Dive Center Profile: Sam's Tours

A bucket list destination with experiences to match

For many divers, Palau is a bucket list destination. This small group of South-Pacific islands is prized not only for the quality of the marine environment but also for the wide variety of diving experiences available. In addition to steep walls and unique coral formations, there are channels and protruding reef corners where the prevailing currents that attract lively menagerie sharks, rays and schooling fish. Some slopes and walls are riddled with tunnels, caves and caverns, while other sites hold WWII freighters and plane wrecks. With some 1300 species of fish and more than 700 species of corals, and everything from macro life to manta rays, Palau has it all. And for nearly three decades, Sam's Tours has been Palau's go-to provider for both diving and eco-adventures.

Sam's Tour is located on the Malakal Harbor waterfront, convenient to many of Palau's resorts.
Sam's Tour is located on the Malakal Harbor waterfront, convenient to many of Palau's resorts.

The Dive Center

Dive trips and kayak tours depart from the dive center for sites on reefs and in the Rock Islands.
Dive trips and kayak tours depart from the dive center for sites on reefs and in the Rock Islands.

Sam's Tours is a PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Center that offers a full range of services, including instruction and a well-stocked rental and retail center that also offers clothing, books and unique local products. The waterfront facility is located on the western side of Palau's Malakal Harbor, with complimentary round-trip hotel and downtown shuttle service for customers. On-site gear storage facilities allow guests to leave their equipment at the dive center each day rather than carry it back to their hotel. A fleet of custom-built outboard boats provides fast transits to dive sites. Each is fully-equipped with VHF radios, cell phones, first aid and DAN emergency oxygen kits, and fitted with a full canopy for sun protection. The maximum guide-to-divers ratio is 1:8. One added dimension to the dive center is the on-site bottom Time Bar & Grill, which is open for pre-dive breakfasts, and serves a full menu of snacks, meals and beverage in the afternoon. With a west-facing location right on the water, the Bottom Time becomes a favorite happy hour gathering spot after a day of diving.

Palau's Rock Islands are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Palau's Rock Islands are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Daily Dive Plan

A typical dive day with Sam's Tours begins with a free shuttle from hotels to the dive center. On arrival, there's ample time to assemble gear and get situated, and boats usually depart between 8:30 and 9:00 am from two-tank or three-tank excursions. A number of dive sites are within a half-hour to 45 minutes of the docks. And getting there can be a memorable part of the day, as the boats cruise through Palau's iconic Rock Islands on the way to the sites.

An aerial view of the dive site known as Blue Corner.
An aerial view of the dive site known as Blue Corner.

A majority of dives are conducted as guided drifts, with entries made as a live drop from the boat. Divers familiar with this technique know that it is actually easier and more convenient that diving from a moored vessel, a boat and diver move in consort, negating the effects of the current when entering or exiting the water. In addition to conventional drift dives, Palau is known for the use of reef hooks. These hooks are affixed to a tether line, and fitted with a clip or handle that can be attached to a BCD. After drifting to a protruding area of the reef, where prevailing currents attract a high concentration of fish life, divers can find an area of hard bottom, set their hooks and hold a position in the moving water like giant underwater kites. Some of the most popular sites for this type of diving are Blue Corner and Big Dropoff. Here, the currents draw swarms of reefs fish and attract sharks, rays, and large schools of snappers, trevally and barracudas.

The reef at Blue Corner is perforated by vertical shafts that open to cavern entrances on the face of the wall.
The reef at Blue Corner is perforated by vertical shafts that open to cavern entrances on the face of the wall.

Surface intervals and lunch breaks are normally spent on either a virgin white sand beach with wild green vegetation, equipped with cozy seating benches and toilet facilities, or on top of snorkeling sites with stunning shallow reef plateaus.

Boats usually return to the dive center between 3 and 4 pm. For those wanting even more bottom time, Sam's offers unlimited access to a house reef known as Sam's Wall, which begins right off the docks, and is a favorite for macro and night dives. The shuttle is available whenever divers want to return to their hotel, but many choose to hang around the shop to relive the day, watch the sunset and enjoy a libation or snack at the Bottom Time while enjoying the beautiful sunset views.

Among the Unique Dive Expeditions offered by Sam's Tours are early morning trips to spawning aggregations.
Among the Unique Dive Expeditions offered by Sam's Tours are early morning trips to spawning aggregations.

Advanced Adventures

Divers with the appropriate experience can participate in a wide range of underwater adventures with Sam's Tours, including extended range technical diving, black water dives and immersions into spawning aggregations. Walls that plunge to depths of a thousand feet or more can be explored with extended-range air dives to 180 ft. or with mixed gases and rebreathers to depths of more than 400 feet. In addition to deep dives, the Sam's Tours team can arrange cave and cavern dives, and technical wreck dives on a number of historic war wrecks. The center can also provide advanced training through TDI and PADI Tec. Also offered are the dive center's Unique Dive Expeditions, which are conducted from a customized 29 ft. speedboat. Among the most popular and noteworthy adventures are early-morning spawning aggregations. Near the full moon, thousands of red snapper gather at specific sites to spawn. These spectacular events involve thousands of fish, and also attract large predators as well. Also on the schedule are spawning aggregations of bumphead parrotfish, where males of the species stage elaborate mating displays. Sam’s Tours also stage blackwater dives, where divers hover in open water at night to witness the wealth of pelagic creatures that arise from the depths to be revealed by dive lights.

Kayaks provide access to hidden coves where corals grow close to the surface.
Kayaks provide access to hidden coves where corals grow close to the surface.

Beyond Diving

In addition to premier access to spectacular diving, Sam's Tours offers a variety of memorable adventures on both land and sea. Kayak tours through the Rock Islands take paddlers to hidden bays where they can snorkel among giant basket-like coral formations that grow right up to the surface of the sea. Other trips have kayakers riding tidal currents through maze-like mangrove channels, paddling to forgotten World War II bunkers, immersing in the mineral-tainted waters of the Milky Way, and negotiating a tunnel that leads to a hidden lake. On land, there are jungle hikes, cultural immersions, visits to historic sites and aerial tours of Palau's unique archipelago.

Palau's jungles hold historical artifacts from the Second World War.
Palau's jungles hold historical artifacts from the Second World War.

Make it happen

We work with Sam's Tours to provide a number of stay, dive and adventure packages at various hotels and resorts. Currently, Palau Pacific Resort and Palau Royal Resort offer 7-night stay and dive packages with the option to add on adventures of your choice.

To begin your own Trip of a Lifetime in Palau, give our travel professionals a call at 800-330-6611or send a note to sales@caradonna.com.