“Palau offers you the world’s most beautiful tropical paradise. Famous for it’s diving, Palau is rated as one of the world’s best diving destinations by scuba aficionados. And why not…Palau has unspoiled reefs, caves, and walls with the most amazing array of marine life you can ever imagine.” – This is the description at the Palau Visitors Authority webpage.
If you are a diver and live in the Philippines, you must try diving Palau at least once in your lifetime. A 2.5-hour flight via Continental Airlines makes this country very accessible.
This was my second trip to Palau, God willing I will be back. Not that there are no excellent dives to be done in the Philippines – there are countless scenic and striking sites all over the country. We have a little of everything … from pelagics to nudibranchs. While Philippine diving offers excellent coral and marine bio-diversity, Palau just has more pelagics. It is just different.
If only you could merge the two, it would be the ultimate dive mecca!
I decided to join the trip more than 6 months ago. The dates changed twice before it finally came into fruition. Good thing though … else, my cousin wouldn’t have come since the original date clashed with an overseas trip. All things good fell into place.
The title says “4 days” but the trip spanned from April 4 – 9. Continental changed the flight schedules since our 2005 trip. Flights are now every Friday and Wednesday instead of Saturday and Wednesday. We left Friday at 2210H and arrived at Koror at approximately 0130H (Saturday – Palau time). Palau is an hour ahead of the Philippines. We got back from Palau on the 9th at 1030H (Manila time).
By the time we arrived at the hotel, West Plaza By The Sea, it was already 0300H. Got our gear organized and slept at around 0400H. We only had 2 hours of sleep before we had to get up, have breakfast and travel to Neco Marine to start the adventure.
We had 4 diving days divided into 2-3-3-2 dives. The dives marked with an asterisk were the exceptional dives, while the others were not as, but nevertheless good.
We did all our dives on Nitrox32 (32% EANx, EAN32 or 32% Enriched Air Nitrox)… giving us more bottom time, which came in handy at some sites. Nitrogen loading was also lower due to the increased oxygen in the mix. Remember, air only has 21% oxygen.
Blue Corner, which is one of Palau’s most prominent dive sites, was a disappointment. No current – hence not much fish. I didn’t even consider this dive as part of the trip … it was like a checkout dive.
New Drop-Off didn’t offer anything extraordinary either. It was another ho-hum dive. I guess the timing was just off … these sites usually providing a spectacular show.
If only the day-1 dives were better, it would have been a welcome relief from the sleep-deprived fatigue we were going through. But, then again, that’s what makes diving interesting. You can dive the same location many times and still see something different with each dive.
I’ve previously read and have been consequently told that in Peleliu, one may experience the strongest currents in Palau. We were briefed well in case of such. Such currents are due to the convergence of the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It is not uncommon to feel a “washing machine” effect while diving these waters – which we did encounter at Peleliu Corner.
The dive from Peleliu Cut – Peleliu Corner was quite unforgettable. Nearing the end of the dive, we saw a large school of Jacks … I slowly approached them hoping to get close ups. While approaching, as I was busy framing my shots, I didn’t realize that I was slowly being brought away from the wall by the current.
The time it took to take a few shots brought me from being about 10 – 20 feet from the group until I could barely see their bubbles. My cousin, who was beside me at the time, and I attempted to fin towards them but to no avail … the current was simply too strong … we weren’t moving at all! We were caught in the infamous “washing machine” … whoa!
No worries, a DM was within sight and knew what we got ourselves into. If we couldn’t get to the DM, I would have simply signaled my cousin to stick with me while I deploy my safety sausage and simply drift.
As we approached our DM, I was noticing bubbles underneath us. I said to myself that it’s impossible that there are divers below us. The bubbles were apparently from the main group who not only got caught in the “washing machine “ but encountered a down current too.
All told, this was really an exhausting way to end a dive.
The third dive was a totally relaxing dive through Orange Beach Coral City. Not as colorful as the Philippines’ corals but nonetheless interesting because we saw some World War II artifacts on the sea floor.
Although Shark City is listed as the 1st dive … we actually didn’t get there. The DM completely screwed the reading of the current. It was going the other way!!! We all noticed this upon descending. Why are we going against it?? We signaled each other to stop and drift the other way … instead of going to the city, we ended up in the suburbs … 🙂
Ulong Channel is in my opinion a must-do dive in Palau. Imagine a half-pipe – that’s the channel, which starts (or ends) in a basin. What’s important with this dive is that you want to do this on an incoming tide (flooding) so you start at the “basin” and go through the channel to your safety stop.
We descended into the hooking point, left of the channel at approximately 30fsw (feet salt water). We stayed there for 35 minutes watching the show … 10+ Grey Reef Sharks swimming back and forth, and your backdrop was a “wall” of Barracudas and Jacks. It was indeed “A SHOW!!!” 🙂
When it was time to unhook we went through the channel. My first experience here in 2005 was nice. Moderate current provided a slow-paced ride through. This time, the current was much faster … we were flying through the channel. I anticipated the Cabbage Coral where we even stopped to take photos … this time, we zoomed passed it. This was where I wished I had video instead of a SLR … that would have given the viewer the idea of how fast we were going.
It was reminiscent of a theme park ride … totally cool. Upon surfacing, everybody was shouting, “Yan ang Palau!!!” (That’s Palau!!!) It was a perfect way to end the day.
German Channel gave us our most memorable dive. The day started really early as we were picked up at 0630H so we could catch the incoming tide. This simply increases the chances of a manta encounter at the cleaning station. I later found out that our DM (dive master) wanted to skip this location because he read the current as already outgoing … Dave still insisted on the site so we dove … guess what, there was NO current whatsoever. Well, people do make mistakes.
Thank goodness for that insistence, this is where we had the unforgettable Manta encounter. I saw 4 total (Dave said there were 6) … the first 2 were brief and distant … the 3rd one was a “fly-by” and slightly longer. The 4th was the best. It circled above a coral while it was being “cleaned.”
Even Dave, our instructor, says that never in all his years of diving, experience an encounter like this. We left the Manta instead of the Manta leaving us. And we only left because we were low on air. I personally ascended with 300 psi … I haven’t done this since my early diving days. Needless to say that if we had more air, we would have stayed longer – we should have signaled the DM to bring down another tank. 😉
We were with that 4th Manta for 15+ minutes and were so close that Dave even has a macro shot of its eyes!!!
After the dive, on the dive boat, I could still “see” the manta circling that coral … way too cool!!!
We did Blue Corner again because of our disappointment with the site on the first day. True to its usual form, it was much better than the first day. Although there was hardly any current, there were still quite a number of sharks, jacks, napoleon wrasses, barracudas, etc.
We surfaced at 1135H, which would gave us 21+ hours prior to our flight back home – prudent against DAN’s (Divers Alert Network) suggestion: “For multiple dives per day or multiple days of diving, a minimum preflight surface interval of 18 hours is suggested.”
After the dive, we headed for the Rock Islands and had lunch at Bablomekang … a nice relief rather than eating on the boat.
This was a nice way to cap the trip.
After lunch, we proceeded to Jellyfish Lake so the first timers can experience this unique phenomenon.
We headed back to Neco Marine to rinse our gear and to settle our bill for the merchandise that we had put on hold … we proceeded to Drop Off Bar for a few drinks and a lively chat while waiting for the gear to dry.
It all ended too soon … the last 3 dives did it for me … I’ll definitely be back someday.