Diving in Palau

Liveaboard Cruises in a Pacific Paradise

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...Good for: Large animals, advanced divers, underwater photography...
...Not so good for: Non-diving activities...

Palau is recognised by divers-in-the-know as being among the best in the world. Unusually, there is not one main attraction in Palau - it has everything: big schools of fish, lots of sharks, healthy reefs, World War II wrecks and history, and the world-famous Jellyfish Lake and Blue Corner. It all adds up to an outrageously good dive destination and one that rarely disappoints.

Palau is a chain of 200 islands in the western Pacific lying some 650 km (528 miles) to the southeast of the Philippines. You can expect excellent visibility and constant water temperatures throughout almost the entire year, meaning that it is always a 'good time' to hop on a liveaboard boat in Palau for an unforgettable scuba adventure.

An aerial view of the Micronesian islands of Palau
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The reefs of Palau are at a unique crossroads where 3 of the planet's major currents meet. It is home to over 1,500 fish species and 700 species of coral and sea anemone. With rushing currents and nutrient-dense water in the world's most bio-diverse region, it is little wonder that there is such an overwhelming concentration of marine life here.

Imagine diving on sheer walls dropping down into the abyss, yet festooned in soft corals and sea fans. Picture the marine life scuttling around in every crevice and hole while clouds of small vibrant reef fish cascade down the steep reef. See yourself there turning around from the wall to look out at the blue where sharks galore patrol back and forth, followed by rays and large pelagics. That's Palau.

There are also many opportunities for divers to drop into the water and latch on with a reef hook to then simply observe the big fish action in the channels at places like Blue Corner and Peleliu Wall. Vast schools of fish, feeding sharks, eagle rays, turtles and meaty predators all cruise past your field of vision, as you hang in mid-water, awestruck. That too is Palau.

Innumerable wrecks litter the sea floor around Palau which saw so much of the Pacific fighting during WWII. Ships and aircraft, lost in battle, are now part of the underwater world encrusted with sponges and bejewelled with corals, the horror of war has become a diver's delight.

And of course for many, the most memorable moment of a dream dive vacation in Palau is a snorkel like no other. You can swim in Jellyfish Lake where thousands of jellyfish pulsate around you and brush your skin without causing any pain; an extraordinary experience in one of the world's most complete and varied dive destinations. If you haven't been yet, it is time for you to go.

Dive Site Descriptions

Blue Corner (and Blue Holes) - The first site on everyone's lips in relation to Palau is usually Blue Corner. Here it's all about the schools of fish. Big schools and lots of them. Even the most experienced scuba diver can be left dumbstruck by the volume of fish and sharks; sharks galore ... Show more

You can expect to see snappers, jacks, chevron barracuda and red-toothed triggerfish in vast numbers. There are also plenty of sharks, tuna, wahoo, groupers and eagle rays as well as green and hawksbill turtles. If that's not enough for you then throw in some Napoleon wrasse, and some show stoppers like hammerhead sharks, manta rays, sailfish, whale sharks and even whales and you will begin to think that Blue Corner sounds like a site from a work of fiction. Of course you won't see all these things on a single dive, but you will see plenty of them and probably dive here on multiple occasions.

It is the current that makes Blue Corner special and so it is not one for beginners. Normally it is dived by cruising along a wall festooned with soft corals and gorgonian fans to a ridge where you use your reef hooks to settle in and enjoy the show. Before you know it, sharks, jacks and snappers will be all around you. When the time comes to leave this action behind, you will unhook and let the current take you up to a plateau where you will encounter many of the smaller reef fish species such as red-toothed triggerfish, Moorish idols and butterflyfish. The plateau averages around 10m in depth so it is a good place to spend time and not use up too much air.

There is so much to see in and around the hard corals and sandy channels here that this one spot would be a leading dive site in a lesser destination than the mighty Palau. When your air is running low you just let yourself rise into the water column and glide gently away into the open ocean where, possibly still surrounded by fish, you will find yourself reflecting on the unrivalled magnificence of Blue Corner.

Another nearby site is Blue Holes which is really just a continuation of Blue Corner. You will probably dive here too and spend your time exploring a variety of caverns and caves including some that are only meant for experienced cave divers. After swimming over the top of the reef you will drop down into one of the 4 holes in the reef. Below this makes for very interesting shafts of light illuminating the myriad fish and corals below. You can add a dash of 'Blue Corner' to this dive by hooking on in a current-washed spot and checking out the mesmerising shark and pelagic action.

German Channel - This famous Palau location gets its name from the channel that was cut through the shallow reef between the Ngemilis Islands and Ngercheu Island, connecting the lagoon to the open ocean, during occupation by German forces in World War 2. Nowadays it is better known as a hotspot for any creature that wants to enjoy the busy cleaning station. You can expect manta rays, eagle rays, lots of grey reef sharks, white tip sharks and impressive schools of fish. Show more

Tidal movements cause a large amount of water to be funnelled through this relatively tight and very shallow channel. This makes it impossible to scuba dive the channel itself, so you will drop in at the southwest mouth of the channel. Descending here you will see the reef slope from about 10m to around 40m before then dropping vertically into the abyss. The slope features a sandy area with rocky outcrops where cleaner wrasses and butterflyfish nibble parasites from the skin of graceful and grateful manta rays, sharks and large reef fish.

Manta numbers tend to be highest during the mating season, between December and March. It's best to hang back and stay still if you want nature to reveal itself in all its splendour. What a lovely show! While it can be very entertaining to stay and watch this amazing activity for a while, there will also be a lot of other action going on. Jacks in big numbers will be schooling around, as may snappers, barracuda and the occasional eagle ray.

For those seeking action on a smaller scale, German Channel also delivers with fields of garden eels craning their heads into the current to feed, mantis shrimp busily scuttling over the floor, jawfish gawping up from their sandy lairs, and shrimpgoby partnerships doing their Spring cleaning. Cuttlefish, nudibranchs and crocodilefish are also commonly seen here and indeed this site is often dived at night since the level of nocturnal activity is equally amazing (although on a smaller scale) as it is in the daytime.

Also worth noting is the vibrant impressive hard coral here. You will likely drift over large patches of pristine lettuce coral and the occasional giant clam before surfacing using your safety sausage to warn the frequent boat traffic of your presence. By the time your tank is getting low, you will likely be chalking German Channel up as one of the ultimate dives of Palau.

Peleliu Wall (& Cut) - As the dive boat slowly makes its way along towards the island of Peleliu, it is hard to believe that this was the scene of some of the most horrific fighting and suffering in World War II as featured on the TV Series, The Pacific. It is amazing to imagine that after the horror of war and immense loss of life on both sides, many scuba divers, including you, would come here simply for pleasure; and what a pleasure it is! Show more

This site (or combination of sites, depending on current strength) is one that showcases all that is magnificent about diving in Palau. You might emerge from the water having witnessed a larger number of fish and sharks than you have ever seen before on a single dive and be in a state of current-whipped delirium.

Normally you will begin this dive by entering along Peleliu Wall near a section of the reef called Peleliu Cut. You can hook on near the top of the reef, around 10 metres, and enjoy the grey reef sharks and whitetips that patrol the area, surrounded by schools of jacks and barracuda. You will then drop down to around 30m, keeping the reef on your left shoulder, and explore the caverns and indentations of what is a magnificent reef slope. Here there are numerous sea fans and black corals as well as some extraordinarily long sea whips stretching their thin fingers out into the blue.

With reef hook at the ready, you will be make your way to Peleliu Corner where you need to hook on. Here the action really begins, but be warned that current here and indeed throughout this dive can be strong, often the strongest you'll experience in Palau.

Virtually every big hitting pelagic has been known to put in an appearance here. You are unlikely to see them all but this spot has been known to feature bull sharks, tiger sharks, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, silky sharks, marlin, sperm whales and killer whales - and that's on top of the usual array of meaty Palau fish, more usually-sighted sharks and turtles! Some of the schools here are incomprehensibly enormous.

Unhooking when remaining air tells you it is time, you will be lifted up and over the top of the plateau to which you drift and into the open ocean for your safety stop. Before rising to run down your tank, you can enjoy swirling masses of pyramid butterflyfish, square and purple anthias, Moorish idols and the occasional sea snake, among many more creatures. What a pleasant end to one of the world's most exciting, adrenalin-filled underwater experiences!

The Big Drop Off - This drop-off is big. From near the surface to over 285 metres is big in any diver's logbook. To many this is considered one of the finest wall dives in the world, not only in Palau. Expect impressive life and thousands of little and large reef fish in the shallows, a wall bejewelled with spectacular sponges and corals and sharks out in the blue. The drop-off may be big but yet you will soon forget about the yawning chasm beneath you when spellbound by the kaleidoscope of colour on this sheer wall which runs the length of Ngemelis island. Show more

The site can be dived in either of 2 directions, depending on the current, and is equally impressive either way. As you drift along the wall past large gorgonian fans, purple soft corals and leather corals, anthias and butterflyfish flutter all around you. In the fissures and recesses of the walls look out for lionfish, stonefish, nudibranchs and leaffish. You might even cruise past a hawksbill turtle resting on a ledge. Occasional anemones are home to either Clark's or blue-striped anemonefish.

All manner of angelfish can be spotted here including dwarf, emperor, regal and keyhole, among others. Turning away from the fun of the wall and staring into the blue, you can spot passing white tip sharks and grey reef sharks. There may be an occasional leopard shark and nurse shark too, likely resting on the sandy floor.

The New Drop Off - As you drop down the vertical wall, enormous colourful gorgonian fans span their wide reach into the water column. Together with the numerous soft corals and sponges, they create a vertical carpet of pink and purple. As you make your way to the corner, look out for grey reef sharks if you can see them through the cascading masses of pyramid butterflyfish, red-toothed triggerfish, various species of angelfish and yellowtail fusiliers. Show more

The location can be identified at low tide by the top of the reef becoming exposed above the water line. It is a site located at the meeting point of 2 reef walls which form a corner that drops to around 150m in depth. Most of the shark action takes place as scuba divers hang in the blue at the corner amid swirling masses of reef fish, barracuda and passing eagle rays.

Moving on from there, the reef changes from a sheer abyss to more of a gentle slope. Here you can find Napoleon wrasse and snappers as you make your way towards another corner at about 15m. Ready your reef hook as you will feel the current start to build as may wish to hook on and enjoy the action.

Shallower sections of the reef are worth investigating in the low current conditions for moray eels, nudibranchs and leaffish. Only in little or no current is this a place for inexperienced divers. Safety sausages are a good idea at all times but particularly at sites like the New Drop off where there is quite a lot of boat traffic overhead.

Ulong Channel - This site is a shallow channel through the western barrier reef of Ulong Island. The sandy floor lies at a maximum depth of only 13m and there is life in patches all along the floor and continuously along the little slopes on either side. The site has so much variety there is really more than can be taken in on a single dive. Many frequent visitors consider it among their favourite spots in Palau. Show more

Normally you will begin by dropping down to about 20m in a spot north of the channel. During the first few minutes of the dive you will probably use your reef hook to secure a spot, near the channel entrance, to watch the passing grey reef sharks and white tip sharks.

When you unhook, the current will funnel you down through the channel. In the channel you can see schools of jacks, batfish and barracuda. At full moon from April to July you can see schooling, spawning groupers. There are also often stingrays and grey reef sharks, although danger is most likely to come in the shape of a titan triggerfish protecting its nest so be careful not to pass directly overhead.

Little bommies and coral patches appear across the channel floor and there is one huge, magnificent patch of lettuce corals which rises to above 7 metres in height; so mighty yet so fragile. It is also inhabited by countless small colourful reef fish and is sometimes referred to as one of the "fish condos of Palau". Ulong Channel is quite shallow so your air can go a long way. If you unhook from the entrance of the channel and the current is very strong, the dive can go by in a flash so follow the lead of your guides in sensing when it is best to unhook and go with the flow.

From the dive boat you may be able to see red painted rock engravings (petroglyphs) on the high cliffs of the islands painted by the ancestors of modern day Palauans.

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Diving Season

Palau is a year-round diving destination and liveaboard safaris operate here every month of the year. Water temperatures are very stable throughout the year with most months averaging between 29 and 30°C. Only in February and March is it likely to dip below that range and even then only to 26°C. So 3mm full-length wetsuits are the most common exposure suit and hoods are popular in cooler months. Air temperatures are usually in the 20s (70 to 85F).

Unusually for a destination with nutrient-rich water and current, the visibility is often magnificent. During July to September it can drop to 15-20m, but otherwise it is often in excess of 40m. The visibility drops a little at this time due to heavier rains and stronger winds. General wisdom is that although it is always a good time to dive Palau, the very best conditions exist between November and May.

Despite its relative proximity to the Philippines, typhoons do not commonly strike Palau as it lies just beyond the main typhoon path. However, June to December is typhoon season and there are occasional storms and high winds that reach the islands of Palau. Typhoons (and their fringe effects) are least likely from February to April.

Several sought-after creatures are present in Palau all year long including blacktip reef sharks, eagle rays, hammerhead sharks, dolphins, whitetips and oceanic whitetips. Other creatures are a little more seasonal, although they too can be spotted at any time. Sightings of whale sharks and manta rays are more likely from January to April. Green and hawksbill turtles can be seen year round but most frequently during the April to July period.

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How to Dive Palau

Most holiday makers who come to Palau want to dive as much as possible. If you are the same then we recommend a Palau liveaboard as your best option. There is no easier way to get to see the whole region than on a boat that moves from one glorious dive spot to the next. For more information on the cruises and all the travel information you might need to visit Palau, view:

The flexibility of movement also allows liveaboards to offer more dives per day (often 5) than a land-based operator can provide. Travel time to the sites from land on day trip boats can be an annoyance. The liveaboards all operate out of the town of Koror (where you fly into) and run trips of a minimum of a week long.

As for the diving, there is a great variety including easy, shallow sites, drift, reef-hook and wreck dives. While Palau tends to attract more experienced scuba divers, intermediates can also enjoy many of the sites. Currents however, are often present so as long as you are comfortable in some current, you will learn how best to dive these sites and work with the current to allow you to enjoy the amazing shark and big fish action.

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Where is Palau and How Do I Get There?

Review our map below of Palau and its location in the world. Here, you will find information on how to get to Palau.

Map of Palau (click to enlarge in a new window) Map of the world (click to enlarge in a new window)

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Reef Summary

Depth: 5m - >40m
Visibility: 15m - >35m
Currents: Moderate to very strong
Surface conditions: Often calm, can be choppy further from shore
Water temperature: 28°C - 30°C
Experience level: Intermediate - advanced
Number of dive sites: >30
Recommended length of stay: 8 - 11 days

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Useful References


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