Palau: Snorkeling the Rock Islands

designed for snorkelers
An exploration of the reefs amid the breathtaking Rock Islands, and a visit to the famous Jellyfish Lake.


A land-based snorkeling focused trip to Palau, exploring the Rock Islands and visiting some of the best coral reef sites in the world.

Micronesia is a Greek word meaning "tiny islands" and refers to the myriad coral specks scattered across the western Pacific Ocean. Known collectively as Oceania, the South Sea Islands are divided ethnogeographically into Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia .

Located just north of the equator, Micronesia consists of high volcanic islands interspersed with low-lying atolls with coral reefs encircling still blue lagoons. This is the remote unspoiled Pacific, with palm-thatched huts, outrigger canoes and coconut trees.

Snorkeling Palau's reefs

Palau is a giant coral lagoon filled with islands harboring more species of marine life than any similar-sized area in the world. A snorkelers' paradise, Palau offers a dazzling abundance and array of rainbow colored fish, sponges and corals. Palau is justly known for its breathtaking coral reefs, but the scenery above water is also spectacular. The famous Rock Islands are a maze of unsurpassed beauty, tropical gardens atop limestone ridges, set in glass-clear waters. We make easy day trips to Turtle Cove, Soft Coral Arch, Giant Clam Beach, Ngemelis Wall,  and the jungle-capped Rock Islands.

An often cited highlight is snorkeling the famous Jellyfish Lake, an inland deep basin filled with seawater hosting millions of "non-stinging" golden jellyfish. Although the jellyfish can still sting under specific circumstances, snorkelers can observe them without negative consequences.

Palau Jellyfish Lake Snorkeling

Palau is known as one of the best snorkeling sites on the planet due to its marine life abundance and diversity, shallow water accessibility, and clear water visibility.

Snorkeling Tour PalauAccommodations are in double occupancy hotel rooms, and snorkel excursions are by private boat. Our naturalist will accompany all excursions providing information on coral reef life, general marine ecology, and the natural and cultural history of Micronesia.

For more information and images, take a look at these blog posts by our naturalist Wayne Sentman, who has guided several Oceanic Society trips to Palau: 2012 Trip Journal and 2011 Trip Journal. For videos from past Oceanic Society snorkel tours of Palau, check out our video playlist on YouTube.


Day 1: Since you are crossing the International dateline you will be leaving from Honolulu International Airport one day prior to your actual start date, e.g. depart Honolulu on February 11 to arrive in Koror on February 12. Please note that airfare is not included in the trip fee.

Day 2: Guam/Palau. Continue your flight on to Koror, Palau. Upon your evening arrival, you will be picked up and transferred to your comfortable hotel.

Days 3 thru 8: Exploring Palau's Reefs. The total reef complex of Palau—the fringing reefs, the outer barriers, and the varied communitiesw within the tiny coves and marine lakes—has been described as one superorganism. The reef is riddled with hundres of tiny mushroom-shaped islands dressed in tropical foliage, that are known as the Floating Gardens or Rock Islands. These jungle coated limestone mounds rise straight up from the water, their bases eaten away by wave action and shellfish. Our days will be spent snorkeling and investigating the protected reefs of the Rock Islands, as well as the outer reef walls of the barrier reef by boat.

A typical day starts with early morning breakfast and a short, private bus ride to the dock to catch our private boat for the day's adventure. Weather will determine the order of our itinerary. Most snorkeling and natural history sites are within a 20 to 60 minute boat ride from our dock. We may visit as many as 6 different snorkeling spots in the course of a day. We will have daily lunch and siesta breaks at some of the many isolated beaches of the Rock Islands, and all the lunch spots do have bathrooms. We return to our hotel around 4:00 to 5:00 PM each day.

Mandarinfish Palau SnorkelingPalau has a variety of habitats, each with its own collection of reef fish and coral assemblages. Our many years of organizing and leading snorkeling tours in Palau will ensure that the group experiences all that Palau has to offer. Moreover, Oceanic Society charters a private boat that is completely dedicated to snorkeling, so we are not limited by scuba divers and their needs. We go only to locations that are excellent for snorkeling, and we can stay as long as we like.

Palau has some of the best snorkeling in the world because the reef grows to within 5 feet of the water's surface, offering access to an incredible array of corals and reef creatures. It is known to have one of the more diverse assemblages of marine species found in any tropical ocean. A highlight of our trip will be drift snorkeling along the shallow reefs, dazzled by exquisite live soft coral, tropical fish in a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, and sizes, and giant clams some four feet in diameter, weighing 200+ pounds. Some favorite sites we will visit could include Big Drop Off, Soft Coral Arch, Blue Holes, Ngemelis Wall, and Ulong Channel. In many of these sites we have the chance to see sharks, sea turtles, cuttlefish, and occasionally manta rays.

One of our mornings on the water will include a trip to the famous Jellyfish Lake. A brackish lake that holds millions of non-stinging jellyfish, providing a "Dr. Seuss-like" experience as we float among hundreds of thousands of pulsating creatures. After this Zen experience, we will snorkel back along the edge of the lake and see the many mangrove roots and their associated mini-ecosystems composed of sponges, gobies, Cardinalfish, and anemones that prey on any wayward jellies. The lake is also a place of diverse birdlife, and even while snorkeling we may see kingfishers and the Pied cormorants that are common along the lake edge.

Day 9: Palau Land Tour. On this last day we will explore Palau, traveling by bus on a guided half-day excursion. Highlights will include visits to the Belau National Museum, a woodcarving center, and the only remaining traditional "bai," the ancient, men's meeting house. Our tour will be followed by a traditional Palau lunch, and afterward group members will have the option to visit the Palau Aquarium.

Day 10/9: Palau/Guam/Honolulu. Late night/early morning flight from Koror to Honolulu, via Guam. Depart Koror (after midnight), cross the International Date Line, and arrive in Honolulu in the late afternoon of the previous day. Please note that airfare is not included in the trip fee.

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Upcoming Trips:

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Nov 13, 2015
Feb 11, 2016

Trip Cost:

$3,200 / person