- Discover the extraordinary undersea wonders of Palau, encountering spectacular reefs, corals, and marine species that the National Geographic Pristine Seas team documented on a 2014 expedition.
- Enjoy special access to private marine sites with our seasoned guides, who have spent years exploring the natural habitats of Palau.
- Snorkel over coral gardens teeming with fish, turtles, and reef sharks; kayak to a stalactite-adorned cave and a hidden lagoon; and swim among thousands of non-stinging jellyfish.
- Experience Palauan culture through a performance by a traditional dance group and a visit to an ancient bai, or meeting house, where community elders once gathered.
Identified by National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project as one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet, the Pacific archipelago of Palau is home to an aquatic wonderland of more than 1,300 species of fish and some 700 species of corals. This beautiful island nation is a world leader in marine conservation, with an ancestral tradition of environmental protection that dates back thousands of years, and an ambitious modern-day conservation program that includes the creation of a historic 193,000-square-mile marine reserve—one of the largest of its kind in the world. Set out on an unforgettable adventure to experience Palau’s treasures firsthand. Snorkel and kayak among emerald islets in the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Rock Islands, experience the “underwater Serengeti” of Ngemelis Island, hike through lush forests, and meet Palauan people who strive to honor and protect their natural heritage.
Please note: Due to local tidal cycles, some departures may operate on a slightly altered schedule in order to maximize snorkeling and kayaking opportunities.
Arrive at Roman Tmetuchl International Airport (ROR) in Palau and transfer to our beautiful hotel overlooking a turquoise lagoon.
Meet fellow travelers, our local Palauan guide, and our National Geographic Expert at an orientation briefing this morning. Then travel by boat to Nikko Bay, where we’ll learn about a coral-spawning study that was completed here, and enjoy a private snorkeling excursion in Rembrandt's Cove. After lunch, embark on a scenic hike to a perch overlooking a deep-water channel. Here, visit a former Japanese bunker to view WW II artifacts. Later, launch kayaks to explore a stunning, stalactite-adorned cave and paddle through a tunnel to a lake filled with delicate corals. This evening, learn about Palauan culture with a performance by a traditional dance group followed by a welcome dinner.
(2 hours snorkeling, 2 hours kayaking, 1-2 hours walking/hiking)
Board a speedboat for a visit to the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), which collaborated with National Geographic on the 2014 Pristine Seas expedition to document the biodiversity of Palau’s marine ecosystem. Hear about the PICRC’s involvement with the Pristine Seas project, launched by marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala to explore and help save the last wild places in the ocean. At center’s aquarium, get an introduction to Palau’s marine habitats, conservation efforts, and geologic history. Cruise to Risong Bay, nestled among the mushroom-shaped limestone islets of Chelbacheb—known as the Rock Islands—a World Heritage site renowned for its natural beauty and its extraordinary marine life. Swim through a shallow passage lined with pink sea fans to the oasis known as Mandarin Fish Lake, named for the eponymous and elusive fish species that live here. In the shelter of rocky outcrops, snorkel among reefs swirling with diverse fish species including crocodile fish, pajama cardinalfish, and gobies. (2 hours snorkeling)
Today, we snorkel in the sheltered lagoons of Ulong—one of the largest of the Rock Islands. Here, an astonishing aggregation of hundreds of bumphead parrotfish gather to spawn in the early morning. Snorkel among fields of branch corals and shimmering fish. Then venture ashore to hike to an ancient village and learn how Palauans once lived in this remote paradise. Pitch in with a local conservation project by planting a giant clam in a marine sanctuary and witness the fruits of over a decade of planting efforts. Following a barbecue lunch on the beach, explore the labyrinth of islands comprising Ngeruktabel. Snorkel among a myriad of colorful soft corals and swim through a spacious tunnel leading to a hidden lagoon. (3 hours snorkeling, 1-2 hours hiking)
Head to Palau’s Outer Reef and explore the protected coves of Carp Island. Here, untouched reefs teem with fishes, turtles, white-tipped reef sharks, garden eels, and much more. An easy swim to the reef's edge leads to a clear blue-water drop-off where colorful sponges and gorgonian sea fans line the vertical walls. The margin between reef and open ocean is home to some of the Indo-Pacific’s most prized fishes, including white spotted clown triggerfish and palette surgeonfish, along with an abundance of hawksbill and green sea turtles. From the coves of Carp Island we continue to Barnum’s Wall and the epic chasms that provide hiding places to schools of bump head parrotfish and brown marbled grouper. The chasms are also one of the best places in Palau to spot a host of stingray and shark species, including the graceful spotted eagle ray, the feather tail stingray, and the elusive zebra shark. (3 hours snorkeling)
Set out for a sand flat where our kayaks await. As the morning tide rises, paddle beneath a canopy of mangroves into a mile-long saltwater lake that is home to the ancient Micronesian cycad plant and endemic Palau fruit doves. As we explore by kayak, we’ll search for juvenile eagle rays and endemic plants found nowhere else on Earth. Ride the tide back out of the lake and continue to a white-sand beach for a picnic lunch. Later, explore the opaque waters of the Milky Way lagoon, where visitors can enjoy a white mud bath made from the lagoon’s limestone and calcium clay, which is believed to have healing powers. Finish our day with a snorkel among the multi-colored brain corals that thrive in the nutrient-rich waters of the Rock Islands. (2 hours kayaking, 3 hours snorkeling)
Our first snorkeling site of the day is home to dozens of “super mollusks,” including giant clams that are more than a century old and weigh over 500 pounds. Next, it’s on to Rainbow Reef to snorkel among shoals where fish drift on gentle currents while feasting on plankton. Have lunch on Ngeanges island—which, after a successful initiative to clear invasive rodents—bustles with native bird species. Enjoy a walk in the forest, searching for chicken-like megapode birds and their enormous nests. Cool off with a refreshing snorkel, watching dazzling damselfish dart in and out of a colossal turbinaria coral formation. Snorkel at a cave where local conservation efforts have helped protect the cave’s corals from the predatory crown of thorns starfish. (4 hours snorkeling, 30 minutes walking)
Experience an "underwater Serengeti" at one of the world’s greatest snorkeling sites at the outer reef of Ngemelis, which the National Geographic Pristine Seas team identified as one of the most vibrant marine protected areas in Palau. After nearly 20 years as a "no-fishing zone," the Ngemelis Conservation Area allows for close encounters with Napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrotfish, and pyramid butterfly fish. We’ll snorkel spectacular sites including German Channel, where the Pristine Seas team filmed majestic manta rays and waters vibrating with vast schools of fish. Later, enjoy lunch on the water, venturing out a few miles to spot spinner dolphins and sperm whales. (4 hours snorkeling)
Set off early to the island of Mecherchar, home to one of Palau’s most famous natural wonders: Jellyfish Lake. This saltwater lake has been known to contain up to 20 million non-stinging golden jellyfish, whose ability to sting has weakened since the basin was cut off from the ocean hundreds of years ago and they were no longer at risk of being eaten. We’ll be among the first visitors of the day, enjoying a serene snorkel amid these harmless creatures. Later, hike back to our speedboat for a quick ride along the coast to discover a treasure of Micronesian history: a two-ton relic of the world’s largest—and heaviest—currency. On a private visit to the site, examine enormous stone money that was created by the ancient people of neighboring Yap—who traveled more than 200 miles by canoe to quarry the stone from the limestone-rich Rock Islands. Next, head to the quiet waters of Ngchus Cove and enjoy lunch on the beach, then visit a secluded bay that harbors fragile yellow sea horses and other marine life. This evening, visit at a local museum and view the museum's exhibits, including an ancient bai, or meeting house, where community elders once gathered. Our local Palauan guide will discuss past and present politics, and describe how Palauans have maintained their culture, language, and customs in the face of modernization. Return to Koror and toast our adventure at a farewell dinner this evening. (3-4 hours snorkeling, 45 minutes hiking)
Transfer to the Roman Tmetuchl International Airport (ROR) and depart on homeward-bound flights. Please note that flights from Koror generally depart in the early morning. Homeward-bound flights should be booked for the morning of Day 10 and not the following morning.