GETTING THERE: Continental flies to Palau from Washington, with connections in Houston, Honolulu and Guam. United, American and Asiana airlines, which partner with Philippine Airlines and Continental, also offer flights, with stops in L.A., Honolulu and Manila. Fares start at $2,200 round trip; the trip takes at least 23 hours.
WHERE TO STAY: Palau has a wide range of accommodations. The five-star, 160-room Palau Pacific Resort (Arakabesang Island, Koror, 800-327-8585, www.panpac.com) is an attractive low-rise resort spread across some 60 acres overlooking the South Pacific, with a private beach. Doubles start at $240, including breakfast. Another good choice is the 60-room Hotel Nikko (Koror, 800-645-5687, www.nikkohotels.com; doubles from $150), which sits some 300 feet above a lagoon and boasts beautiful views of the Rock Islands. A smaller, cozier and more traditional choice is the Carolines Resort (011-680-488-3754, www.carolinesresort.com; doubles start at $150), a collection of cottages built in Palauan style on a leafy hillside, with wonderful sunset views of the Rock Islands.
WHERE TO EAT: Two great, casual places to meet locals are the Pink Dolphin Bar & Grill in Koror, which overlooks a lagoon, and Kramer's Cafe at Pirates Cove (on the waterfront at Malaka, Koror), which boasts a range of island dishes, including my all-time favorite, blackened tuna sashimi. Dinner entrees range from $7 to $16.
Aside from excellent seafood, Palau has terrific Japanese, Korean and Chinese restaurants, all in Koror. The Dragon Tei (Airport Road, Koror), a charming, authentic Japanese restaurant where diners must remove their shoes, uses the best of local produce, including coconut crabs, clams, tuna and coral lobster. Try it with a Red Rooster, the excellent Palauan beer, or any of the Japanese beers served. Set lunches are $15; dinner for two is about $40.
WHAT TO DO: Scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, jungle trekking and sport fishing are the main activities. Two of the most experienced outfitters are Fish 'n Fins (011-680-488-2637, www.fishnfins.com) and Sam's Dive Tours (011-680-488-1062, www.samstours.com).
The Belau National Museum in Koror (011-680-488-2841) is worth a visit to see modern and traditional Palauan art work, as well as the country's beautiful shell and stone money, which is still used as family-entrusted jewelry. There is also a fully restored bai, or men's community house, behind the museum. The Etpison Museum (Koror, 011-680-488-6730) has original paintings, photographs and antique maps of old Palau. The recently opened Palau International Coral Reef Center (Koror, 011-680-488-6950, www.picrc.org) explains Palau's amazing coral reef ecosystem and has outdoor and indoor aquariums with sharks, giant clams, jellyfish and rare Palauan crocodiles. Cost: $7.
Palau does not offer a great shopping experience, but the long-established hand-carved Palauan story boards make unique souvenirs and unusual gifts. Prices range from $25 for a small item to $300 for an elaborate tabletop stunner. The finest examples I found were by Ling Inabo at the Tebang Woodcarving Shop in Koror.
INFORMATION: Palau Visitors Authority, 011-680-488-2793, www.visit-palau.com.
-- Steven Knipp