What if you could dance with giant manta rays? Pet friendly jellyfish? Wave hello (and goodbye!) to black tipped reef sharks? Fasten your seat belts for a long flight to Palau, Micronesia, the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Snorkeling in Palau
Why is Palau considered one of the world’s best dive and snorkel destinations? Most folks wonder where it is, and for good reason: from the U.S. east coast, it involves 20+ flying hours to Micronesia.
Palau is an archipelago of more than 586 islands, with a population around 20,000. In the westernmost corner of Micronesia, Palau is located four hundred miles north of the Equator, east of the Philippines, in the stunning turquoise Pacific Ocean. Plan on staying at least a week, two weeks even better.
Palau has many excellent dive operators, like Splash Dive Center, Palau Diving Center, Sam’s Tours Dive Shop, and Fish ‘N Fins. With their help, I plan to explore some of Palau’s 1,450 species of fish and 500 species of coral.
Donning my snorkel/mask/fins, I encounter a four-foot silvery black tipped reef shark, who gives me the eye, then flashes away into the depths. A limey/pink parrotfish arrives, inviting me for sea tea in his coral castle, then introduces me to his pals, a school of rainbowy butterflyfish.
Our boat cruises to several popular dive sites, but my favorite is aptly named “The Big Deep.” Hopping off the boat, we snorkelers stand on the sand in four feet of clear sea.
Face down, I stare at clams the size of my dining room table, and brain corals the size of my car. Corals, sea fans, and reef fish are rainbows of raspberry, gold, emerald, and lavender.
I swim into thick schools of fish, trying to wrap my arms around them- they’re just out of reach. A short swim floats me to the reef’s edge, which drops down hundreds of feet. I hang happily over the abyss, a happy underwater Space Girl.
Big fish cruise below, and I’m jealous of what my diver pals are seeing. Probably giant manta rays, which grow to fifteen feet and weigh 3000 pounds. Or graceful hawks-bill turtles, navigating thousands of miles. Is that a school of sharks I see, patrolling the depths?
Surrounded with such beauty, I’m euphoric. Why must I remain a landlocked human, when the sea is so alive and dramatic? Could I become my authentic Mermaid self, here in Palau? Opalescent bubbles from the diver’s air tanks float upward, popping all over my body. Palau Champagne. Underwater, I laugh out loud.
Kayaking the Rock Islands in Palau
The islands of Palau boast the most diverse species of flora and fauna found anywhere in Micronesia. The Rock Islands are limestone, ancient relics of coral reefs that surfaced to form Palau’s southern lagoon. Kayaking around these 250-300 lushly forested Islands is an up close way to see many plants, birds, and shallow marine creatures.
“We have 163 plant species, 23 endemic orchids, and 46 species of reptiles,” our guide Jayden Tuelbang explains, as we paddle along the limestone cliffs. “Not to mention 153 species of birds.”
Peering into the clear sea, huge bronze basket corals and mammoth clams impress us. Delicate pink sea fans look like Bolshoi Ballerina tutus. Paddling quietly, we embrace the silence. A soft bell chime pierces the air.
“That’s our Palau Bush Warbler,” smiles Jayden. “She’s calling for her mate.” I’m wishing my mate was here too, to share this magnificence.
A baby black tipped reef shark streaks past my kayak, darting for safety into the mangrove grasses. One foot long, he’s perfectly beautiful, waiting to join his pals in the Pacific Ocean.
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