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No one should pretend that Palau's towns and culture are its finest attractions. They are not. Palau is a destination unashamedly promoted by its water-based activities, most notably diving. Momentous vertical walls are in ready supply: there's at least sixty, some of which are world-renowned, like the Ngemelis Wall and the Peleliu Wall. WWII wreckages are equally numerous, since Palau, a Japanese territory prior to the war, was a hotly contested set of islands.
But perhaps the most memorable thing about Palau are the Rock Islands. These somewhat strange sights are characterized by thick rock heads petering down into skinny bases, wrought so by the eroding powers of the tide. They are great to look at, but even greater to dive around, with a stunning variety of sea life also drawn to the magnificent rock pillars.
Palau's initial settlement over 4,000 years ago is thought to be by migrants from today's Indonesia. The British visited the islands regularly in the 18th century. Followed by increasing Spanish influence and rule in the 19th century. Following Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American War, Palau was sold along with most of the other Caroline Islands to Germany in 1899. In 1914, control passed to Japan.
During World War II, Palau was the scene of heavy fighting, culminating in the Battle of Peleliu between September 15 and November 25, 1944, when the US took the islands. Over 2,000 Americans and 10,000 Japanese were killed in this battle. In 1947, the islands were officially passed to the USA under United Nations Auspices as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
Four of the districts that formed the Trust Territory set up a unified federated Micronesian state in 1979, but the districts of Palau and Marshall Islands did not participate. Palau instead opted for independent status in 1978 and became the Republic of Palau in 1981. It took 8 referendums and an amendment to the constitution to eventually ratify the Compact of Free Association with the United Nations, marking Palau as independent de jure in October, 1994 (as opposed to independent de facto)
In 1998, legislation was passed making Palau an "offshore" financial centre and in 2001, Palau passed its first anti-money laundering laws and bank regulation.
Palau consists of a group of islands in the North Pacific Ocean, southeast of the Philippines, located at 7°30′N 134°30′E. Palau's most populous islands are Angaur, Babeldaob, Koror, and Peleliu. The latter three lie together within the same barrier reef, while Angaur is an oceanic island several miles to the south. About two-thirds of the population live on Koror. The coral atoll of Kayangel is situated north of these islands, while the uninhabited Rock Islands (about 200) are situated to the west of the main island group. A remote group of six islands, known as the Southwest Islands, some 600 kilometres from the main islands, are also part of the country and make up the states of Hatohobei and Sonsorol. There is a total coastline of over 1,500 kilometres and the highest point is called Mount Ngerchelchauus at 242 metres above sea level (on Babeldaob).
Palau consists of 16 states, the majority of which can be found on the largest island Babeldaob. The most populated island is Koror, where roughly two-thirds of Palauans live. Peleliu and Anguar are the two other major islands. The coral atoll of Kayangel is situated to the north of all these islands and the roughly 200 Rock Islands lie to the west of the main islands. Another group of 6 remote islands, the Southwest Islands, lie about 600 kilometres from the main island chain.
Palau is famous for its amazing scuba diving opportunities. The Blue Corner is one of the world's most famous dive sites, owing to its spectacular concentration of marine life. Other great dive sites include Ngemelis Wall, Peleliu Wall, German Channel, Ulong Channel and the Blue Holes.
The best way to explore all the beautiful reefs is staying on a liveaboard. You get the chance to make 4 to 5 dives a day and see all the dive-spots during your stay. There are several companies offering this option to go diving (or snorkelling).
A group of around 250 small, foliage covered islands in the country's south that appear to float above the sea's surface. Relax on secluded white-sand beaches, or explore some of the numerous World War II wrecks that can be found scattered around the islands.
Jellyfish Lake, or Ongeim’l Tketau as it is known in Palauan, is home to millions of jellyfish, which have lost most of their stinging ability. Visitors to the lake can snorkel among the jellyfish and touch them without fear of being stung. It is one of about 70 marine lakes scattered around the limestone rock islands that Palau is famous for.
As Palau is located near the equator, the climate on the island is tropical. Generally, the weather is hot and humid, with temperatures around 30 °C during most of the year, rarely dropping below 20 °C at night. The island receives a lot of rain throughout the year with the heaviest rainfall from May/June until November, when cyclones are a real possibility as well. Obviously, this is not the best time to visit, but can still be pleasant. Most of the rain comes in late afternoon (heavy) downpours.
Palau International Airport (international code: ROR), also known as Roman Tmetuchl International Airport or Babelthuab Koror Airport, has direct connections to Guam, Taipei, Seoul, Manila, and several other places.
Pacific Flier is a new airline serving Palau from early 2010. Destinations include Brisbane, Tokyo, Guam and Clark airport near Manila. Continental Micronesia Airlines (subsidiary of Continental Airlines) flies daily from Guam and Manila to Koror. There are also flights to and from Yap in Micronesia.
Getting to Palau by boat is mainly limited to those travellers who have access to their own yacht. Cruise ships occasionally dock at Malakal Harbour.
There are occasional domestic flights aboard small Cessnas between Koror, Peleliu and Angaur.
Taxis are a convenient form of transport and charge fixed fares. If you have access to your own car, be aware that driving is on the right and the speed limit is 40 km/h. There are 61 km of highways, of which 36 km are paved. A 4-wheel drive car is recommended if you wish to see Babeldaob. Cars can be hired from the airport and some roads are bumpy. You need a national driver's licence as well, valid for 30 days.
Koror maintains a bus service, but usually taxis are much faster and more comfortable, albeit pricier.
Most transportation between islands is by private boat, but you might ask nicely to hitch a ride. Otherwise, weekly government run boats travel between Koror, Peleliu and Angaur.
US citizens do not require a visa, and nearly all other visitors can receive a free 30-day tourism visa on arrival. Most travelers arrive by airplane from Guam, Japan, Taiwan (Taipei) or the Philippines (Manila). Visitors must have a current passport, and a return airline ticket to travel to Palau. Palau has several overseas embassies for more information.
See also Money Matters
The US Dollar, or "greenback", is the national currency of Palau. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10 and $20 notes. $2, $50 and $100 notes can also be found, but are rarely used.
Palauan and English are both official languages in Palau.
Some useful Palauan phrases.
Palau has large communities from Taiwan, the Philippines, Korea, Japan and the USA and the local stores have evolved to supply their needs. So Koror offers an amazing range of foodstuffs in its stores, at a price of course. Japanese-inspired Bento lunch boxes are very popular.
Palau offers a number of guest house style boutique accommodations. Some are close to or within Koror, some are not. Prices range from US$50 a night upward. There are also a number of nice basic hotels available in Palau. There are lots of reasonably high end resorts on Palau, most catering for scuba divers.
Despite its size Palau has a small brewery, Red Rooster Beer. It offers Amber and Stout and three other beers.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Palau. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Palau) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Palau. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B and tuberculosis are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccinations, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Palau is quite a safe country to visit. Walking in downtown Koror at night, even past midnight is quite safe. But as with any place in the world today, common sense prevails. Pedestrians should be careful, as sidewalks are limited even in downtown Koror.
Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) still exist in Palau's mangroves and in the beautiful Rock Islands and can potentially be found anywhere on the island. Despite their fearsome and, in some areas, very justified reputation, here they rarely grow to the immense size that they do in Australia and New Guinea. There was only one fatal attack by a crocodile in Palau within recorded history and that occurred in 1965.
Bull Sharks are common in the coastal waters and estuaries, so caution must always be taken while scuba diving or snorkeling
See also International Telephone Calls
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