The island nation of the Republic of Palau is situated in the South Pacific. Palau has been inhabited since around the 3rd millennium BC, when people arrived from nearby islands, likely the Philippines or Indonesia. Language similarities may suggest that these early people originated in Indonesia. The people of Palau probably had contact with people from neighboring islands, including those of Micronesia and Indonesia. Though Europeans first arrived in the region in the 16th century, none explored Palau until the 18th century with the arrival of the English. Soon, the islands were claimed by several European powers at once: Britain, Spain, and Germany all laid claim to the islands. By the ruling of Pope Leo XIII, the islands of Palau were granted to Spain, becoming part of Spain’s territory of the Spanish East Indies along with the Philippines and several other islands.
Spain’s control of Palau lasted until 1899, when the Spanish sold the islands to Germany, and they became part of German New Guinea. The Germans had a greater influence on the island in terms of economic growth and culture. In 1914, after conflicts arose between Japan and Germany, Japanese forces took control of Palau. The Japanese shaped the island country’s government, as well as its culture and economy. In World War II, Palau was the site of battles between the Japanese who occupied the islands and the American forces.
Palau became a Trust Territory, governed by the UN in 1947, until the people of Palau decided to join the Federated State of Micronesia. Power struggles and internal unrest led to Palau voting to enter into the Compact of Free Association with the United States, which began in 1994. Under the agreement, the United States handles Palau’s defense.
Palau shares no land borders with other countries, but nearby countries include Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
- Ngerulmud (capital)
Palau’s territory covers more than 250 islands in the western Caroline Islands chain of Micronesia. The main islands of Palau include Babeldaob, Koror, Peleliu, and Angaur. The Rock Islands is a group of well over 200 small uninhabited islands. The Sonsorol Islands are an island group located a long distance to the southwest of the rest of Palau.
As an island nation, Palau’s best known geographic feature is its coastlines, with beautiful beaches and clear blue waters. Large barrier reefs are located just off the coasts.
Many of the islands of Palau are forested, and the island of Babeldaob is mountainous. The highest point in Palau is Mount Ngerchelchauus, located on the island of Babeldaob, which stands 242 meters (794 feet) above sea level. The only rivers in Palau are located on Babeldaob Some of these are the Lmetmellasch, Ouang and Desengong rivers. Many of the smaller islands of Palau are coral reef islands, which are fairly low and flat.
Points of Interest
Palau is a popular destination for scuba diving, with many great places to experience the sea life of the islands. Rock Island is known for its Jellyfish Lake, where visitors can swim with the jellyfish, whose stings do not hurt.
Palau’s largest city, Koror, is a destination for visitors who want to enjoy shopping at the markets of its downtown, or to experience some of Palau’s aquatic life. Koror is home to Dolphins Pacific, the largest dolphin research facility in the world, where visitors can swim with the dolphins and learn about them too. Also in Koror is the Palau International Coral Reef Center, which is an aquarium that features local sea creatures.
The island of Angaur offers historical battlegrounds from World War II, as well as some natural sites to enjoy water sports, including surfing.
Palau’s airport is Airai, which is located on Babeldaob, and offers direct service to nearby nations, including Guam, South Korea, and Japan. To get around the islands, car is the main mode of travel. While there are car rental agencies, the roads can be rough, though there are some paved and maintained roads. Taxis are often the better option, as the drivers are used to the road conditions. As an island nation, boats are another important method of traveling, and service can be arranged with many companies for tours of the islands as well as recreational trips out to sea. The islands are also a destination for travel on yachts.
Last Updated : June 27, 2015