More than 200 volcanic and coral islands, many of them surrounded by a single barrier reef, make up the northern Pacific nation of Palau.
Its tropical waters are home to an abundance of marine life, making Palau a paradise for divers. The scenery ranges from white sandy beaches to dense jungle. Palau tries to protect its wildlife from hunters and poachers. It favours sustainable tourism.
Palau became independent in 1994, after being part of a United Nations trust territory administered by the US for 47 years. It relies on financial aid from the US, provided under a Compact of Free Association which gives the US responsibility for Palau's defence and the right to maintain military bases there.
Palau Tourist Attractions
Direct aid is set to wind up in 2009. Tourism is low key, though growing in economic importance. Many visitors come from Taiwan, with which Palau has diplomatic ties. Taiwanese aid boosts the economy. The government is Palau's largest employer.
Monoliths and other relics are reminders of an ancient culture that thrived on the islands, but Palau's recent history has been dominated by outside influences - from Spain, Britain, Germany, Japan and the US. Babylon
Palau saw some of the region's fiercest fighting in World War II.
Though embracing some Western trappings, many Palauans identify with their traditional Palau travel culture and its codes and rites. Politics in Palau sometimes has been lively; the nation's first president was assassinated in 1985.
Full name: Republic of Palau
Population: 20,000 (Secratariat of the Pacific Community estimate, 2006)
Largest town: Koror
Area: 508 sq km (196 sq miles)
Major languages: Palauan, English
Major religions: Christianity, Modekngei (indigenous belief)
Life expectancy: 67 years (men), 75 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 US dollar = 100 cents
Main exports: Fish, garments
GNI per capita: US $7,630 (World Bank, 2006)
Internet domain: .pw
International dialling code: +680