Wonders of Palau

Location: Oceania
Capital: Melekeok
Official languages: English, Palauan
Population: 20,800 approximately

The Republic of Palau is a small and young country located in the western Pacific Ocean in the region known as Micronesia, around 650 Km (528 miles) southeast of the Philippines and 2000 kilometers (1248 miles) north of Australia. Palau is an archipelago composed by around 200 islands which is more than 640 Km (400 miles) long.

The main rich of the country is its amazing concentrations of coral reefs, which are considered one of the Underwater Wonders of the World. The capital of the country is the city of Melekeok and the largest city is Koror, which is considered also the commercial capital.

The main islands of Palau are Babeldaob (the largest), Koror and Anagarur, which are located at south. Only eight of the 200 islands of Palau are permanent inhabited.

This small country is 459 square Kilometers and has a population of 20 842 people, being the population rate density 111 per square kilometer approximately. Most islands of Palau are rocky and mountainous, being the highest point of the country the Mount Ngerchelchauus, which is 242 meters height.

Because of its location near the equatorial line, Palau has a tropical climate quite hot and humid during all the year with an average temperature of 27 ºC (82ºF) and an average humidity rate of 82%. Palau has only two seasons well differentiated, dry and wet. The wet season occurs between May and November and the annual rainfall rate is 382 cm.

The country is divided in 176 states and the official languages are the English and the Palauan, but also are recognized the Japanese, Filipino, Chinese amongst other. The official currency is the US dollar, a signal of the American past of the country. Palau is a Constitutional republic with a multi-party presidential representative democratic government system.

It believes that the first inhabitants of Palau arrived from Asia, Australia and Polynesia around 2500 BC. The original Palauan society like the Javanese society is a matrilineal hierarchy, in which, the properties and familiar titles are passed through the female line from generation to generation. Nevertheless, this female domain disappeared after the Japanese invasion in the XX century and was replaced by a patriarchal order.

The first contact between Palau’s people and the European world occurred in the XVI century, when the Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos arrived to the Caroline Islands in 1543, being the first western man that arrived to Palau. Until this date Palau maintained limited relations with Yap and Java, therefore Palau developed an own culture.

After the Ruy López’s travel, Palau was invaded by Spaniards and became part of the Spanish East Indies, which were managed from the Philippines. Spaniards called these islands “Los Palos” whereas the native name is Belau; probably the current name Palau derives from the mix of both words. Spaniards occupied during 300 years the island until 1885 when Germany tried to invade Palau.

Nevertheless the dispute amongst Germans and Spaniards was solved by the Pope Leo XIII whose verdict favored to Spain; but giving several economic concessions to Germany and Great Britain.

In 1899 Spain decided to sell Palau to Germany because of the war against the United States and then Palau became a German protectorate. The German administration began mining operations in Palau, mainly bauxite and Phosphate. Nevertheless, after the World War I, Germany lost the control of Palau and then the small nation became part of the Japanese Empire according to the Treaty of Versailles.

Japan had a great influence in the island during the 1920s and 1930s. The Japanese developed an important economic program in Palau, creating several industrial plants such as the copra processing plants. Besides, Japan promoted the immigration of Japanese citizens to the region. Japan controlled Palau until the World War II, but the Japanese influence is still visible in Palau today.

When Japan was defeated by USA in the World War II, the political administration of Palau as well as several other islands in the Pacific passed to USA. During the American administration, Palau was economically supported by USA; in exchange USA constructed and maintained several military bases in Palau.

Palau adopted a constitution in 1980 and became a self-governing republic in 1981, however, because of the anti nuclear constitution that was adopted by Palau, which forbade the placement of nuclear weapons; United States opposed to the Palau Independence, because the USA army uses Palau as a military site.

After several years of negotiations and an complex internal political process, which included the assassinated of one president and the suicide of another; in 1994 Palau got its independence in free association with the United States; this association means that despite Palau’s independence, United States is responsible for the defense of Palau.

Currently Palau’s economy depends mainly of the tourist industry which is the greatest source of incomes of the country. Palau receives many visitors because of its fascinating marine environment. Thanks to its wonderful coral reefs, the sea that surrounds the Palau archipelago is considered one of the best places of the World to do diving and snorkeling.

Palau’s sea hosts around 1500 species of fishes and 700 species of corals and sea anemones; it is an impressive underwater jungle. Around 50 000 tourists arrive to Palau every year (more than double of the country’s population); therefore Palau is one of the most prosperous countries of Micronesia with a per capita income around US$ 10 000.

The country has a good tourist infrastructure that includes excellent hotels and resorts, nice restaurants, good bars, a great transport system and of course all the facilities to do diving and snorkeling. Because of all these reasons Palau is one of the preferred destinations in Micronesia and one of the sites that worth visiting in the course of life.