Warm clear seas, tropical vistas and pure escapism – say hello to an overwater bungalow or villa vacation. These luxurious getaways, suspended over some of the world's most beautiful oceans, are firm favorites with honeymooners, as well as other travelers who love the privacy and sense of adventure that overwater bungalows bring.
Several loved-up celebrities have given their seal of approval to them with both Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman electing to honeymoon on overnight bungalows in Bora Bora in French Polynesia.
Overwater bungalows are more popular in 2022 than ever
“Overwater bungalows are very popular right now. I’m working with clients at the moment on a belated 50th birthday and they wanted an overwater villa with spectacular views and a plunge pool. So we are looking at French Polynesia to meet their budget,” says Andrea Strahl, a luxury travel advisor and co-owner of Black Sheep Travels. “Overwater bungalows are especially popular with honeymooners, families and those looking for a bucket list celebration.”
Strahl says there are more options for overwater bungalows around the world now than ever but some destinations remain staples.
It’s estimated that worldwide there are something in the region of 8000 overwater bungalows – or overwater villas as they’re sometimes called – concentrated in approximately 200 resorts. The majority of these are located in the Maldives and the South Pacific, but they can also be found in Mexico, the Caribbean, the US and Kenya and Namibia in Africa.
Often restricted to adults only and frequently built for just two people, most units are positioned three to seven feet above the water. One of their most appealing features is that they’ll often feature a glass floor so that you look at the ocean and the sea life beneath your feet.
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Tips on choosing the best bungalow for you
Not surprisingly, such slices of paradise frequently come with a hefty price tag, not least because they’re usually in distant locations. While you might find some bungalows that are slightly cheaper, this may mean some compromises, such as not being able to swim directly under your villa. Online directory Overwaterbungalows.net suggests money-saving strategies such as booking in the off-season when you might save 20-40% off normal rates. Before you book, Overwaterbungalows.net’s editor-in-chief, Roger Wade, advises reading various guest reviews because while many of the resorts are excellent, some have different styles. "Quite a few of the better Maldives resorts have a 'No news, no shoes' policy – where they are super casual and not very fancy. Other resorts have dedicated butler service for some or all overwater bungalows."
"Many resorts have one buffet restaurant for all three meals each day, while others only do a la carte. The buffet food is better than you’d expect at most places, but some people dislike buffets so it’s important to research. The all-inclusive deals in the Maldives can be fantastic for those who like to have more than a couple of drinks per day. Drinks at these places aren’t cheap." He also points out that there are no all-inclusive overwater resorts in the South Pacific.
Richard Holland was a visitor to Bora Bora for 45 years and told himself that one day he was going to have an overwater bungalow. He’s now the owner of The Black Pearl, a luxurious pad that features floor-to-ceiling koa wood and bamboo, a state-of-the-art kitchen, home theatre and a covered terrace overlooking the lagoon. 'The biggest difference about staying in overwater bungalows is the privacy and seclusion – you aren’t surrounded by other tourists, you are farther from shops, restaurants – so it’s a little bit of an adventure,' Holland says. He’s in no way surprised that floating accommodation is such a hit with honeymooners. 'Overwater bungalows are just flat-out romantic,' he says. 'We can arrange for champagne, flowers, chocolates to be sent, set up couples' massages, and more. But there’s nothing more romantic than watching the stars, seeing the Milky Way at night and having these simple experiences with the one you love and no other honeymooners around.'
From villas to palafitos: which overwater bungalow is best for you?
Palafitos Overwater Bungalows at El Dorado Maroma, Playa del Carmen
Best in Mexico's Riviera Maya
Mexico’s only true overwater bungalows are Palafitos at the El Dorado Maroma resort outside Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya coastline. The all-inclusive property is adults-only and has a romantic vibe throughout. This is especially true in the Palafitos villas perched over the clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. Expect overwater bungalow staples like glass bottom floor panels inside and decks with alfresco showers and infinity plunge pools. The design pays homage to the region with Aztec prints and Zapote wood furniture. When you get tired of playing in the ocean head to one of the seven onsite restaurants where you can dine and drink to your heart's content. There are also a number of bars and lounges and nightly entertainment. Should you wish to be truly spoiled, partake in the 24-hour butler service included with your stay. All-inclusive rates for two start at around $1100 per night in the off-season and go above $3000 per night depending on demand.
Reethi Beach Resort, Maldives
Best for budget
Although you likely think of the Maldives as an ultra-luxe destination, in reality, there are some properties, like Reethi Beach Resort, with budget-friendly overwater bungalows. Located about 35-minutes by seaplane from Male’s international airport, the resort is located on an island in the Baa Atoll, which has been designated a Unesco Biosphere Reserve that offers you the best chance of swimming with whale sharks in the Maldives. The overwater bungalows here are not fancy. They don’t come with glass bottom floors or plunge pools on decks, but they are built on stilts above the clear turquoise lagoon and offer direct access to it from a ladder on your private porch. The interior of the bungalows are relatively simple with thatched roof ceilings and floor-to-ceiling window doors that open onto the porch facing the sea.
Waking up from bed here surrounded by water is a surreal experience. Even more surreal? Depending on the season and occupancy, rates for two, including meals can start as low as $300 per night. Considering this is the Maldives that’s an extra big deal. Rates can start as low as $300 per night but vary wildly based on demand.
Cayo Espanto, Belize
Best one-of-a-kind overwater bungalow
For a unique Caribbean overwater bungalow experience head to Cayo Espanto in Belize. The luxury property is set on a private island and has just one overwater bungalow. Called Casa Ventanas it is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea on all sides and sits at the end of a private dock. The 1100 square foot villa is made from polished wood panels inside and out with cheerful turquoise shutters and frames around the windows. There is a cut-out glass-bottom viewing panel just to the side of the mosquito netting draped bed and floor-to-ceiling window doors that open onto the deck. The entire resort is intimate with just six other villas set on the beach. Belize is known for some of the best diving in the world at the Belize Barrier Reef. It is eclipsed only by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef when it comes to size. If you don’t dive, snorkeling here is still a sublime experience. All-inclusive rates for two people start at $1,995 in summer and fall and increase to $2795 during the winter holiday season
Soneva Jani, Maldives
Best for absolute luxury
Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner recently opted for an overwater bungalow at eco-luxury resort Soneva Fushi in the Maldives and took to Instagram to express their delight at their stay. While this high-end destination offers a range of villas, not all of them are overwater, unlike at its sister resort, Soneva Jani. Here, you’ll arrive by seaplane and there’s a choice of either a one-, two-, three- or four-bedroom villa – there are 24 in total – most of which come with their own slide. Other villa features include a wine cellar and a retractable roof. Soneva Jani also has the Maldives' first overwater cinema, Cinema Paradiso. Prices per night start from $2000.
Sea Star Cottage, Inverness, California
Best for rustic elegance
Belying the notion that all water bungalows have to be tropical, Sea Star Cottage perches on Tomales Bay on the Point Reyes National Seashore. Built in the 1920s, it’s ideal for lovers of the great outdoors, with plenty of hiking, birdwatching, beautiful beaches and lagoons in the vicinity. Suitable for two guests, it offers a spacious deck with steamer chairs and hammock, and an incredible view of the bay. Inside the bungalow, there’s art, antiques, a king-size bed and a cast-iron fireplace, while the nearby towns of Inverness, Point Reyes Station and Olema are a haven of markets and good restaurants offering local organic produce, oysters and wine. Average prices are from $398 per night.
The Black Pearl Water Bungalow, Bora Bora
Best for romance
This retreat is the only privately owned overwater bungalow in French Polynesia and the only property in the complex with its own private dock where couples can lounge with a Tahitian punch, swim in the lagoon and grill on the lanai (veranda). The property, which sleeps two, is fully air-conditioned and comes with two kayaks. The owner says that the reason there’s a four-night minimum stay is to make sure travelers take the time to slow down, get into the island pace and enjoy the unique experience. This is an idyllic location in which to spend time together, as well as for swimming, snorkeling, walking and hiking. Average prices are from $480 per night.
Yellow and Blue Houses, Isla Colon, Panama
Best for family getaways
While the perception of overwater bungalows is that they’re not child-friendly, the Yellow and Blue houses of Big Bight, Isla Colon in Panama welcomes little ones, with the proviso that children are under adult supervision 24/7. The two bedrooms will sleep five and there's also a fully-equipped kitchen, ceiling fans in the bedrooms, TV and a selection of DVDs. Outside, the sundeck with lounge chairs and hammock over the water affords you plenty of opportunities to dolphin watch and enjoy the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean. Avail of the water floats and snorkeling gear, and marvel at the incredible coral reefs. Average prices are from $165 per night.
Hôtel Palafitte, Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Best for a European adventure
Switzerland is famous for many things, but until Hôtel Palafitte opened its doors in 2002, overwater accommodation wasn’t one of them. Situated on the banks of Lake Neuchatel, Switzerland’s largest body of water, this is the only five-star hotel in Europe built over a lake. There are 38 pavilions on stilts, each with an individual bedroom and a bathroom with moveable partitions so that you can see the lake from your tub. The terraces offer views of the Alps and sustainability is important with rainwater collection used for toilet flushing, and heating produced from kitchen waste. The hotel bar has an absinthe fountain where you can enjoy the drink in the authentic style of the Neuchâtel region. Room prices are from $540.
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