x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Off the beaten path, Palau offers a sea of surprises

My Kind of Place The little-known Micronesian nation of Palau has some of the best diving in the world.

Why Palau?

The question isn't so much "Why Palau?" as why don't more people know about this place? It's a question to ponder while sitting on an unspoilt white-sand beach, diving on Japanese shipwrecks from the Second World War or on a speeding boat going through the spectacular limestone outcrops of the Rock Islands archipelago, followed by the slightly guilty gratitude that this amazing place remains mostly off the radar and you won't be sharing it with throngs of tourists.

It's not for everyone but if you love treading off the beaten track and don't need the comforts of five-star beach resorts, then this Micronesian island nation will be perfect. Palau doesn't just treat your eyes above the waterline either because it also has some of the best diving in the world.

A comfortable bed

Lying peacefully in every shade of blue water imaginable, star-shaped Carp Island near the island of Peleliu is probably the most beautiful place I've ever seen on this earth. Carp Island Resort (www.carpislandpalau.com; 00 680 488 2277) offers gorgeous seaside cottages from US$110 (Dh404) for two, including taxes, which is a steal for the chance to sleep in paradise. This might just be the perfect place to put a ring on the finger of the one you love.

Another option that overlooks the spectacular Rock Islands and is perched in verdant jungle is Caroline Resort (www.carolinesresort.com; 00 680 488 3754). The wood-lined bungalows not only offer sumptuous comfort but are also orientated to provide the perfect place to watch the sunsets. Diving, kayaking, sports fishing and hiking tours can been arranged through the management. Double rooms cost from $209 (Dh768) for two people, including taxes.

Find your feet

Experiencing Palau means heading to the ocean because this place is famous for its beaches, snorkelling and diving. Unless you have your own yacht and no restrictions on your time, the most likely way you will arrive in Palau is flying to Airai airport on Babeldaob, from which there is a bridge to Koror, the biggest town and former capital. From there, head out to the resorts and to the dive sites. Two of the better tour operators are Sam's Tours Palau (www.samstours.com; 00 680 488 7267) and Fish 'n Fins Palau (www.fishnfins.com; 00 680 488 2637).

Meet the locals

As in many developing countries, a confused tourist often means an inflated price tag in shops and restaurants but making friends with the locals - an easy task with the highly sociable and extremely friendly Palauans - will ensure you get the real price. Most residents will be happy to help; having one by your side when shopping or a restaurant often brings down the price by at least half. English is the official language of the islands, along with Palauan.

Book a table

Due to the predominance of Asian tourists, restaurants on Koror focus mainly on Japanese and Korean food, although Western food can be found everywhere. Seafood lovers will benefit from the three ocean currents that converge in Palau's waters, ensuring there is always fresh fish on the menu.

The Drop off Bar and Grill (www.necomarine.com; 00 680 488 1755) stands out from the rest when it comes to its seafood selection. It was built specifically for the crew filming Survivor: Palau in 2004 and, like them, you ought to try the yellowfin tuna and red snapper - an affordable $12 (Dh44) - while taking in the spectacular views of Ngaremenduu Bay. If you're seeking a culinary adventure, try the fruit bat soup, considered a local delicacy. (If you do, let me know what it was like: I passed on it).

Shopper's paradise

This isn't the place for malls filled with Prada and Louis Vuitton, but that isn't why you came to Palau, now is it? You will, however, find some remarkable handicrafts, the most popular of which are storyboards: traditional wood carvings depicting Palauan myths and legends.

What to avoid

Being eaten by some of the less-friendly locals: saltwater crocodiles are still present in the Rock Islands and amid Palau's mangroves but can sometimes be found at any coastal site, although the last recorded fatality was in 1965. There are also bull sharks in coastal waters and in the estuaries.

Don't miss

In almost any other place, the unmissable sight would be the Japanese wrecks near Peleliu Island, the scene of one of the Pacific's bloodiest battles during the Second World War.

But in Palau there's something even rarer: Jellyfish Lake is the only freshwater lake in the world brimming with hundreds of thousands of jellyfish that, because of the absence of predators, have evolved without a vicious sting. It's a steep hike to reach this landlocked lake on Eil Malk Island, about a 45-minute boat ride from Koror. Most tours also include visiting the breathtaking Rock Islands.