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.
Politics: Became independent in 1994 after being run by the US
Economics: Heavily dependent on US aid. Some tourism. Fishing by foreign fleets contributes to national income.
International: One of few countries to recognise Taiwan
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. 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. Palau saw some of the region's fiercest fighting in World War II.
Though embracing some Western trappings many Palauans identify with their traditional 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 (UN 2009)
- Capital: Melekeok
- Largest town: Koror
- Area: 508 sq km (196 sq miles)
- Major languages: Palauan English
- Major religions: Christianity Modekngei (indigenous belief)
- Life expectancy: 66 years (men) 72 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 US dollar = 100 cents
- Main exports: Fish garments
- GNI per capita: US $8 650 (World Bank 2008)
- Internet domain: .pw
- International dialling code: +680
President: Johnson Toribiong
Mr Toribiong was elected in the presidential poll of November 2008 beating outgoing Vice-President Elias Camsek Chin. The previous president Tommy Remengesau had served his maximum two consecutive terms and could not run again.
A US-educated lawyer Mr Toribiong served as ambassador to Taiwan before standing for president.
Like his predecessor President Toribiong has said Palau must end its dependence on US aid and diversify its economy beyond tourism. He was inaugurated on 15 January 2009.
- Tia Belau - English-language weekly
- Palau Horizon - English-language weekly
- Roureur Belau - Palauan weekly
There are no television stations based in Palau but most households are hooked up to cable TV which rebroadcasts US and satellite TV channels.
- WWFM - private FM station music and speech
- KRFM - private FM station music and speech
T8AA Eco Paradise - government station news and speech
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