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After days of rain in the Philippines, when I land in Palau at 2:00am the most positive thing I can say about the weather is that it is not raining sideways.
It is, however, raining in a circular motion reminiscent of something I may have seen on the Discovery Channel. Seriously, I have video.
Come on Palau, you cannot be serious.
The good news is that at least a driver from my hotel, the Palau Royal Resort, is waiting to greet me – a welcome relief at this ridiculous hour. By the time I get to the hotel and settle into my lovely room it’s after 3am.
I scheduled a full-day outing with Sam’s Tours (the primary diving outfit on the island) for a tour of the Rock Islands and Jellyfish Lake for this morning. But with the weather, I’m not sure we’re even still going.
I manage 2 or 3 hours of sleep and awake to slightly better weather outside. And sure enough, someone from Sam’s is at the hotel to pick me up at 8am sharp.
When I arrive at the marina, I’m introduced to my guide, Malahi, and a couple from France who will make up the rest of our small group.
We climb into our boat and head out for a day on the water.
The Rock Islands of Palau
The Rock Islands of Palau are a group of more than 200 limestone and coral islands dotting Palau’s Southern lagoon.
These uninhabited islands are famous for their beaches and dive sites. Though it’s an overcast day, cruising through the soaring limestone cliffs with their emerald green waters is still a gorgeous sight.
After riding through the islands for about an hour, we stop at two different snorkeling spots and spend some quality time at each. The water is so clear compared to my snorkeling attempt in the Philippines.
There are tons of colorful fish and coral to look at that it’s easy to lose track of time.
Later, we meet up with a few other groups on a small island with a beach and picnic facilities for lunch.
After that, we continue on to what I’m most looking forward to – and why I planned this stop in Palau – a trip to Jellyfish Lake.
Jellyfish Lake Palau
More than 12,000 years old, Jellyfish Lake is filled with millions of migrating golden jellyfish.
Due to a lack of natural predators, the jellyfish have evolved over the millennia without the ability to sting. They never needed to!
It is one of several marine lakes like it in Palau but the only one that can actually be visited. A swim in the lake was featured in two episodes of the TV show Survivor as a reward for winning a challenge.
Palau is the only place in the world where it is possible to swim among these harmless prehistoric creatures.
Having grown up along the beach in Florida, I was trained at a young age to beware of jellyfish. And I well-remember the pain from those few times when I was stung.
With all that in the back of my mind, we make the hike from our boat up a steep and rocky hill. Our climb is assisted by a rope railing staked into the ground. It’s a steep hike up then another steep descent to reach the lake’s simple dock.
An incredible swim in Jellyfish Lake
Once there, Malahi and I slip into the water and make our way to the center of the lake where she assures me we’ll see tons of jellyfish. (I should note here that the French couple declined a swim in the lake because they were “cold” and didn’t want to get wet again. Seriously, France?)
When I first put my mask on and peer under the water, I’m disappointed to see nothing in the murky green waters. After the gorgeous, clear blue waters we’ve been snorkeling in all day I think, “how are we ever going to see anything in this?“
But Malahi isn’t a guide for nothing. As we reach the center of the lake, pale pink forms come into my view by the hundreds, then thousands, then seemingly millions (turns out, there are in fact millions).
I am awestruck. So much so, that it takes me a while to even remember to pull out my camera. It’s almost other-worldly to see these alien-like forms floating past and completely encircling me.
It’s a bit like floating through some sort of alternate universe. My impulse is to recoil when they innocently bump into my legs until I remember that they can do me no harm.
Malahi and I have the lake all to ourselves while we’re there making it even more amazing. As we leave, another group is descending the steep hill hoping what awaits them is worth the climb.
It will be.
Wrapping up 24 hours on Palau
Swimming in Jellyfish Lake is, without a doubt, one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in all of my travels. It’s easily one of my top 30 most extraordinary travel experiences around the world.
Here are 29 more if you’re curious: Around the World in 30 Extraordinary Travel Experiences
I’ve never experienced anything quite like Jellyfish Lake and I’ll surely never forget it.
With our trip to the Rock Islands complete, we head back to the marina. It’s been a simply fantastic day, but I am looking forward to getting back to my room for a shower, some dinner and a nap. My time here on Palau is all too short and tonight I have a 1am flight to Guam.
Redeye #2 – here we go!