The Palau Rock Islands have earned UNESCO status for their incredible scenery, and they’re one of the main tourist sights in the country of Palau. While many people choose to see the islands with a scenic flight, another great option is to visit them with a boat tour.
On a speed boat tour to the Rock Islands of Palau, you can do lots of fun activities like swimming in a bright turquoise lagoon nicknamed the Milky Way, walking on a soft white sandbar called Long Beach, and even snorkeling in a lake full of stingless jellyfish!
This travel guide will explain everything you need to know about visiting the Palau Rock Islands by boat, including the best tour company, current tour prices, a map of the islands, and the best things to see and do in the islands on a day trip from the town of Koror.
Best Rock Islands Palau Tour
Viator has a high-rated Palau boat tour that visits many of the top sights of the Rock Islands in a day tour.
This tour includes lunch, snorkel equipment, and free hotel pickup and drop-off from Koror, plus 5 to 8 hours of sightseeing and swimming at places like the Milky Way and Jellyfish Lake.
Keep in mind the itinerary can change from day to day because of the tide and other conditions, so if there’s a spot you’re really wanting to see, then you might want to double check about that with your tour company before you go.
We’ve used Viator for lots of tours and activities around the world, and they’re great. Highly recommended!
Book Now: Rock Islands Palau Tour
Where Are The Rock Islands Located?
The Rock Islands are located about 10 kilometers (6 miles) southwest of mainland Koror, Palau, so they’re easy to reach by boat.
With a speedboat, you can get to sights like the Milky Way in less than 30 minutes, and the other sights like Long Beach are only a bit farther.
Best Things To Do In The Rock Islands Of Palau
Here’s a list of some of the best sights and things to do in the Rock Islands of Palau.
This is far from a complete list of everything to do in the islands, but these are just some of the main highlights that you’re likely to experience on a one day boat tour.
• Milky Way
The Milky Way is a natural lagoon in the Rock Islands with some of the brightest turquoise water you’ll ever see.
This spot is popular for its mudbath activity, where you can cover your face and body with the white limestone mud, and it supposedly has health benefits for your skin. The tours provide the mudpack, and it’s a fun activity for all ages.
We spent about 30 minutes at the Milky Way, floating in the creamy colored water. It’s a really nice lagoon.
• Jellyfish Lake
The Jellyfish Lake is one of Palau’s most famous sights. Here, you can swim with millions of stingless jellyfish!
There are two different species of jellyfish living in this lake — the golden jellyfish and the moon jellyfish — and both are completely harmless to humans. They have no ability to sting.
You can easily snorkel with the jellyfish near the surface of the lake, and Palau is one of only a few places in the world where you can do this!
Before visiting the Jellyfish Lake, make sure to check with your tour company about the current status of the lake and whether it’s open or not.
Unfortunately when I visited Palau in 2023, the jellyfish numbers had dwindled because of El Niño and La Niña weather patterns, which caused most of the golden jellyfish to die out since the lake temperature was too warm.
Thankfully the jellyfish numbers are eventually expected to rebound and go back to their normal levels, and hopefully that happens before too long!
• Long Beach
Long Beach is a natural sandbar in the Rock Islands Southern Lagoon that can only be seen at low tide. This was one of my favorite spots in the Rock Islands, and I would’ve liked to stay there all day.
We hopped off the boat in the shallow water and then walked all the way to the end of the sandbar and back, spending about 30 minutes enjoying the scenery at Long Beach. When it’s fully exposed, the sandbar is almost 1 kilometer long (1/2 mile).
I’ve seen a lot of nice sandbars around the world in places like Indonesia and the Philippines, but I have to say this is one of the best sandbars I’ve seen. The water is really calm and beautiful, and the sand is almost blindingly white.
• German Channel
The German Channel is an artificial waterway that was created by the Germans during World War II to allow ships to pass through the reef. The channel is now used as a scuba diving site, since it has a depth of up to 40 meters (130 feet).
While I think it’s more interesting to see the channel from above on a scenic plane ride, many of the boat tours visit this spot briefly as well.
The water is incredibly blue, and if you’re lucky you might even see sharks or manta rays swimming through the channel!
• Babelomekang Island
After spending a few hours exploring the Rock Islands, tours will normally stop somewhere to eat lunch.
Some tours stop for lunch at Carp Island Resort, but in our case, we went ashore at a nice little paradise island called Babelomekang, and the tour guide handed each of us a Bento box (Japanese set meal) with rice, chicken, spring roll, orange, veggies, and more.
This was a quiet island with a nice white sand beach, shady trees, and plenty of room to walk around. We spent about 1 hour here eating our lunch and then relaxing on the beach.
• Snorkeling Spots
Last, but not least, we spent 1 or 2 hours snorkeling at some places around the reef, including a very nice spot called the Cemetery.
Palau has lots of great snorkeling opportunities spread out across the Rock Islands, so there’s plenty of variety in the places you might visit with your tour.
I didn’t take pictures while snorkeling since I didn’t have my underwater camera with me at the time, but there were sea turtles, and lots of nice fish and coral in surprisingly good condition!
Map Of The Palau Rock Islands
Here’s a map of some of the best attractions and things to do in the Rock Islands of Palau, including top sights like the Milky Way, Jellyfish Lake, and Long Beach. You can click on the icons to see the name and more information about each spot.
Keep in mind each tour follows a different itinerary, so you may not always be able to see every one of these places in a single day trip.
Rock Island Conservation Fees
Palau requires a conservation permit for any tourist visiting the Rock Islands by boat. This is paid separately from the cost of your tour, although most tour companies can sell you the permit on the day of your tour.
As of 2023, the permit costs are as follows:
- Rock Islands — $50 USD
- Rock Islands + Jellyfish Lake — $100 USD
You only need to buy one of these permits, not both. In other words, if you plan on visiting the Jellyfish Lake, then you have to buy the more expensive permit. If not, then you can buy the cheaper permit. Kids under 6 years of age don’t need any permit.
The permits are valid for 10 days, so if you decide to re-visit the Rock Islands during that timeframe you don’t have to buy another permit. Just don’t lose your permit!
Can You Fly A Drone In The Palau Rock Islands?
Yes, you can fly a drone in the Rock Islands of Palau, but a permit is required. You can apply for a drone permit by filling out this form on the official website of the Palau Visitors Authority.
It’s free and easy to fill out the application. Just enter your name, nationality, and other personal details, and the date and purpose of your drone flight. If you’re flying for non-commercial reasons, just say it’s hobby photography.
You’ll want to look over the drone rules on that page as well. They only allow flights below 120 meters (400 feet) and within visual line of sight, and of course you can’t fly near planes or airports.
In my case, they approved the permit in only 1 hour, but they recommend applying at least 3 days in advance to make sure there’s enough time to process your permit.
If you’re approved, you’ll want to explain this to your Rock Island tour company as well, and save an offline copy of your permit to show them, that way there’s no misunderstanding on the day of your boat tour.
There are lots of nice spots to fly a drone in the Rock Islands, but I think Long Beach was my favorite. The sandbar looks great from above!
What To Bring For The Boat Tour
Here are some packing suggestions for your Rock Islands day trip.
- Waterproof Bag: Essential for keeping your electronics safe on the boat tours. I brought a 30 liter bag and was able to fit my drone, tablet, camera, phone, and a bunch of other stuff inside, and everything was kept dry!
- Waterproof Phone Pouch: Same as above, but these are for your phone only. Great if you don’t have other electronics and just need something small to protect your phone.
- Snorkeling Gear: Some of the snorkeling spots have nice corals and fish, and you won’t want to miss out on them. Snorkels and masks are often provided for free by the tour companies, but if not, then you’ll want to bring your own gear.
- Sun Protection: The sun is very strong in Palau, so you’ll want to wear a hat and sunscreen. If you bring sunscreen from home, just keep in mind some types of sunscreen are banned in Palau and may be confiscated at the airport in Koror.
- Bottled Water: Check if your tour company provides bottled water. If not, you’ll want to bring some of your own, because the snorkeling will make you thirsty, guaranteed.
- Drone: An aerial camera can be very handy for capturing nice pictures of the Rock Islands, but remember to get a permit and follow the rules, as mentioned in the section above.
Other Tips For The Palau Rock Islands
- Language. Many tour companies in Palau are Japanese-owned and they cater primarily to Japanese tourists, so keep in mind there may be a bit of a language barrier, although it’s generally not much of a problem. In my case, the guide was bilingual and helpfully repeated everything in English for me as we went, so it was no issue at all.
- Crocodiles. According to the locals, it’s very rare to see a saltwater crocodile in Palau, especially if you stay away from mangrove areas.
- Mosquitoes. I never saw any mosquitoes on this tour, even when we stopped to have our lunch on Babelomekang island. It’s a forested island so I thought there might be some mosquitoes, but there wasn’t a single one! I wouldn’t bother wearing mosquito repellant for this tour at all.
- Toilets. When island hopping in Palau, generally there are no bathrooms on the boats or islands. You can find basic toilets at Babelomekang island or Carp Island Resort, but aside from that, your best bet is to take care of business before starting your day tour.
- Where To Stay. The only private island with a hotel in this area is the Carp Island Resort, which is located between Peleliu and the Rock Islands. This hotel is technically outside of the Rock Islands, but it could still be a good option if you want to stay in close proximity to the dive sites.
Best Time To Visit The Rock Islands
Palau has plenty of rain all year long, but any time is good to visit. The driest months in Koror and the Rock Islands are January to April, but even those months have plenty of rain.
I wouldn’t worry about it too much either way, because the rain tends to come in the evening or at night. You can never guarantee you’ll have perfect weather no matter when you go.
I visited Palau in September, which is supposed to be one of the more rainy months of the year, but actually the weather was perfect and there was no rain at all for several days, so it didn’t affect my travels one bit.
Fun Facts About The Rock Islands Of Palau
- Why are they called the Rock Islands?
The Rock Islands may not look like rocks, but they actually are in fact limestone rock formations covered with tropical vegetation.
- How many islands are there?
According to UNESCO, there are approximately 445 uninhabited islands in the Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, and they cover a total area of 100,200 hectares (about 250,000 acres).
- What is the UNESCO status?
The Rock Islands Southern Lagoon has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2012, because of its exceptional beauty, natural biodiversity, and cultural value.
- What kinds of animals live there?
The Rock Islands are home to birds, fruit bats, dugongs, sea turtles, saltwater crocodiles, and many kinds of coral, fish, and giant clams.
Palau Scenic Flight Over The Rock Islands
A scenic flight over the Rock Islands is becoming one of the most popular things for tourists to do in Palau, and it’s easy to see why: this is one of the most beautiful landscapes in the Pacific!
The flights are offered by Pacific Mission Aviation, and they take the doors off so you can get an overhead view of the town of Koror, followed by amazing views of hundreds of Palau’s nicest islands, lakes, and lagoons.
As much as I enjoyed touring the Rock Islands by boat, it was hard to top the scenic flight. If you have the time and budget, you should try to do both activities. The boat tour and scenic flight are very different experiences, but they’re both awesome!
Read More: Palau Rock Islands Scenic Flight
More Palau Travel Guides
Thanks for looking! I hope you enjoyed this guide for visiting the Palau Rock Islands on a boat tour. It was one of my favorite experiences in the little country of Palau.
Don’t forget to check out my Palau Travel Guide before you go!