Top Dive Island: Palau

If you were given your choice of afterlife and you chose a diver’s heaven, chances are it would look a lot like the Republic of Palau. Five-hundred miles east of the Philippines in Micronesia, this Pacific island nation has long been a dream destination for underwater adventurers because of its almost unfair allotment of dramatic drop-offs, blue holes, psychedelic reefs of every type, World War II wrecks and so many species of fish (1,250-plus) that the seascapes here might spoil you for good. Mantas congregate at the German Channel’s cleaning station, reef sharks surf the currents at Blue Corner, and Jacques Cousteau once called the Big Drop-Off “the world’s best wall dive.”

Palau Highlight

Plan your trip to Palau in early March to catch gray-reef-shark mating season. To coincide with it, Fish n’ Fins hosts an annual Shark Week where guests can dive shark-filled spots, swap shark stories and attend shark lectures.

Even on land, though, there are few countries in the world as tailored to the dive life as this one: Pretty much every hotel offers diving. Likewise, several tour operators run their own restaurants, so there's never any shortage of good-natured dive banter. After shedding their gear, most visitors meet up for burgers and pints of local Red Rooster microbrew at the Bottom Time Bar & Grill (Sam's Tours) or they sample fresh sashimi and homemade Mediterranean specialties at the Barracuda Restaurant (Fish n' Fins). And if you happen to be traveling with a nondiver (or if you want to take a day off), the snorkeling and kayaking excursions in Palau's Rock Islands are just as impressive as anything on the outer reefs. — Bronwen Dickey

Travel Tip: If you plan on snorkeling among the stingless jellies at Jellyfish Lake, be sure to obtain the proper permit ($35). These are secured through tour operators and are valid for 30 days. Proceeds aid the country's conservation efforts.

When to Go: December to March are the driest months, but the diving is superb year-round.

Getting There: Continental Micronesia serves Koror, Palau (ROR) from Guam. Typical flight itineraries begin at Continental's Newark or Houston hub.

Dive Conditions: Water temperatures rarely dip below 80°F, with 100-plus-foot visibility.

Operators/Accommodations: Splash Dive Center (www.splash-palau.com); Sam's Tours (www.samstours.com); Neco Marine (www.necomarine.com); Fish n' Fins (www.fishnfins.com).