Although Palau is known worldwide for its amazing diving spots and the jellyfish lake, there is way more marine life to see if you try activities like kayaking or snorkeling.
When we talk about Palau as an adventure and outdoor destination, most travelers think right away on diving at the Rock Islands or swimming at the Jellyfish Lake. These are Palau’s biggest attractions and with no doubt a full reason for visiting the country. At the same time, the amount of small and beautiful islands (more than 300) makes Palau a paradise for kayakers and not divers, who have the chance to do sea kayaking in some of the most pristine waters in the world as well, snorkel around 700 species of coral and more than 1500 species of fish.
During my trip to Palau I wanted to see as much of the archipelago as possible and although I based my itinerary around visiting the jellyfish lake, kayaking and snorkeling were my priority too.
Renting a kayak in Palau is not expensive at all. However, each visitor needs a permit for any activity at the Rock Islands – no matter if you are taking a tour, going for a dive or planning an individual trip.
Moreover, taking a kayak and finding the hidden spots of the Rock Islands is simply an epic quest and definitely not something amateur kayakers like me could do. The area where the Rock Islands are located is massive and although the ocean is not rough, distances are way too far, and it can very difficult to find the hotspots.
Luckily, several tour companies in Palau offered to me a good variety of day tours, where they did not only take me kayaking at the main spots, but also showed me some of the highlights of Palau.
Kayaking at the Rock Islands
Since I wanted to visit the Jellyfish Lake, I had to get a Rock Islands + Jellyfish Lake permit in advance. These permits are valid for 10 consecutive days and you can either purchase it without access to the lake for US$50 or including access for US$100. They are available in all diving shops or at the offices of the tourism bureau in Koror´s city centre.
Prices of the permit have been increasing in the past years, but Palau is taking lately environmental issues very seriously and the money collected from tourism is really doing a difference in protecting these natural environments.
Sam´s Tours, one of the best companies in the island, offered four different kayaking tours to try out: Nikko Bay, Risong Bay, Long Lake or the tarzan tour.
While the hidden marine caves, the magnificent limestone formations, and the forgotten WWII bunkers and artifacts at the Nikko Bay tour sounded like an adventure I couldn´t miss. Visiting the secret lagoon of the Long Lake and snorkeling at the Einstein’s Garden sounded for me the activity I wanted to try.
Our boat also stopped at the Milky Way, an isolated lake filled with white limestone mud, which transforms the dark blue color of the water into an intense and clear turquoise. This area is also surrounded by giant limestone rocks making it one of the most romantic and beautiful places in Palau. Many travelers use the white mud at the lagoon as a natural skin therapy – Something I was a little bit skeptical about but still found it fun to try.
Turquoise lakes and hidden lagoons are not everything travelers see in a kayaking tour, as my guide took us through a mangrove forest as well. Here I could simply transport myself into a whole new different environment, as it was difficult to picture, that we were still at the rock islands and not in the middle of a tropical jungle.
Snorkeling at the Rock Islands
It´s weird to imagine that I could see as much as some divers observe in Thailand and Indonesia while just snorkeling in Palau. However, Palau is one of the countries with some of the best snorkeling in the world and tour operators know some spots that can impress the most experienced travelers.
The most popular snorkeling spots in Palau are located in the Rock Islands and are only reachable by boat. And although snorkeling tours are way more expensive than in any other country in Asia, the rewards are simply priceless.
From swimming right next to a giant manta to passing next to more than a dozen sharks while being right next the shore of an island, the Rock Islands are one of the most biodiverse places on earth and the Mecca for marine life.
I had several options to choose from and I could have taken either a half day tour or a full day tour. All these tours included transportation, snorkeling gear and food. At the same time, I was able to visit some incredible places in Palau like “The Arch”, a natural coral formation in the middle of the Rock Islands, as well some sunken wrecks, natural coral and the marine barrier of Palau.
Nevertheless, the journey was not over, as my tour also included a visit to the most bizarre snorkeling spot in the world: The Jellyfish Lake. This is a must activity while visiting this country and although just the permit to the lake costs an additional US$50, there is not a complete stay in Palau without getting into the water and swim around millions of harmless jellyfish.
Don´t worry about getting hurt, as this unique kind of golden jellyfish is complete inoffensive and bumping into them simply feels like being touched by a soft balloon filled with water.
Palau is a paradise for nature and marine lovers. It’s a country that cares about the precious nature they have and where a short kayaking or snorkeling half day trip can turn into an experience of a lifetime.
This was the country topping my bucket list for many years and I have to confess, after visiting it, I was not disappointed at all.