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Hawaii and Pacific: Palau | Tropical Jungle, Intimate Coves & Rainbow Reefs

It looks like one giant, crystal-clear swimming pool. It turns aqua, turquoise, emerald, cobalt, cornflower blue, and sea green before your eyes. It's the sea that makes the islands of Palau (a tiny chain in Micronesia, in the Pacific Ocean midway between Guam and the Philippines) one of the seven underwater wonders of the world. And you'll spend every one of your action-packed days here on it, in it, and becoming one with it.

Rock Islands

On your first day, sign up for a boat tour of the islands to get a taste of what's out there. With a competent driver who knows his way around the water (preferably someone with New York driving experience), check out the statuesque Rock Islands -- they're lush with tropical jungle, exquisite waterfalls, and amazing beaches, and they resemble clusters of broccoli popping out of the sea. Each is a treasure chest of some rare and wonderful tropical finds -- from exotic coral reefs to secret caves to secluded picnic spots.

Honeymoon Island

The perfectly named Honeymoon Island features a private beach under two sweeping ironwood trees where you can be dropped off with a picnic basket to spend the day. Ngermaus, a popular lunch spot, is surrounded by white sand beaches and families of lion fish that live around the rocks.

Reefs

Blue Lagoon-like coves and rock arches abound in Palau, so you can snorkel to your heart's content here. At Cemetery Reef, blue and yellow fish dodge in and out of intricate coral reefs in the warm water and surface to munch on Japanese soup mix the guide sprinkles from the boat. At the Soft Coral Arch, check out the feather coral and swim through to the other side. Snorkeling in Jellyfish Lake is the most incredible experience: More than 5,000 non-stinging salmon-colored and clear jellyfish live here. They bounce off you and feel like tongues all over your body as you slither through them. The up-close-and-personal experience is rare, and one you won't soon forget. Leave your fins on the boat to avoid hurting your slippery friends. Ideal for beginners is the dive site Pincher's Cove, where you can admire blue sponges, fluffy peach-colored coral, fuzzy sea cucumbers, and shells. Outfitters like Sam's Dive Tours will arrange snorkeling trips and scuba diving expeditions.

Kayaking

Palau Kayak Tours and other companies lead excursions by kayak (singles or doubles) out to sea for snorkeling, with stops along the way for cave touring, hiking, viewing Japanese war memorabilia from World War II, lunch at a private beach, and a barbecue of freshly caught fish and octopus.

What To Eat

Spend at least one day on land (you don't want to forget how to walk, do you?) to visit local restaurants featuring authentic Palau fare like mahi mahi; the storyboard center at the local jail where inmates carve storyboards out of beautiful woods; Klamiokl Beauty Salon, for manicures, pedicures or Asian massages; the Paradise Club for a night of dancing; and an authentic house-warming party at a local bar. It's all here in intimate, gorgeous Palau.

When To Go

Temperatures average in the mid-to-high 80s with lows around 75 degrees. While Palau tends to be quite humid and rainy, typhoons are in uncommon. The rainy season occurs between June and December.

More info: Palau Visitors Authority

-- Karen Bressler

See More: Hawaii, Asia + Pacific