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Hundreds of small, mushroom-shaped islands in the Pacific, 1-A diving sites and even a bit of history: the former German colony of Palau is a true paradise – if not easy to reach. See the island paradise in our photo show.

The islands of Palau are among the most beautiful dive sites and underwater hotspots in the world. Snorkeling equipment is enough to experience predatory fish of all sizes in the former German colony. The only disadvantage of Palau is that life is expensive, as on most islands, and it is difficult to get there. There are no daily direct connections. From Europe one flies over Asia, for example with a stopover in Korea or Taiwan.

Palau was bitterly contested in the 2nd World War

The lonely situation did not prevent the Japanese and Americans from fighting bitter battles on the small islands 800 kilometres east of the Philippines during the Second World War. Aircraft wrecks in the water and old guns in caves still bear witness to this. What hardly anyone still knows is that Palau was German territory for 15 years. In 1899, the empire bought the colony from the war-torn Spaniards at a bargain price, and the islands became part of the imperial protectorate of German New Guinea. In 1914, however, Palau was left to the Japanese during the First World War.

Little German remained. An exhibition about the former colonial power recently ended in the Koror Museum. A poster showed “famous Germans”: Luther, Merkel and Mesut Özil. There are still the remains of a phosphate conveyor system on Angaur and the so-called “German Channel”: a fairway blown into the reef, which today divers use as a maritime motorway to reach the probably most beautiful diving area from the eleven inhabited islands, the Blue Corner on the southwestern outer reef.

Encounter with sharks not uncommon

The underwater world at this outer reef of the archipelago of Palau is incredibly beautiful. Everywhere colorful corals and fish – yellow, blue, white, big fish, small fish, very narrow fish. The traffic under water is as dense as if the rush hour had just begun, and parrotfish, flutefish and napoleonfish returned home from their day’s work outside in the sea. Suddenly even two grey reef sharks glide by.

That they are sharks, even laymen immediately recognize by torpedo shape and dorsal fin. The fact that these two belong to the species of the grey reef shark – typical for the area, but otherwise rather at night on the way – explains a dive guide. Sharks? The guide assures: “No need to worry. The predators are more interested in moray eels and doctor fish than in humans. The probability of being struck by lightning is higher than that of a shark accident. Sharks are more threatened by Homo sapiens than vice versa. In Palau, sharks have been strictly protected since 2009 as friends and helpers of nature. It was the first shark sanctuary in the world and is still the largest. If you go diving here, you have to live with sharks.

Paradise for divers and snorkelers

Around Palaus 356 islands – most of them are just palm covered coral limestone mushrooms, barely bigger than a village site – there are more than 60 designated dive sites. The water is clear and with 31 degrees almost bathtub warm. Encounters with predators and big fish are as common as the daily downpour. Test your knowledge with our darts game and maybe you’ll learn something new.

Half a dozen tour operators in Palau offer diving and snorkeling trips as a day trip. Most of them are so-called drift dives. They are very comfortable: You get into the water, drift, look fascinated into the blue depth and are picked up again by the boat a few hundred meters later.

Swimming in the jellyfish lake

You can also snorkel on Palau in a dark lake on the island of Eil Malk. To reach it you have to take off your socks and shoes at the jetty and after a disinfection you have to climb barefoot over a hilltop. Behind it, in a tropical forest, there is a brackish water pond, quiet and unspectacular like a garden pond.

But below the surface there are a million apple-sized Mastigias jellyfish. Pulsating, the amber-coloured cnidarians float through the dark water. The diver swims through as if through a bizarre lamp shop. At first this costs a lot of effort: Burning childhood memories of German North Sea coasts awaken. But the local jellyfish are completely harmless and themselves much more vulnerable than humans – hence the disinfection of the feet before entering the lake. Only snorkeling is allowed, no diving with breathing apparatus. Palau is a sensitive treasure, you have to take good care of it.

Further information

  • Travel time: Palau can be travelled all year round, the temperatures are between 23 and 32 degrees, almost daily rain falls. The driest months are February to April.
  • Arrival: From Germany one reaches Palau for example with Korean air over Seoul/Incheon or with China airlines over Taipei/Taiwan.
  • Entry and formalities: Tourists receive a visa with a validity of 30 days at the airport. A valid return or onward ticket must be presented. On departure, an airport tax of 50 US dollars must be paid in cash.