Palau is one of the smallest countries in the world with only 20,000 inhabitants and one of the newest. The country did not exist until 1994 when it achieved independence from the US and it does feel a lot like being in Hawaii in the 60s, as if time stood still.
This is because it is a very isolated and hard to reach place so, although it is a relatively developed country product of being a US territory for long, a lot of the cars, urban architecture and look & feel gives it an old-fashioned character.
Jellyfish Lake in Palau is around 45min by boat from Koror, the capital, and it is an incredible natural phenomenon like many other in that part of the world. Because of a combination of ecological and marine conditions the lake is home to millions of non-dangerous golden jellyfish which can be caressed and played with on a snorkelling trip.
Under the surface, the lake hides a real natural mystery. It is composed of two stratified non-mixing layers of water. At the top, the first 15m are made of oxygenated water. The lower layer is devout of oxygen and there is virtually no life. This is one of the reasons diving in the lake is forbidden. Aside from the lack of oxygen the lower layer is also filled with ammonia and phosphate which are toxic to divers who can get poisoned through the skin.
On a regular day in the low season the entire park of hotels in Koror is almost fully booked. Tour operators from Korea and Japan charter planes to take tourists to Palau where they can enjoy a host of natural wonders and great beaches.
On our day tour to Jellyfish Lake it was filled with Korean and Japanese fully geared groups. Tour operators are clearly segmented by nationality, food type and language. We were on the group with an American tour operator (Fish n Fins) and aside from our sandwich instead of a bento box their rules and explanations were also of a different kind. We were told a bit more of the history of the area and assured salt water crocodiles did not swim around. However, there was little being said about the stratification of the lake or the fact that it is around 12,000 years old. Reading about it later I found out the reason why diving is not allowed and realized that the population of golden jellyfish died out completely as a result of El Nino and the increase in temperatures it brought about. Luckily, the numbers were restored to pre decline level around 2012.
The experience is filled with laughter and fun. After a quick walk up and down a steep hill through the forest you reach a deck, from there you get suited up with snorkeling equipment and jump in. We swam for a little while into the lake until the density of jellyfish was noticeable. The jellyfish move around the lake everyday following the sunlight. Playing with these little animals may seem cruel yet it is quite fun. You can touch them and dance with them under the water knowing that their stings are too weak to harm humans. This species is also much smaller than the ones you find at sea and with the mask and snorkel you can get face-to-face with them.