcanic and limestone islands that define the western perimeter of the Caroline Islands in Micronesia. Though volcanic in origin—as a result of the subduction of the Pacific Plate under the Philippine Plate, thus forming the Marianas Trench—most of the more than 300 islands and islets are limestone.
Palau is a classic example of an island archipelago born of fire. As the Pacific Plate submerged into the Lithosphere, magma was released and rose to the surface where it cooled to form an island. Ancient limestone reefs grew in the shallow water around the volcanic island, but during a series of uplifts—again as a result of the interaction between the plates— that occurred millions of years ago, became exposed to the air. Once exposed, rain, wind, and to a lesser degree, vegetation eroded away at the relatively soft limestone ‘slab’ to create valleys, gulleys, pinnacles, and sinkholes.
During the glacier periods of the Pleistocene, sea water levels around the western Pacific were over one hundred meters lower than present day levels. As a result, more of the limestone was exposed to the erosive power of freshwater and wind, creating deeper valleys, pinnacles, and sinkholes. When the glaciers melted and sea levels rose, the deeper parts of the limestone slab were submerged, creating hundreds of islands, passes, bays, and marine lakes.
Located 7º north of the equator and bathed in warm, tropical seas, Palau is a snorkeler’s dream. Within the barrier reef that surrounds the southern lagoon are hundreds of square kilometers of reef habitat that includes shallow patch reefs, reef flats, Acropora thickets, coral gardens, sheltered reefs, exposed reefs, and steep walls. Recent surveys found that the reefs of Palau support over 1500 species of marine fishes and with 486 species of reef building corals they earned honorable mention for inclusion into the Coral Triangle, A geographic term that describes the region that possess the world’s highest levels of marine biodiversity. In the future, surveys around the outer islands like Kayangel or the Southwest Islands may report new records and species of reef building corals, giving Palau the distinction of being included into the Coral Triangle.
The hundreds of jungle-draped, mushroom-shaped, limestone islands create a magnificent backdrop to the private bays, quiet lagoons, wonderful marine lakes, and intimate passages that exist within the network of rock islands. It is not hard to imagine why the Rock Islands are considered to be one of the most stunning marine seascapes, and one of the best snorkeling destinations on the planet.
Our snorkeling tour revolves around many of these amazing marine habitats. From the steep outer reefs around the southern end of the Rock Islands where thousands of reef fish dance in the currents to the private marine lakes of Nikko Bay where shallow coral gardens host a variety of juvenile reef fish. We usually schedule our Palau snorkeling tour to coincide with the coral spawning event that happens in April. This gives us the chance to witness the magic of coral reproduction. For the avid marine naturalist this is a unique opportunity to observe this wonderful event.
Click on any of the images to learn more about Palau, Micronesia
Click on a tour date below to read about trip details including accommodations, pricing, and how you can join us!
Day 1: Koror, Palau
Meals provided: D
Meet in Koror, Palau at our group resort, the Palau Pacific Resort (PPR) for the expedition orientation and welcome dinner. Overnight Palau Pacific Resort.
Days 2: Nikko Bay / Rock Island Aggressor
Meals provided: B,L,D
Nikko Bay is a collection of stunning rock islands that harbor a variety of amazing fringing reefs, shallow coral gardens, and marine lakes. As such, we have a full day planned that includes visits to many of these habitats along with stops to see historical WWII wrecks left behind by the Japanese during their occupation of Palau. In the late afternoon, we will board our boat, the Rock Island Aggressor.
Day 3 – 8: Rock Islands / Ngemelis Island / Ngedebus Is.
Meals provided: B,L,D
In the morning, the Rock Island Aggressor sets off and we begin to explore some of Palau’s best reefs. We begin in the lagoon with a visit to Jellyfish Lake, where millions of golden and moon jellies can be found. This is an out-of-this-world experience as we become almost encapsulated by these beautiful jellies. Millions of years of isolation and a food supply provided largely by their symbiotic zooxanthellae has rendered their stinging nematocysts impotent. We will also visit Giant Clam City and a unique reef where the community is made up of colorful massive corals.
The next few days consist of snorkeling Palau’s barrier reef! Palau is famous for the variety and abundance of marine life that dwells along the vertical, seaward reefs. Schools of anthias, damselfishes, barracudas, jacks, snappers, and unicornfishes contribute to the thousands of reef fishes that can be found along the reef margins. Expect to see sharks and rays as Palau is one of the few countries in the world that affords them complete protection. Grey reef, blacktip, and whitetip reef sharks are common and with a bit of luck, we may encounter manta rays and spotted eagle rays. Some of our snorkel sites along the barrier reef include Big Drop-off, German Channel, Turtle Cove, Blue Holes, and Ngedebus Coral Gardens.
In the late afternoons, we will venture back inside the lagoon and prepare for our night snorkels. Our goal is to see many of the interested reef creatures that are active during the night such as octopuses, squid, and other types of invertebrates. Along with our exposure to these nocturnal critters, we hope to see the magic of coral spawning!
Day 9 – 10: Palau Pacific Resort / Risong Bay
Meals provided: B,L,D
Disembark the boat in the morning and transfer to our land-based resort, Palau Pacific Resort. Our snorkeling activities over the next two days will base from this world class, tropical resort. Along with easy access to the house reef, we will use our chartered day-boat to visit reefs and marine lakes around nearby Risong Bay. Risong Bay possesses eight marine lakes and we will have the chance to snorkel in several of them, including Mandarinfish Lake where we have may see the world’s most beautiful fish, the Mandarinffish. We will also visit the Palau International Coral Reef Center where we will learn about on-going research and conservation projects. Overnight Palau Pacific Resort*.
*We have the hotel reserved for the entire night, though most international flights routing through Guam (and onwards to the United States) depart Palau around 2:00am. Thus, we will be departing the resort on Day 10 (midnight) to make our international connections on Day 11 (around 2:00am). Please see the departure page for specific dates
Day 11: International flights or extensions
Please make flight reservations to depart Palau on Day 11 (unless you are extending your stay). Most international flights routing through Guam (and onwards to the United States) depart Palau around 2:00am
What to Expect
Palau is located 7º above the equator and experiences the classical Micronesian weather pattern: Sunny with a chance of rain (early morning or late afternoon showers are not uncommon throughout the year). Daily temperatures average around 30º C (86º F) and water temperatures around 29º C (84º F). Cooler surface waters may be experienced within the lagoon if persistent rains result in a layer of freshwater as it trickles out from caches in the porous rock islands. Our recommendation is to have at least a full lycra skin to aid in protection from both the sun and no-see-um stingies that may be present in the water. It is advisable to bring a wetsuit (full or shorty) in case cooler waters are experienced.Strong currents are a possibility on some of our snorkel sites. While we usually plan our snorkels around the periods of slow water movement, we may, either purposely or unpredictably, find ourselves in currents that require energy to navigate. Our snorkels session are 100% boat supported and any situation can be mitigated by the use of the boat.
We will have the chance to visit beaches and hike on established trails on the limestone islands. The most notable of these land excursions is our visit to Jellyfish Lake. The hike is on a well worn, well established path but it does involve a twenty minute hike on uneven, up and down trail. There are handrails for support, but please note that good foot protection is required. If time and desire permits, we may arrange a land tour of Babeldaob to visit cultural and natural sites such as a men’s Bai (meeting house) and Ngardmau waterfalls.
If the tour program incorporates coral spawning activities, our daily schedule will change. On our ‘coral spawning’ days, our daily schedule will include a morning snorkel and a short afternoon snorkel at our spawning sites to identify coral colonies that will be releasing their gametes in the evening. We will incorporate plenty of late afternoon time for relaxing and there will be no evening presentations other than briefings about our night activities.
Please click on our page About our Tours to read about what a typical day of snorkeling looks like on most of our tour programs.
Click on the tour date to read about trip details including accommodations, pricing, and how you can join us!
April 8 – 18, 2019
From $7000 USD per person, double occupancy
Accommodations: Palau Pacific Resort and the Rock Island Aggressor
Please email us with any questions you may have about this trip.