When I told my friends about a pending trip to the Micronesian island country of Palau to swim in something called Jellyfish Lake their faces had that half quizzical and half “you’re a crazy lady” look. The rapid-fire of questions followed;
Why? Aren’t you scared? How many jellyfish are there in that lake? Will you wear a wetsuit?
What touched me the most is that the people closest to me actually thought I was courageous enough to jump into a lake surrounded by stinging jellyfish. Not a chance. The reality is that begging strangers to pee on my stinging wounds does not sound like a bucket list worthy travel experience to me.
Palau’s Jellyfish Lake is actually home to millions of jellyfish, deemed relatively harmless since their sting is so light.
See, I am playing with a full deck of cards. Most of they time.
When you arrive you are greeted by the rules that must be abided by before entering this lake; Don’t hold the Jellyfish. Uh…Ok. Don’t kick the jellyfish. Wasn’t planning on it. Do not remove the jellyfish from the water. They probably wouldn’t make good souvenirs anyway.
There is a small dock to drop your shoes off and from this wooden platform we saw one solo Golden jellyfish.
Just one jellyfish? I was worried.
We were instructed to swim about a hundred feet out, towards the sunlit waters. Apparently, jellyfish like the light.
Each foot I swam closer towards the light the jellyfish population grew, until I was completely surrounded.
And now I was worried for an entirely different reason and the rapid-fire questions infested my brain.Are they really harmless?
What if there is one that isn’t? It would surely find me.
The first five minutes in the water were spent panicked any time a jellyfish would brush up against a limb. After that, a sense of security set in and I began inspecting each one of these interesting creatures.
Thousands were within visibility, every direction I looked. And I couldn’t get enough. Some were tiny like a lemon, others were the size of softballs and they felt smooth like a dolphin. It was easy to be mesmerized by their lackadaisical movements.
I stayed in the water until my fingers looked like shriveled grapes and my back was certainly the color of a red delicious apple. But, the experience was worth every blister that was sure to be making an appearance tomorrow.
. . . Check it Off Your Bucket List . . .
Palau is an extraordinary archipelago in Micronesia with more than 200 magical limestone and volcanic islands, lying 800 miles southwest of Guam. It is well known for its world-class scuba diving and snorkeling sites, plus fairy-tale scenery that range from dense jungles to glorious blue waters to pristine sandy beaches. Jellyfish Lake is located on Eil Malk, an uninhabited island off the coast of the main town of Koror. It is home to millions of stingless golden mastigias and translucent moon jellyfish that migrate from one side of the lake to the other to follow the path of the sun.
Getting to Jellyfish Lake:
Most excursions to Jellyfish Lake begin from the state of Koror that is serviced by Palau International Airport (ROR). The main gateways to Palau are Guam, Manila (Philippines), Seoul (South Korea), Taipei (Taiwan) and Tokyo (Japan). Common flights are on United Airlines (www.united.com) from Honolulu to Guam to Koror or direct from Manila. From the airport, the city center can be reached by car or taxi in about 20 minutes, plus many hotels will offer shuttle service for about $20 USD each way. You should make arrangements with your chosen hotel prior to your arrival. A one way fair for a taxi to Koror is approximately $25. Keep in mind that taxis are not metered, so confirm the cost beforehand.
Palau has two official languages, Palauan and English. English is widely spoken.
US Dollar. You will find plenty of ATMs in Koror and major credit cards are accepted at most restaurants, stores and hotels.
Plug type A/B plugs, 110v. The outlets are the same as North America, so no adaptor is needed if traveling from the United States.
When to Go:
Palau has a yearly average temperature in the mid 80s with high humidity, which makes it pleasant to visit any time of the year. But, being that Palau is in the tropics, rainfall can occur at any time of the year. The best time to go is during the dryer months (November to April or February and March) when there’s a decreased chance of rain. In September, we experienced sporadic rain throughout the day that did not affect any activities and one storm on a snorkeling excursion that created choppy waters that prevented me from jumping in, but not the scuba divers I was with. The water temperature throughout the rock islands is generally between 81-84, perfect bath water.
How to Visit/Planning:
Most water-based activities and exploration tours, including Jellyfish Lake, leave from the main city of Koror. For the most part, trips to Jellyfish Lake are not individual excursions; instead they are included in either group dive trips or snorkeling tours of the Rock Islands. With Neco Marine (www.necomarine.com) Jellyfish Lake is included in their all-day Rock island snorkeling tour for $150, which can include such spots as Clam City or Cemetery Reef. Sam’s Tours (www.samstours.com) offers a similar tour with additional snorkeling stops at places like Big Drop off and Milky Way for $125. Fish n’ Fins (www.fishnfins.com) has two tank dives with a stop at the lake for $210, or if you’d prefer snorkeling the cost is $175. There is also an option to charter your own boat starting at $1500 for a full day. Keep in mind that the $100 Koror State Jellyfish Lake permit is typically not included in the quoted price, but should be expected.
Getting around Koror can be done by rental car, taxi or the evening BBI shuttle. Renting a car can be done at the airport terminal, as well as at some of the resorts. Though, navigating your way by car may be tricky, as Koror does not have street signs or traffic signals, plus it’s not really necessary to have a car. Taxis can easily be used when having one arranged beforehand by the concierge or restaurant host. Don’t expect to be able to hail one while just walking along the street. The taxis are not metered; fares are based on your destination. Taxi fares within Koror roughly range from $6-8. In the evenings, you can also take the BBI shuttle that completes a round-trip service in an hour and stops at many of the main locations on the main street of Koror ($7 for a one week pass). Ask your hotel where to get tickets. Most dive centers and hotels offer shuttle service to and from their locations during dive/tour days.
Where to Stay:
Most tours begin in the main city of Koror, which makes it the best option choice for your lodging while you are visiting Palau. For the ultimate luxury experience after being in the water all day stay in an oceanfront room or overwater bungalow at the Palau Pacific Resort; from $425), known as Micronesia’s most luxurious resort. Sleep in a villa surrounded by the natural beauty of a tropical paradise at Palau Plantation Resort; from $180). For a more economical, no frills option book a room at The Penthouse; from $76) or DW Motel; from $82).
Where to Eat:
For such an unknown place, the country has an eclectic mix of delicious restaurants with heavy Japanese, Korean, Filipino and American influences. Indulge in fresh fish tacos at a favorite in Palau, Kramers Café (1 Pirates Cove, Koror City). Eat with the locals at Emaimelei Restaurant (Lebuu St, Koror) where the kitchen churns out a blend of Filipino, American and local cuisine, at a reasonable price. If you want your Japanese fix, head over to Tori Tori (Derbei, Ikelau Hamlet, Koror) for delicious sushi and sashimi. Elilai (www.elilaipalau.com/e/elilai) is a special treat, situated atop a hillside with lagoon views. Their fresh local ingredients are used to make Pacific Rim cuisine with Japanese, Thai and Italian influences. At Taj (www.tajpalau.com) you will tempt your senses with the smells and tastes of the spices of India. For the adventurous bucket list eater visit Mog Mog (www.mogmogpalau.com) to dine on bowl of the local delicacy, fruit bat soup, where the whole bat (wings, fur and head included) are cooked in a coconut broth. Not for folks who don’t want their food staring them in the face!
- Cover your body in the limestone clay at the bottom on the Milky Way. The creamy mud found on the floor of the inlet is known for its therapeutic properties. Most half and full-day tours of the Rock Islands will make a stop here.
- Head 40 minutes outside of the Koror city center to stand under the 100-foot Ngardmau Falls. If you have a rental car you can navigate your way on your own, otherwise Palau Impac (palau-impac.com) offers a seven-hour tour for $95.
- Explore the thick jungles of Palau on an exciting 4WD adventure. With Palau Off-Road Jungle Tours (offroadjungletours.com/index.html; from $160) you will be exploring otherwise inaccessible landscape; waterfalls, WWII relics, abandoned villages and the lush rainforest.
- After you have explored the Rock Islands by day, take a night kayak excursion with Rock Island Tours (palauritc.com/english; $55). In the dark you will be able to see the bioluminescent organisms come alive. Their fluorescent glow along with the moon and twinkling stars will light up the calm waters.
- You will need a Koror State Rock Island permit to scuba dive, kayak, snorkel and swim in Jellyfish Lake. The cost is $100 and is valid for 10 days. Your guide will typically take care of purchasing these permits, but it is not included in the cost of the tour.
- There is a $50 per person departure tax and green fee that can be paid in cash directly at the airport upon departure. A visa is not required for United States visitors staying for less than 365 days, though you must have a valid passport with at least one blank page.
- Protecting Jellyfish Lake is incredibly important, so be respectful while you are there; do not lift the jellyfish out of the water, enter the lake clean and free of sunscreen, do not use the lake as a restroom and wear fins to slow your movements. Follow the rules of the lake in order to ensure that the jellyfish will be there for a long time to come.
- Scuba diving is not allowed in the lake because the bubbles can be trapped in the jellyfish’s bell.
- Palau is very casual, with a relaxed island style; shorts, tanks and tees prevail. Leave your stilettos and sparkly dresses at home.
- Don’t come to Jellyfish Lake (or Palau for that matter) without an underwater camera, you’ll be disappointed at not being able to capture the underwater treasures. If your camera has video capabilities that’s even better as the mesmerizing pulsating moves of the jellyfish are fascinating.
- Pack a rash guard as an extra protection from the hot sun.
- A small dry daypack is helpful not only for the hike to Jellyfish Lake, but also the boat rides through the Rock Islands
- Bring along comfortable walking/water shoes that have some traction, it can get slippery on the trail.
- Pack light snacks for the tours. Even though lunch is typically included a granola bar or trail mix can ease some hunger.
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Disclosure: I was a guest of the Palau Visitors Authority, but all opinions are my own