Palau: diving in a tropical Pacific paradise

 A tourist diving in the waters at Palau.
A tourist diving in the waters at Palau.

Set in a marine reserve almost as big as France, and with coral reefs in "glorious form", the Pacific island nation of Palau is a dream destination for divers. Those wishing to explore the reefs, and the islands, might book a berth on the Explorer, says Stanley Stewart in the FT, a three-deck catamaran launched by the Four Seasons hotel group in December. With ten cabins and one "palatial" suite, it provides "levels of comfort unheard of in most dive boats". The crew leads a fivestar Padi programme, as well as snorkelling, paddleboarding and kayaking trips.

Palau's seas are its greatest "enchantment", but guests can also venture on shore on guided expeditions. Just stepping out of the tiny airport in Palau, into warm air "freighted with tropical aromas", is a remarkable experience. Various colonial powers have "come and gone" – the Spanish, the Germans, the Japanese, and finally the Americans, who left in 1994 but still fund a generous aid programme, "intended to keep the Palauans out of the hands of the Chinese". The Americans' arrival, in September 1944, was among the more dramatic. Indeed, the battle of Peleliu (the island that US troops stormed first) has been called the bloodiest of the Second World War in the Pacific theatre.

Guests on the Explorer can visit the deserted beach and wander through the serene forest – still littered with rusting Japanese materiel – where it unfolded, costing the lives of more than 12,000 men over two months. Much of the diving takes place in the south of the archipelago, around forested karst islands that look "like children's drawings". There are some 1,300 species of fish in these seas, and 700 hard and soft corals. Vast schools of bigeye trevally tremble silver in "latticed light", huge manta rays sail through the "blue void", and octopuses can be found hiding beneath the propeller of a Japanese plane, which lies on the sea floor "like a fallen angel", with bright coral blossoming along its wings.

Original Diving has a five-night trip from £7,905, excluding flights.