500 miles north of Raja Ampat and sharing a maritime boundary with the Philippines, Indonesia and The Federated States of Micronesia is the breathtaking and independent Republic of Palau, becoming known as Belau. This group of roughly 350 islands, atolls and islets forms the Western Caroline Group of Micronesia. Rising from 5 kilometres depth in the Palau Trench and protected by a barrier reef are the higher islands of Babeldaob, the main island of Koror with Malakal harbour, Peleliu, and the famous Rock Islands.
Just outside the main barrier reef are Anguaur in the south and the atoll Kayangel in the north. With a tiny population of 21,000, the islands run 80 miles south to north and boast the most diverse ecosystems in Micronesia, both above and certainly below the water. The Sonsora volcanic islands and Helen Reef are owned by Palau but are mostly uninhabited and lay various distances south along the route to Indonesia.
Heading to or from any of the Southeast Asia countries described in this guide and the south pacific, Palau lagoon must not be missed. It is simply sensational cruising.
Phuket and Palau share the same latitudes so the best weather is during the northeast monsoon season from December to March.
We describe the main port of entry and a couple of interesting spots nearby. If time permits, contacting Sam’s Tours at the Royal Belau Yacht Club is highly recommended. For extended cruising there are dozens of fantastic anchorages and we recommend ‘The Palau Guide’ by Randy and Hideko Abernethy.
Inbound yachts no longer require clearance approvals in advance of arrival. However, it is far better to give notice otherwise you could be waiting longer than you’d like for clearing in. The Royal Belau Yacht Club can offer assistance and information on clearance procedures and will let the authorities know your details and ETA as a courtesy.
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Yachts are forbidden to stop at any other island or anchorage prior to officially checking into Malakal harbour. The Palau Port Control monitors VHF Ch16 and is open from 8am to 4pm on weekdays. The Port Control office telephone number is +680 775 0419. Entry Permits are issued for 30 days with two extensions of 30 days each possible. US registered vessels get one year.
Fees are levied on all crew for every conceivable permit. You are advised to buy them all to gain legal access to the best activities and destinations Palau has on offer.
At the time of printing, the 70 islands and a few other nature reserves are still completely off limits for any vessel. The harbour master will go over the chart with you personally to make sure you completely understand these boundaries.
Each individual on board is required to purchase a Koror State Rock Island permit for $50 for 10 days and $100 to include a swim in Jellyfish Lake. If you take Jellyfish Lake separately it is an extra $75.
Whichever way you decide it’s best to pay the extra and go on one of Sam’s tours to swim in the lake amongst these non-stinging scyphozoa. Unforgettable.
World famous ‘Jellyfish Lake’ (Ongeim’l Tketau) is inside Mercherchar Island
(Eil Malk). This island is part of the Rock Islands group, which are mostly uninhabited, in Palau’s Southern Lagoon between Koror and Peleliu.
Millions of non-stinging golden jellyfish migrate across the lake daily following the sun. This is because they derive part of their nutrition from symbiotic algae (Zooxanthellae) that live in their tissues and require direct sunlight to become food for the jellyfish.
The isolated lake was formed some 12,000 years ago trapping them inside to evolve and adapt in a no-food environment, although the lake is oxygenated and renewed by the tide through subterranean limestone fissures and tunnels connected to the ocean outside.
Snorkelling is a popular activity for Palau tourists and several operators in Koror offer daily trips to the lake. It is a 45-minute speedboat ride from Koror followed by a 10-minute walk from the jetty access up and over a jungle hill.
Scuba diving is forbidden because bubbles can harm the fragile jellies and the anoxic layer begins at around 15 metres, with high concentrations of deadly hydrogen sulphide, which can be absorbed through the skin. Although there are more than 50 lakes in the Rock Islands, Jellyfish Lake is the only one currently open to tourists.
Below, we list the main anchorage locations for Palau that are featured in the book – together with one sample anchorage. For a complete list of all 600+ anchorage locations, go to Southeast Asia Pilot index
While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in this book is accurate, the charts of anchorages are based on personal experience and satellite imagery and are intended as a guide only. They should not be used for navigation. Please refer to Official Hydrographic Charts of the respective countries.
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