Palau has long been on my bucket list of destinations to visit, in fact, Palau was the first place on my personal bucket list primarily because it was the world’s first shark sanctuary, and I’m a bit of a shark enthusiast. Over the years I learned more about Palau from friends who’ve been and it just kept sounding better and better. Not only are the reefs stunning, but it’s a great place to swim with mantas, turtles, and a ton of other bigger creatures like Napoleon wrasse. If you’re lucky you might even encounter a dugong swimming on the surface as you move from site to site with the boats. It’s also home to a jellyfish lake, which, depending on the year and the stage of the bloom, can host anywhere from a hundred to several million stingless jellyfish! Now, having just run my first Palau Snorkleing Safari this last April, I’m here to confirm the rumors are true, it does in fact rock!

At the moment, we run our Palau Snorkeling Safari as both a resort-based tour and a liveaboard tour. As such, the first few days were spent staying at the fantastic Cove Resort which looks out onto the famous Rock Islands. Each day we would depart from the marina right in front of The Cove on our very own fully covered speedboat which would take us to our snorkeling sites, anywhere from twenty to forty minutes away. After two nice long morning snorkels punctuated by a lunch in a tranquil lagoon or white sand beach, we’d head back to the resort, arriving around three o’clock for some downtime and quite often a well-deserved cocktail before heading out for dinner together at one of the many great seaside restaurants nearby.

Now, that was just the first three days of the trip. It was a perfect blend of spacious rooms, big beds, wi-fi, and lovely meals–not to mention all the fantastic reefs we’d explored and marine life we’d encountered each day. As we were all now multiple timezones away from home and many of us hadn’t donned a mask, snorkel, and fins in many months, these first few days really helped us acclimatize to the new day-to-day routine. By the time it was time to board the liveaboard, which picks us up right in front of The Cove Resort, we had all shaken off any residual jetlag and re-antiquated ourselves with our beloved snorkeling gear.

The next week of the tour was spent the liveaboard, which we’d chartered exclusively for us. We had the full run of this really quite amazing boat—despite it’s rather unusual exterior. I’ll be the first to admit that the Palau Aggressor II looks very much like a toaster stacked on top of some pontoons, but this boxy design works really when it comes to conventional space onboard. I had many repeat guests on this tour who’d been on a number of the other Aggressor Liveaboard’s with us around the world, and we all agreed that this was easily one of the best laid-out boats we’d been on.

The rooftop deck is all about lounging. Whether it be in hammocks, sun-loungers, or your more conventional table and chair affair, the top deck was the place to be if your post-snorkel break was to involve nothing more than a snooze, a book, or some good ol’ fashioned scenery watchin’.

The deck below is where the restaurant and entertainment center/lounge is located, and where we’d take all of our meals. The wraparound indoor-outdoor bar was where we’d enjoy our lunches and then the dining room tables are where breakfasts and dinners were served. The meals, I must say, were amazing. Each night would be a different theme, and no effort was too great for the chef as we had sushi, tacos, BBQ ribs, Indian curries, and the list goes on

Even the cabins, which are usually quite “cozy” onboard most liveaboards, had a nice large bed as the bottom bunk and a single bed as the top bunk, with plenty of space in between. The vanity sink is right next to the bed there’s even a decent-sized closet with drawers below for all of your clothes. The ensuite bathroom was quite spacious as liveaboard bathrooms are concerned and fully equipped with hot water showers and a western flushing toilets.

The main corridor where all the guest cabins are located leads to the back deck where we would gear up. Everyone has their own storage area beneath a flip-up seat and above each seat is a set of hangers for all your wet snorkeling apparel to dry. There’s even a large camera table with charging stations so you don’t need to clutter your room or the common areas with cables and cameras.

The tender boat or skiff we use to access all the snorkeling sites from the main vessel is as good as it gets. First of all, it’s held about three meters off the water in a sort of hydraulic cradle off the back of the boat, which makes boarding it a cinch as it’s not in the water. Once everyone’s onboard the boat is then lowered into the water via some fancy hydraulic slidy-things, and then off we go! The tender boat is a very large 300-horsepower fiberglass boat with a full canopy, bench seating, and plenty of wet storage beneath the seat. In the back of the boat is a dry area where you can bring your small dry items in a bag if you need. The crew brings freshly baked snacks, fruits, water, and dry towels onboard. Yes, there is a ladder, and it has to be one of the best ladders I’ve ever seen for snorkeling as its lowest rung is more of a platform you can sit on if you like, and each rung above is topped with a nice wood plank making exiting the water after a snorkel a most pleasant experience!

Alright, so the day-to-day ran a bit different onboard the liveaboard than it did from The Cove, obviously. Most mornings we’d wake up in a new location moored up in another absolutely gorgeous setting with one of the most unique islandscapes laid out before us and blacktip reef sharks circle behind the boat. After breakfast, we’d jump into the spacious tender and set off for our morning snorkel sessions. Sites were anywhere from 5-20 minutes away and we’d generally stay out for two sixty to ninety-minute snorkels, depending on the site. We’d then come back for an extravagant lunch, a bit of downtime, and then jump back in for another nice long afternoon snorkel. It’s an open bar onboard, one of the perks of running tours with Aggressor, so most evenings people would meet up on the top deck and enjoy a nice glass of wine or beer as we watched the sunset just before indulging in dinner. After dinner, many of us would find our way up to the top deck again as the stars in Palau were out of this world.

Reefs and fish, I suspect you want to hear about them now. Basically, the shallow reefs in Palau are in outstanding shape and the diversity in types of snorkeling sites and the types of reefs are really very varied. On some snorkels, we would explore the interior reefs of the Rock Islands where the scenes underwater are not your typical tropical coral reef. On these reefs we found colonies of colorful hard corals mixed in with sponges, tunicates, and pretty algae patches. It’s in these interior reefs where we also found mandarin fish, quite a few of them actually, even in broad daylight. Guests like these areas so much we ended up repeating several sites.

As we moved to the outer reefs we a very different scenario. The corals and fish life on these outer reefs were more along the lines of what you might expect from a tropical coral reef. With the exception of one site, which for some reason hosted many sea fans and different types of soft corals, just about all the sites we explored were made up of vast colonies of hard corals.

Each site was very different than the next as some were set in white sand with stunning coral formations protruding from the powder-white substrate. Other sites were narrow channels with fringing reefs on both sides, while others were shallow coral plateaus that abruptly turned into walls. Regardless of where we were, the fish were in abundance. On the deeper channels and walls we encountered more of the bigger fish like jacks, snappers, and reef sharks congregating in the deeper sections.

Up in the shallows we found the schools of reef fish like pyramid butterflies, sweetlips, sea snakes, anemone fish, angel fish, and tons of parrot fish. We’d get a passing turtle or two on most of the sites, and on one site—German Channel— we got lucky with a passing manta. Mantas are one of the big things you can see in Palau, particularly around Germand Channel, and on a good day you can encounter anywhere from three to five feeding or cleaning mantas if not more, while on a slower day, you might get one passing by. It just all comes down to their behavior on that particular day.

Aside from the reefs, we also explored several quite unusual sites, one of which was the jellyfish lake, which was a truly unique experience and a highlight of the tour for everyone. Now, I had heard that the lake, which was once full of these golden stingless jellyfish—several million to be roughly exact—was pretty much devoid of them as they had all died off due to increasing water temps several years ago.

The crew said we might find 10-20 of the larger ones. However, once we jumped in and swam to the spot in the lake where they typically congregate, we were pleasantly surprised as we found anywhere from a few hundred up to a thousand or so jellies of all sizes. This rapid bloom in jellies, which had happened in just a few weeks, suggests that the jellies are reproducing well and with a bit of time the lake will be in full bloom again with millions of these harmless jellies blobbing along in it.

Right, so I think that just about does it. Being a new trip for me I was a bit hesitant about what I’d be encountering from a tour leaders perspective. How would the resort and liveaboard staff be with snorkelers? How would the food be? How would the reefs be? Would there be enough reefs for two weeks of snorkeling??? Dalton did prepare me very well with his helpful notes as he’s run the previous snorkel trips to Palau. It’s just not having experienced it first hand I still had all these hesitations and questions banging around in my head. Thankfully, after a few days working with each of the different crews and encountering what we’d encountered underwater and on land, I was able to rest a lot easier as everything and everyone was perfectly on point. Knowing what I know now, I am now thrilled to be leading the next Palau Snorkeling Safari in March 2025!

About Author

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Alex Lindbloom
Alex is a Snorkel Venture and Dive Safari Asia guide as well as the video and photo pros for both companies. Alex is also a field editor for a popular underwater photography magazine. Prior to joining Snorkel Venture in 2018 Alex lived and worked all over the world working as an underwater cameraman, with five of those years living/working on a yacht in Indonesia. Alex's images and videos have garnered many international awards such as Underwater Photographer of the Year and can be seen on NatGeo, Discovery Channel, the UN Building, and various magazines.