The thousands of tiny islands that make up Micronesia are sprinkled across a vast area of the Pacific and offer endless diving opportunities—reefs, wrecks, walls, drift dives, shore dives. Some, like Yap and Truk, are remnants of the post-war U.S. Trust Territory, while others like Guam and Saipan are still U.S. commonwealths. It may take some time and money to get there, but the trek pays off with pristine diving on islands that haven't yet witnessed widespread development or exploitation.
Palau at a Glance - Micronesia's westernmost destination has a little bit of everything the region has to offer—wrecks, reefs, walls and incredible fish life, all bathed in warm, clear current.
Diving Options - The great debate—land-based or live-aboard? It's up to you, and both are good choices here. If you're prone to seasickness, the choice is not so obvious, as the boat ride to most popular dive sites can take up to an hour from most resorts. Sam's Dive Tours, Fish-N-Fins, Neco Marine and Splash are the most popular operations, according to our Reader Ratings surveys.
Live-aboard dive boats serving Palau include the Palau Aggressor, Peter Hughes' Sun Dancer II, the Ocean Hunter and the Big Blue Explorer.
Lodging Options - The Palau dive operators above offer packages with the following hotels: Palau Pacific Resort (PPR), West Plaza Hotels, the Marina Hotel, Marine Village and The Carolines. With the exception of the PPR, Palau hotels tend to be on the basic side.
Water Conditions and Vis - Expect stiff currents, especially at sites like Blue Corner and Peleliu. If you get separated from your dive group, you'll be glad you brought a safety sausage. Visibility at the popular southern wall sites will be in the triple digits, slightly less at some of the wreck sites closer to Koror.
Best Travel Advice - Clocking in at 14 hours of flying time from the U.S. West Coast, Palau is the westernmost of the Micronesian diving hot spots. Pack for a long trip—bring comfy clothes and good reading material.
Best Après Dive Activity - Kayak the archipelago's emerald Rock Islands, which sprout mushroom-like from the blue ocean. Visit the eerily quiet ghost island of Peleliu, ground zero for one of World War II's bloodiest battles.
Snapshots From Our Readers - "Large schools of big fish" ... "good visibility" ... "phenomenal diversity of life" ... "very strong current in some areas" ... "historical war sites above water, wrecks below" ... "boat rides sometimes long, but scenery made up for it" ... "drift diving made everything easy" ... "hook on at Blue Corner and watch critters go by" ... "water smooth as glass" ... "warm, clear water" ... "no nightlife."
Our Readers' Five Favorite Things About Palau
1. Fish life
2. Advanced diving
3. Big animal encounters
4. Wall diving
Yap at a Glance - The world's hottest manta destination delivers, but also provides surprisingly good reef and wall diving. Yapese culture is a showcase of traditional Micronesian life. Ulithi Atoll—about 100 miles from Yap's main island—now offers diving on World War II-era shipwrecks and landing craft.
Diving Options - Yap has a handful of good dive operators—including the first, Yap Divers, and the newest, Trader's Ridge. A new dive operation just opened on Ulithi.
Lodging Options - There's Yap's original resort, the Manta Ray Bay Hotel; Yap's newest upscale hotel, Trader's Ridge; and the traditional Pathways with its thatched hut-style accommodations. A 10-room hotel just opened on Ulithi, with four beachfront cottages in the works.
Water Conditions and Vis - Visibility on Yap's walls is often triple digits, but can be downright lousy in the channels. But you'll take mantas over good vis any day, right?
Best Travel Advice - It's important to dress for Yap's heat and humidity while keeping in mind the island's traditional, conservative dress code. Leave the thong bikini at home. Worried that you're not seeing enough of the rest of Micronesia? Yap is an excellent add-on to Palau and Truk itineraries.
Best Après Dive Activity - Soak up Yap's folksy cultural tours—this is one of Micronesia's best-preserved cultures. Go see some stone money, but respect the locals and don't step on it.
Snapshots From Our Readers - "Mantas were awesome, but we were very impressed by healthy coral and abundant fish life" ... "more than just mantas" ... "cultural experience a once-in-a-lifetime adventure" ... "sites are pristine" ... "simple, underdeveloped island" ... "friendliest people I've ever met" ... "great shark dive" ... "a bit quiet topside."
Our Readers' Five Favorite Things About Yap
1. Big animal encounters
2. Advanced diving
4. Fish life
5. Health of reefs
Wreck Discovered Near Yap
U.S. Ship Believed To Be First and Only Sunk by Japanese Suicide Torpedo
The USS Mississinewa (AO-59)—believed to be the only U.S. ship sunk by kaiten, or suicide torpedo—was discovered April 6 at the bottom of Ulithi Lagoon, about 100 miles northeast of the main island of Yap. The 553-foot-long oiler had been missing since it went down on Nov. 20, 1944. Fifty sailors were killed when the 24,400-ton vessel was struck by what historians believe was a kaiten operated by Lieutenant Sekio Nishina, co-inventor of the craft.
The ship was discovered on its port side in 120 feet of water by a team of three divers from the San Francisco Bay area. The search team consisted of Lewis "Chip" Lambert, his wife Pam Lambert and Pat Scannon, who used old photos, depth-finders and GPS to locate the wreck. Several previous searches failed to find the ship, which had been missing for almost 57 years.
The sinking of the Mississinewa was one of the most significant Japanese naval triumphs of World War II. Four other Japanese kaitens were destroyed by U.S. forces before hitting their targets in Ulithi Lagoon at that time. With its massive length and beam of 75 feet, the Mississinewa is more than 50 feet longer than Truk's largest wreck, the Heian Maru. In addition to the Mississinewa, there are about 20 U.S. Navy landing craft scuttled in Ulithi Lagoon.
But don't pack your dive bag just yet—the wreck has been closed to scuba diving pending discussions between Yap leaders and the U.S. Navy.
Truk at a Glance - The world's best-known wreck destination is a great place to dive your brains out on the largest concentration of diveable ships, cloaked in multihued soft corals.
Diving Options - Land-based or live-aboard—both allow you to experience the lagoon's best wrecks. On a live-aboard, you have a better chance of diving the outer lagoon reefs, while with a land-based operator, you can explore the island. Go live-aboard if you're staying for a week, land-based if you're spending less time.
Live-aboards that dive Truk Lagoon's wrecks and outer reefs include the Truk Aggressor, Odyssey and SS Thorfinn.
Lodging Options - The Truk Stop—once only a hotel—is now a full-service dive resort, complete with its own dock. The old Truk Continental is now the Blue Lagoon Dive Resort.
Water Conditions and Vis - Visibility on the wrecks inside Truk Lagoon can be poor to excellent, but varies day to day. Visibility on Truk's outer reefs is consistent with that of most Micronesian reefs, often in the triple digits.
Best Travel Advice - Pack at least a dive skin in your gear bag to protect you from scratches from the wrecks' rusting metal surfaces. Bring your own entertainment and ample reading material—there's not a whole lot to do topside.
Best Après Dive Activity - Visit the island of Dublon, site of a giant Japanese seaplane base during World War II.
Snapshots From Our Readers - "Excellent wreck diving and coral life" ... "filled with history" ... "must-do destination for underwater photography" ... "visibility can be low" ... "worth every penny" ... "never been interested in wreck diving, but the dives were some of my best yet" ... "loaded with interesting artifacts and a spectactular array of marine life" ... "great soft corals" ... "beautiful islands" ... "wreck diving at its best."
Our Readers' Five Favorite Things About Truk
1. Wreck diving
2. Advanced diving
4. Health of reefs
5. Fish life
Pohnpei at a Glance - Much more lush and mountainous than its Micronesian sister islands to the west, Pohnpei is geographically stunning. Despite its reputation as a so-so dive destination, sites like Peleng Pass and Ant Atoll offer drift diving and big schools of fish similar to Palau.
Dive Options - The dive operation at the famous resort, The Village, will run divers out to all the popular reef sites, as well as make the hourlong ride to Ant Atoll for drift diving in the lagoon's cut.
Water Conditions and Vis - The current in the passes at Ant Atoll can shoot you through the water like a rocket, so stay with the group and bring a safety sausage. Visibility is good to excellent out here, and on Pohnpei's outer reef sites.
Best Travel Advice - This is perhaps Micronesia's most romantic island. Nightlife may consist of drinking sakau, Pohnpei's version of Fiji's kava.
Best Après Dive Activity - Visiting the mysterious ruins of ancient Nan Madol, "Venice of the Pacific," a city built from basalt logs by an obscure island civilization.
Snapshots From Our Readers - "Great variety of coral" ... "numerous species of marine life" ... "best dives were shallower" ... "above-water attractions fabulous" ... "awesome drift diving at Ant Atoll, well worth the hour boat ride."
Northern Marianas at a Glance - A unique, off-the-beaten-path dive experience for most Americans, these islands are extremely popular with Asian tourists. Saipan offers some of the region's best shore diving; Rota some of the best visibility.
Dive Options - Of the dozens of Northern Marianas' dive operations, Stingray Divers and Rota Divers are two of the only ones that cater primarily to the American market. Currently, there are no live-aboard options in the Northern Marianas.
Though Saipan offers some of the best shore diving in the Pacific, it is recommended that you consult a dive operator and do some guided dives before setting off on your own.
Lodging Options - Saipan is the second most popular island in Micronesia among Asian tourists, so there are many hotel choices.
Water Conditions and Vis - Rota has some of the clearest water in Micronesia, with 200-foot visibility being common.
Best Travel Advice - The islands' popularity among travelers from Japan and Asia has given the Marianas the reputation of being a pricey destination. While this may be true of some of Saipan's upscale resorts, there are some good bargains.
Best Après Dive Activity - Visit Banzai Cliff on Saipan, where thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians jumped to their deaths to evade capture by invading American G.I.s.
Snapshots From Our Readers - "Excellent visibility" ... "variety of sites" ... "Saipan best shore diving in region" ... "The Grotto on Saipan is an excellent night shore dive."
Kosrae at a Glance - Similar geographically to Pohnpei, lush and mountainous Kosrae smacks more of Tahiti than Palau. One of the region's few shore diving destinations, the island boasts dive sites that remain unnamed and unexplored.
Diving Options - Kosrae is unique in Micronesia in that there are good opportunities to shore dive. Get a couple boat dives under your belt, however, before blazing your own trail. Two resorts on Kosrae that cater to American divers are Kosrae Village Resort (KVR) and Kosrae Nautilus, both with on-site diving facilities. You can even shore dive right off the beach at KVR.
Water Conditions and Vis - The water is remarkably warm and clear in this hard coral mecca. Runoff can lower it to 50 feet, but expect clarity of 100 feet or more.
Best Travel Advice - The Sabbath is strictly observed, so bring a good book and some patience, and prepare to do nothing on Sundays but chill out.
Best Après Dive Activity - Snorkeling the island's hard coral gardens, listening to the choral harmonies that resound from the churches on Sundays, ascending into the high-altitude rain forests.
Snapshots From Our Readers - "Nice hard corals" ... "lots of small critters" ... "quiet island."
Marshalls at a Glance - Hundreds of tiny islands form several atolls strung out across a large swath of the central Pacific. Atolls like Bikini and Kwajalein—the world's largest—offer wreck diving that rivals Truk. Arno, Mili and Jaluit boast profuse hard corals, big fish and frequent shark sightings.
Dive Options - There are no live-aboards in the Marshall Islands, so your only options are land-based. Dive operators are concentrated on the main island of Majuro, as well as Bikini Atoll and on the island of Ebeye in Kwajalein Atoll.
Lodging Options - There's a large, five-year-old Outrigger resort on Majuro, but other than that you can count on simple, rustic accommodations. Don't expect a Radisson or Marriott.
Water Conditions and Vis - You'll experience excellent visibility on the Marshall Islands' outer reefs, slightly less on sites inside atoll lagoons.
Best Travel Advice - To escape Majuro's maddening crowds, head west to Laura Beach. It's a popular local hangout on weekends, but you'll have the place to yourself during the week.
Best Après Dive Activity - The Marshall Islands' 1,200-plus Gilligan-esque islets are a perfect setting for your hammock and palm tree fantasies. If you do get an urge to go bowling, however, there are six lanes of fun at Majuro Bowl.
Snapshots From Our Readers (Bikini) - "Best wreck site in the world" ... "eye-opening to see effects of the atomic bomb first-hand" ... "exposed to Cold War history" ... "emotional experience" ... "relative lack of marine life" ... "diving challenging for advanced divers at all levels."
The Micronesian Mean
The individual islands that make up Micronesia may be smaller than some Texas cattle ranches, but together they're spread out over a piece of ocean the size of Australia. There are, however, some common denominators:
Water Temps This close to the equator (most islands are from around five to 10 degrees north latitude), the water temperatures are fairly consistent year-round throughout the region. Expect high 70Fs to mid-80Fs whether it's June or January.
Weather It's pretty much always hot and humid. Daytime temps hover in the mid- to high 80Fs, while nights can drop to the mid- to low 70Fs.
What To Pack Typical tropical island rules apply—sunscreen, hat, loose and comfortable cotton clothing. Pack, too, for the rigors of long-haul air travel—plenty of reading material, melatonin for jet lag and a good neck pillow.
How To Get There Continental Airlines is the flagship carrier to the region. With U.S. hubs in Houston, Newark, Honolulu and Los Angeles, checking your dive bag to Palau is as easy as checking it to Peoria.
Advanced DivingEvery year, RSD's Top 100 Readers' Choice Awards ranks destinations around the world in various diving categories. Unfortunately for Micronesia's smaller islands—Kosrae, Pohnpei, Saipan, the Marshall Islands and Northern Marianas—we simply don't receive enough surveys to include them for statistical purposes in our rankings. If Micronesia were one destination, these would be its best scores: