Wondering where to snorkel on your next adventure? Our Best Snorkeling Sites Series aims to give you a closer look at the snorkeling spots that we believe offer the best snorkeling in the world. These destinations offer great visibility, shallow reefs, and diverse and healthy ecosystems that will virtually guarantee a great experience. Moreover, when you participate in a snorkeling excursion or expedition to these locations that is organized by a responsible tour operator like Oceanic Society, you are contributing to the conservation of these outstanding marine habitats and the many species you will encounter.
Oceanic Society has been leading snorkeling trips to Palau for over 20 years, and it continues to be our most popular snorkeling destination. As you become a more advanced snorkeler and start to look for the best snorkeling spots around the world, Palau should be near the top of your list. Here are 7 reasons why we think Palau is one of the best snorkeling destinations in the world.
With its diversity of reef habitats, Palau is a snorkeler’s paradise that is reported to be home to more than 1,500 fish species—more than double the number of species found the entire Caribbean. During our days snorkeling we regularly see Napoleon Wrasse, large schools of Sweetlips and Pyramid Butterflyfish, Clown Triggerfish, and, one of my personal favorites, the Pajama Cardinalfish.
Impressive biodiversity is found among Palau’s coral species too. Palau has over 450 species of reef building corals, compared to the 65 that are found in the Caribbean. A snorkeling excursion in Palau will have you opening up your coral identification guide just as many times as your reef fish guide.
Palau has led the world in shark conservation and consequently has one of the healthiest shark populations left on the globe. In 2001, Palau created the world’s first shark sanctuary. In 2009 they went one step further and extended that sanctuary boundary to encompass their entire territorial waters (230,000 square miles of ocean). It is not uncommon during our snorkeling programs to encounter blacktip and whitetip reef sharks on a daily basis. Visits to sites like Blue Corner and Ulong Channel allow you to see plenty of the larger grey reef sharks as well.
A visit to Jellyfish Lake is like entering a Dr. Seuss-like wonderland, as you gently plunge into a lake filled with pulsating jellyfish. These jellyfish do not actively sting, allowing you to freely float in the jade colored water while more than 1 million jellyfish flutter into and around you. When you‘ve had your fill of that, you can explore the mussel- and sponge-covered mangrove roots that line the lakeshore, or look above water to see a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo or Little Pied Cormorant fly by.
Discover the amazing macro world that exists in the ocean. Due to the great biodiversity of Palau, it offers a wonderful opportunity for snorkelers who usually spend their time admiring larger critters to slow down and start to look for some of the more cryptic and camouflaged “macro life.” Palau is a great place for finding nudibranchs (colorful sea slugs), flatworms, and the brightly colored, but small mandarinfish.
As snorkelers we are usually focused underwater, but sometimes it is the landscapes and the people we meet when visiting these remote island groups that make our experiences memorable. Palau’s landscapes are so exceptionally beautiful that they are not just a backdrop for snorkeling, but rather a highlight of the experience. Out on the snorkel boats we pass through gorgeous multi-colored waters, and verdant limestone islands traveling to the various snorkeling sites. And in the course of our 7-hour days out on the water we have many opportunities to get to know our Palauan captains and guides, and to share stories. It is from these personal interactions that we all learn from one another. Most of our travelers fondly remember the conversations they had with the crew between snorkel sites each day, just as much as the amazing diversity of life they saw below the water.
Palau serves as both example and inspiration for how we can collectively move beyond ocean-conservation awareness to take real ocean-conservation action. As you decide where to spend your precious travel dollars, know that a trip to go snorkeling in Palau validates the actions that Palau’s leaders and citizens have taken to protect these wonderful ocean habitats. In the words of Palau’s president Tommy Remengesau, “It doesn’t matter where you live around the world; we are all connected somehow and are impacted by what we do to the oceans and the health of the oceans and the seas.”
Wayne Sentman is our director of conservation travel programs and an Oceanic Society naturalist since 1998. He is an experienced guide with a diverse background in marine mammal, seabird, and marine debris research. Wayne also co-teaches undergraduate field programs in Kenya on human-wildlife conflict and on the use of social media and art to raise public participation in conservation. He recently received a Master's in Environmental Management from Harvard University.