Exploring Palau Part 2: Snorkeling in Jellyfish Lake and Kayaking Through the Palauan Archipelago

Palau was the last of the Micronesian islands left for me to discover, and I was excited about my days there. After all, I had 5 full days to adventure and was already scheduled to see some of the best things the country had to offer. If you read my previous article(link), then you know I had a full itinerary planned, so let’s get to it!

Enjoying amazing Palau right off the bat

Day 1: Boat tour of the Rock Islands

On my first day at the island, I went for a boat tour around the iconic Rock Islands of Palau, also called Chelbacheb. These are a small collection of limestone or coral uprises, ancient relics of coral reefs that surfaced to form Islands in Palau’s Southern Lagoon, between Koror and Peleliu. They are now an incorporated part of Koror State.

There are between 250 and 300 islands in the group (according to different sources), with an aggregate area of 47 square kilometers (18 sq mi) and a height up to 207 meters (679 ft). They were declared a World Heritage Site in 2012.

This is the pristine paradise of Palau

The islands are sparsely populated and are famous for their beaches, blue lagoons, and the peculiar umbrella-like shapes of many of the islands. Imagine a mushroom-cap shaped mangrove island that becomes smaller and thinner below water. The indentation comes from erosion and from the dense community of ecosystems that grace the area.

The biodiversity in the region truly leaves little room for other ocean paradises to compete. From its unusual geological/volcanic activity to having one of the most extensive sets of barrier reefs in the entire world – these limestone formations are incredible places for snorkeling, as you will see for yourself later on.

In short, the Rock Islands and the surrounding reefs make up Palau’s most popular tourist sites. These include the Blue Corner, Blue hole, German Channel, Hermaeus Island, and the famed Jellyfish Lake – one of the many marine lakes in the Rock Islands. This lake provides home and safety for several kinds of stingless jellyfish found only in Palau.

During this boat tour, we went to the three main highlights of the Rock Islands. In between, we got to drive around with the boat and see all the little islands from the water. They are all very green and surrounded by crystal clear, beautiful water.

The Milky Way

Our first stop on this tour was a peculiar lagoon called the Milky Way. This lagoon is enclosed by high limestone cliffs, and it can be accessed by boat. It is made up of very ‘milky’ waters, which are created by the limestone sediment that pools in the area.

The white mud that collects at the bottom of this lagoon is supposed to have healing powers. Our boat guides went for a dive and easily managed buckets of this mud and brought it up for us to slather all over our faces and bodies.

We ended up looking very white, completely covered in this mud, which was supposed to make us look ten years younger. Sadly, I don’t have any documentation of this, I guess I must have been really in the moment. 😉

To clean it off, we simply jumped into the water and rinsed off. With everyone in the water moving around, you could really see why the lagoon was called the “Milky Way”.

You can actually see the Milky way from this photo:

A little preview of the views I captured during my aerial tour of the archipelago

Jellyfish Lake

After the Milky Way, we continued to one of the main highlights of my whole trip: JellyFish Lake. As mentioned before, this is one of the most prominent tourist features of Palau and rightfully so.

It is a marine lake located on Eil Malk Island; to get to this lake, you have to arrive by jetty and land on the outside perimeter. Then, you hike around 100 meters up, and then 100 meters down to find the basin. I remember first thinking that the lake would be much smaller, but it was actually quite huge.

This is Jellyfish lake. It is separated from the sea by limestone hills; but has certain underwater connections with it. In good times over 30 million jellyfish populated the lake. After a severe drought in 2016, almost none were left, but right now populations recovered to several million.

Being a marine lake means that it’s connected to the sea, and as such, it is made up of saltwater, which reacts to the ebb and flow of the tides, just like the ocean. Most types of fish can’t access the inside, but other creatures such a jellyfish can.

Every day, millions of stingless golden and moon jellyfish used to migrate across the lake, and while this happened, you could swim with them.

Swimming with the jellyfish was actually forbidden in recent years, as the jellyfish population in this fragile micro-ecosystem was in decline thanks to pollution, drought, and storms.

Luckily, when I was there, and in the months prior, Jellyfish Lake was beginning to repopulate. Mind you, I didn’t get to see the numbers of ten years ago, but what I witnessed was still truly impressive.

On the boat, there were 20 Japanese, Taiwanese, and South Korean tourists, two Americans, and me. With only three people who spoke English, our group got instructions and moved quickly. We were the first to get our snorkel gear and jump in the water. We snorkeled to the other side of the lake for about 10 minutes in order to get to the most significant concentration of jellyfish.

These Jellyfish are a species exclusive to this lake, they are stingless and entirely non-poisonous

As we were getting closer to our destination, I saw one or two jellyfish go by, but I wasn’t impressed. I mean, yes, it was cool swimming so close to them and even touching them. They actually feel quite funny to the touch, but nothing exciting really happened.

All of a sudden, the concentration of jellyfish started to get bigger and bigger and bigger until I found myself in the middle of a cloud of jellyfish.

What a surreal experience…

I was finally in the vicinity of the highest population of jellyfish; they completely surrounded me. Everywhere I looked, there were jellyfish, swimming super close to me and bumping into me. It was a really cool experience to just being there floating among them, especially since they weren’t poisonous:D.

After a while, all the other tourists arrived, and that was my cue to go off and explore the coastal mangroves on my own. I got to see some of the fish that live there and different types of jellyfish. I snorkeled for about 45 minutes before having to rush back to the boat to go pee. All in all, this was one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip.

Here’s one more video:

Sandbanks and Snorkeling

After Jellyfish Lake, we made a quick stop at a sandbank in the middle of the water. It connects two islands, and at low tide – which is right when we were there – there is no water (or if there is it’s very little) or super shallow waters. It was a beautiful sight, and it made for some great photos. While there, we simply walked around the sandbank and got to see some crabs before continuing onwards by boat.

Those three destinations were the main attractions of our tour. We also got to snorkel in two other spots that were not as nice for Palau standards, but still beautiful. In the first spot, I saw some nice fish, but the second spot was even better.

I was really happy to have so much time to explore Palau – one beautiful beach after the other…

I don’t recall the name, but it was quite off-shore and it supposed to be a good location to spot some mantas, sadly we weren’t so lucky. It was still a very decent snorkeling spot, just off this big underwater cliff that goes down pretty deep. I snorkeled along the edge, following the reef and seeing lots of fish – oh, and a turtle!

Drop-off cliffs – great for snorkeling

After this spot, we just took the boat to the other side of the Rock Islands to enjoy a nice change of scenery. From there, the tour was over and we went back to the marina, and back to my hotel.

My bathtub for the entirety of my trip

After such an amazing and stunning first day, for dinner, I simply went to a local restaurant and sat down outside, eating good food with a few thousand people. A lot of the vibes in Palau are very American; the vibes at my dinner spot that night were no exception.

A little history…

Did you know that Palau was actually once a territory of the United States? It’s only been its own independent state since 1994. The history of Palau is quite rich, and I would like to touch upon some of the most noteworthy facts.

They have been a territory of Spain, Germany, Japan and the U.S. at one point or another.

The country was first settled approximately 3,000 years ago by migrants from Insular Southeast Asia. After that, Spain was the first European nation to explore the islands in the 16th century, and they were made part of the Spanish East Indies around then.

This is why most names in the islands are all in Spanish. Following Spain’s defeat in the Spanish–American War in 1898, the islands were sold to Imperial Germany. At this point, they were ruled as a part of German New Guinea until WWI.

When god created our planet, he started with Palau. And when he imagined what would become of Germany, he committed suicide (corresponding to my daoist panendeist belief).

After World War I, the islands were integrated into the Japanese-ruled “South Seas Mandate” by the League of Nations. It remained a Japanese colony until WWII.

During World War II, Palau was a major Japanese military base. US Navy bombers and fighter planes raided the Japanese fleet and sank more than 60 ships and seaplanes in the area. Palau is the resting place for the “Japanese Lost Fleet of the Rock Islands.” During the war, both Japan and the United States used the Palauan islands as battlegrounds, including the major Battle of Peleliu, which I’ll tell you more about later.

After the second world war, Palau became a US-governed territory and remained that way for 47 years until they gained full independence from the United States in 1994.

Today, the political constellation in Palau is a presidential republic in free association with the United States; which provide defense, funding, and access to social services. In Palau the primary currency is the U.S. dollar.

Palau’s economy is based mainly on tourism, subsistence agriculture, and fishing, with a significant portion of their gross national product derived from foreign aid.

Of course, there is so much more to the history of these islands, but you can do your own research! There are just a few of the things I learned during my visit. But ok, that’s enough history… for now.

Day 2: Kayaking my way through the second day in paradise

On day two I went on a kayak tour, which, surprise surprise, was also a very cool experience. We had a boat that took us and our kayaks around to several sites. It was a small group – I think about 8 of us – with our kayaks.

Views of the umbrella-like Rock Islands from my kayak

Unfortunately, high waves made it impossible to access the spot we were supposed to go to initially. So they took us to another place, which was really nice still. We got to go to some mangroves and kayak close to nature and wildlife.

More #views while kayaking

I spotted many birds, bats, and fish, and got to snorkel in clear waters with pristine coral gardens. I also went around the edges of the limestone cliffs, genuinely understanding why this place is called the Rock Islands.

Beautiful Palau ❤️

The formations around which we were snorkeling, extend down quite deep and all along they were lined with beautiful corals. One spot in particular, had astounding coral life – unlike anything I had ever seen. It was in the vicinity of this arch that goes up and out of the water.

Stunning blue coral and an unbelievable selection of marine ecosystems

Imagine an upside-down U, which you can kayak around and through; this one was made of limestone rock. At the bottom of the two supporting pillars, I found some of the most beautiful soft corals I ever laid eyes on; they came in all sorts of different, vibrant colors. See for your self:

Arch of Palau – Picture perfect landscapes for days

Gorgeous coral formations in all sorts of colors

The limestone arch was the highlight of the tour for sure. We went to other sites with the boat and kayaked in between rides. Not much more to tell about this day, other than it was a pretty relaxed day of kayaking.

None of the sessions were very tiring, and the snorkeling in between made the whole excursion quite pleasant. It was simply effortless to enjoy the day out on the water.
The first two days in Palau I got to see the Rock Islands from the water; snorkeling and kayaking in nature. Really taking in the biodiversity of these beautiful islands and enjoying every minute of it.

Exploring the Rock Islands maze from the water

Aerial view of said maze 😍

In the coming days, I explored a different island (Peleliu) and chartered a plane to see the archipelago from above. The second half of my trip to Palau really kicks into high gear, so I’ll leave the details for my next post.

Here’s a sneak peek 😉

Did you know that fruit bat is a local Palauan delicacy?

I will gladly obey… this time

Flying high over the Palauan Archipelago