Travel Guide

 

 

David Whitley reckons Palau is a brilliant spot to include on an RTW trip – and he’s generously sharing his tips on tours, dive and snorkel trips and accommodation

 

 

The Pacific island nation of Palau is the latest RTW hotspot – with great deals to Australia and New Zealand currently available via Thailand and Palau in the Wow Palau RTW ticket. But it’s one of those places that no-one knows anything about. So what can you expect if you go?

 

Main reasons to go to Palau: Primarily, Palau is a diving destination – some say it’s the best in the world.  A combo of a giant encircling lagoon, numerous shipwrecks and relative lack of pollution makes for extraordinarily high quality SCUBA action. Prescient environmental protection laws and diverse aquatic life help too. Many of the great dive sites are also top class for snorkelers, whilst the hundreds of limestone Rock Islands that the underwater honeypots are found between are a wonder in themselves. I could happily spend days mooching around them in a boat, stopping off at pristine beaches and eating the coconuts, to be honest. On one of said islands, you can try one of the world’s weirdest experiences – swimming through a marine lake filled with millions of stingless jellyfish. Kayaking, cultural tours and four-wheel drive experiences in the jungles of the largest island, Babeldaob, are excellent too.

 

Who will Palau suit: Palau is most definitely for active types. There are beaches, but the ones in the resorts around the hub island of Koror are artificial. Others you generally have to get to by boat. Because doing things generally means going out with a tour operator, it’s not an absolute budget destination. All the tours and activities are – generally – very reasonably priced and unquestionably worth doing. The problem is that you’ll want to do one of them just about every day you’re there, and that’ll make the cost rack up. It is somewhere that’s genuinely special though – and you’ll regret not doing things far more than lightening the wallet.

 

Who to explore with? There are a number of operators who do much the same thing – diving, snorkelling, kayaking and 4WD land tours. Some of these generally deal are aimed at large groups of Asian package holiday makers. Staff to guest ratios can be too high, equipment cheap and responsible travel ethics iffy (they’ll not tell customers off for kicking coral for example). Fish ‘n Fins (www.fishnfins.com) and Sam’s Tours (www.samstours.com) stand out for well-trained guides, not doing things on the cheap and good organisation.

 

Where to find further information: There isn’t too much about Palau online, although the tourist board website (www.visit-palau.com) covers a decent amount. The Other Places Micronesia and Palau guidebook (http://www.otherplacespublishing.com/micronesia.html) is worth getting too. It’s not brilliant, but it covers most of the things you’ll want to do and places to stay and eat. Importantly, it also gives an idea of where everything is in relation to each other.

 

Where to stay: You’ll struggle to find anywhere using the usual online booking sites – another reason why the Other Places guide and tourist board site are worth inspecting. You’ll also not find hostels. I found the DW Motel (US$50 for single, US$65 for double) perfectly adequate as somewhere close to the restaurants/ banks etc. But I was doing something every day. If you do plan on being out and about all the time, pick somewhere relatively central on Koror – everything you need will be in easy walking distance and the tour operators always do free pick-ups and drop-offs. The more resorty places – good for flopping by the pool for a couple of days - tend to be on islands attached to Koror by bridges. They aren’t so convenient for eating out/ bars.

 

Other things to be aware of: Your phone almost certainly won’t work – Palau’s too small for most international networks to bother signing roaming contracts with – and internet speeds are ridiculously slow. It’s far better to go and enjoy being cut off from the world rather than fret about it.

 

Solo travellers should also be aware that tours generally require minimum numbers. This makes pre-planning difficult – the operators generally don’t know until a day or two before whether a tour will be running. The best plan of action is to arrive, and do a ring-round from the hotel (the hotel will let you do this for free). See which trips are going when, then book yourself in accordingly.

 

You can often buddy up with people on the tours themselves – ask what others are doing and book in for the same dates, while the dive shops act as main social hubs. Hang out there for an hour or so after the tour, grab a beer and talk to people – you’ll soon know where’s good to eat, what things are worth doing and where all the Peace Corps volunteers are meeting for Friday night drinks.