Lisa McElroy; photograph by Matthew R. Poole
Even though Palau’s halfway around the world, in Micronesia, it’s one of the planet’s premiere destinations for families interested in eco-travel. Full of natural wonders like Jellyfish Lake, cupcake-shaped barrier islands, and dozens of coral reefs, it’s the perfect vacation for people who want to get wet and get up close and personal with nature.
The marine life in Palau is incredibly diverse, with coral reefs so spectacular your kids will turn pruny before you can drag them out of the warm near-tropical waters. Palau was ahead of the conservation curve; the native people here have been in reef-protection mode for decades, resulting in healthy coral and tons of biodiversity. Several outfitters offer half-day, full-day, and overnight dive trips to the most vibrant reefs; even though they’ll know the best spots, be sure to request that they put Blue Corner (where manta rays glide) and German Channel (where thousands of varieties of fish make their home) on the itinerary. Want to see giant clams? They’re out there, too, their purple and polka-dotted “lips” opening and closing, making little kids giggle and squeal. Like sharks? They’re safe (no shark attacks in Palau in recent memory) and plentiful – you’re sure to see some adults doing their swimming thing in deeper waters.
You’ll want to spend at least two or three days of your trip diving and snorkeling, but take a kayak tour, too – you’ll see even more animals while paddling. Most outfitters offer double kayaks, all the better for tiny tourists to hitch a ride with Mom and Dad. Most guides will point out the many birds who nest in the barrier islands and add in a dash of Palaun history as a bonus. Another great spot for animal sightings? The baby shark “nursery,” an island spot with shallow water and tall grass where infants learn the swimming ropes – spotting the tiny predators darting in and out of the reeds is as much fun as a game of hide and seek.
And, of course, Jellyfish Lake – a landlocked saltwater body of water – is a must. Sound scary? You’ll be surprised by how peaceful the spot can be, especially if your guide heads there during off hours and your group is alone in the mass of quivering sea life.
VISITING THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Getting out and about in Palau is what the destination’s all about. While the main cities bustle, what’s fascinating about this island country is the wild and peaceful nature of the outdoors.
Don’t miss the Palau eco-park, where families can zipline across the jungle. The three lines take brave adventurers past waterfalls at a height of 250 feet above the ground. There’s a monorail, too, but not the kind you’ve ridden at DisneyWorld; this one looks more like a mini-train and runs over a suspended bridge.
Schedule a day to hike deep into the jungle; the dive outfitters can boat you out to the islands where easy trails let kids explore without pooping out. As you hike, you’ll see historical artifacts like stone money, enormous disks of limestone once used as currency in trade. Jungle caves full of bats and interesting geological formations are also easy to access and explore.
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodations on Palau range from the basic to the typical luxury resort. If your family camping is up your alley, consider the Carp Island Resort, where seaside cottages have indoor plumbing and electricity but feel rustic and cozy. Although dining is communal and creature comforts are minimal, it’s a great spot to lie in a hammock, explore the beach, or catch a quick boat ride to the reefs.
Want privacy and natural beauty, but looking for something more upscale? Palau Plantation Resort, on one of Palau’s main islands, is a luxurious 20-room resort in the jungle. It’s committed to reducing its carbon footprint, but it offers a lovely spa and a pool for the kids. Even more “natural” and remote is Ngellil Nature Island Resort, an 8-room resort on a small island only accessible by boat. Private hiking trails wind through a lush jungle, and there’s a private beach for hotel guests only. The rooms are comfortable and serene, with amazing views out to the ocean. You’ll want to kick back and stay a while in the beautiful island country of Palau.