Staying in an overwater bungalow is one of those bucket-list items you must check off. Conjuring thoughts of iconic boardwalks and thatched roofs in the Maldives, Tahiti and Bora Bora, overwater bungalows provide an experience unlike any resort, and despite the expectations of luxury and seclusion, there are affordable overwater bungalows that won’t break the bank, in places you might not expect.
Of the world’s 8,000 rooms over the water, we’ve rounded up the 20 best — all worthy of those long-saved dollars and precious vacation days. From the South Pacific to the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean and even Cambodia, your overwater oasis is waiting.
Conrad Bora Bora Nui – Bora Bora
Formerly known as the Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa, the recently refurbed Conrad Bora Bora Nui is the proud owner of two impressive superlatives. Not only does the 114-room escape sit on Bora Bora’s longest stretch of white-sand beach, but now it boasts the region’s first two-story overwater bungalows. At the 3,229-square-foot Presidential Overwater Villa, decide between lounging in the pool or on your balcony’s day bed.
Likuliku Lagoon Resort – Fiji
Designed specifically for couples, Likuliku Lagoon Resort (Fiji’s first resort with overwater bures) is a romantic haven of unmatched stillness. While you’re here, your mind turns to a permanent state of repose, slowly quieting as it retreats from daily woes. Fall in love all over again as you sip a Fijian Bitter from your private deck, wander up the hilltop to Jona’s Lookout or stroll along Naivaka Beach. Bula!
St. Regis Bora Bora
Here, even the smallest bungalows feel like mansions. Set on 44 acres of fastidiously manicured grounds, the St. Regis Bora Bora is marked by bespoke service, including a private butler as part of the standard. Add to that a restaurant by the James Beard Award-winning chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and you’re in for a once-in-a-lifetime rendezvous with stardom.
El Dorado Maroma – Riviera Maya, Mexico
You don’t have to travel around the world to feel like you have. At the El Dorado’s palafitos, glass-bottom floors, Jacuzzis, large decks and private infinity pools create an exotic setting for a customized getaway. This Riviera Maya overwater bungalow offers 24-hour room service, hand-delivered reading material, a tailored-to-your-taste beach picnic, an ancient Maya spa treatment — all without the jet lag.
Four Seasons – Bora Bora
The Four Seasons name is synonymous with luxury, and the Four Seasons Bora Bora’s 85 overwater bungalows — with walls made from volcanic stone and speckled with mother-of-pearl accents —are no exception. There’s even a washer and dryer on every boardwalk. Be sure to snorkel the resort’s Ruahatu Lagoon Sanctuary, which is exclusively accessible to Four Seasons guests. Guided by marine biologist Oliver Martin, you will learn to graft bits of coral so they can grow large enough for planting, eventually becoming a permanent part of the lagoon’s ecosystem.
Soneva Jani – Maldives
At Soneva Jani, the sister property to Soneva Fushi, you’ll be asked to remove your shoes on arrival — you won’t need them while you’re here. Spend your days at this Maldives overwater bungalow lounging in the private pool or catamaran net and capturing Instagram-worthy moments on your own personal water slide. Come nightfall, it’s time for dinner atop the resort’s observatory at So Starstruck, where astronomer Mike Dalley regales you with stories about the constellations.
Manava Beach Resort & Spa – Moorea
Built on the bones of one of the first Bali Hai hotels, Manava Beach Resort & Spa is committed to preserving its delicate environment. By installing a coral nursery named To’a Nui, colonies of corals can regenerate in perfect ecological conditions. You’ll feel like you’re leaving a smaller carbon footprint when you take a dip in the island’s largest infinity pool and splurge for that premium overwater bungalow.
Gili Lankanfushi – Maldives
Gili Lankanfushi is barefoot luxury at its best. The 45 overwater suites include the standalone Crusoe Residences and the jaw-dropping Private Reserve, accessible only by boat. From an artisanal cheese room and a chocolate cave to jungle cinema and an overwater spa, you’ll be left imagining what they could possibly think of next.
Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort – Moorea
Sitting at the edge of a turquoise lagoon framed by emerald-green mountains, the Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort exudes French styling and Tahitian hospitality. The 39 bungalows float over the water next to a beach that is consistently rated Moorea’s most beautiful. From snorkeling with manta rays to golf to exploring the pineapple fields via roadster, Moorea is a mecca for active travelers.
Rosewood Mayakoba – Riviera Maya, Mexico
Just 50 miles south of Cancun is Rosewood Mayakoba, a blissful, close-to-home escape rivaling that of the South Pacific or Maldives. Nicknamed the “Venice of Mexico,” Mayakoba is a 600-acre resort community with a labyrinth of canals linking the property’s many mangrove forests and emerald lagoons. On the boat ride to your overwater villa fashioned from Yucatan limestone, you’ll sample fresh fruit served just like the locals eat it with squeezed lime juice mixed with salt and tajin pepper. It’s the perfect precursor to the welcome tray of tequila that awaits you.
Vahine Island – Tahiti
A distinguished Small Luxury Hotel of the World, Vahine Island sits on the tiny private island of Motu Tu Vahine. Sugar-white beaches, an underwater coral garden and stands of coconut groves set the scene at one of the region’s most intimate escapes. The hotel has just three overwater bungalows, each featuring an aquarium table that reveals the sea life that call this place home. Don’t leave Vahine without learning how to weave coconut leaves or exploring the island’s many shades of blue in a traditional Polynesian pirogue.
Song Saa – Cambodia
An escape to Song Saa comes with a deep connection to the people and environment. Don’t be surprised if you find a note outside your villa door wishing you “Souse Day,” or good day, and inviting you to dinner. The food here at the region’s first luxury resort is unparalleled (the chef even makes his own sea salt). Khmer classics meld with Western comfort food — think wok-fried seafood in kampot pepper sauce, lamb burgers and coconut crème brulee — at Vista restaurant, complete with panoramic views of the Koh Rong archipelago.
InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa – Tahiti
The largest luxury resort on the island of Tahiti is also the most accessible. Just five minutes from the airport, the InterContinental exudes Polynesian charm amid a haven of tropical gardens, hosting the island’s most popular traditional Tahitian dance show every Friday night at Tiare Restaurant.
Sandals South Coast – Jamaica
On the heels of Sandals’ huge success with its first-ever overwater villas at Royal Caribbean in Jamaica comes the debut of 12 more — this time at Sandals South Coast. Available to book now for travel in November, the heart-shaped throng of overwater suites invites pure immersion. Don’t miss grabbing a drink (or two, or three …) at the resort brand’s first overwater bar, Latitudes. Grab a hammock (yep, it’s overwater too!), and you’ll never want to leave.
Hilton Moorea Lagoon & Resort – Moorea
At Hilton Moorea Lagoon & Resort, you’ll find crystal-clear lagoons, mountains blanketed in green and the region’s only overwater bar. At Toatea Bar & Creperie, chef Claude Gerard dishes up more than 100 crepes a night as schools of blacktip reef sharks swim below. Try a mango daiquiri and choose from a dizzying selection of crepes before sauntering back to your overwater oasis beneath a starry night unlike you’ve ever seen.
St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort – Maldives
Pop open your welcome bottle of prosecco at the Overwater Regis Suite and look out the floor-to-ceiling glass doors: It’s hard to tell where your private pool ends and the ocean begins. It’s this kind of seamless luxury that defines the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort that opened in November 2016. See the artistry of the architecture in the 44 overwater villas that resemble manta rays and in the library, which mirrors the shape of a giant conch shell. The shrewd styling continues inside, where carpets depict the ripples of the lagoon and the lighting elements conjure the look of coral reefs.
Le Taha’a – Tahiti
Designed in authentic Polynesian style, the private-island hideaway of Le Taha’a was built seamlessly into its surrounding vegetation of bamboo groves and pandanus trees. Featuring 45 overwater suites, the region’s only Relais & Châteaux resort is just a five-minute boat ride from Taha’a Island, famous for its vanilla plantations and black-pearl farms.
Cocoa Island by COMO – Maldives
Cocoa Island by COMO‘s 33 overwater suites mimic the style of the local dhoni boats, their gentle curves reaching out from the water in distinctive arcs. The villas are spaced 24 feet apart for the ultimate in privacy, each suite boasting its own terrace for slipping right into the lagoon below. After a day of water play, your muscles will beg for a hot river stone massage at the COMO Shambhala Retreat.
Le Méridien Bora Bora
Offering epic views of Mount Otemanu, Le Méridien Bora Bora’s thatch-roof overwater bungalows feature local woven-palm walls, a canopy bed, timber floor and signature Le Méridien beds that hug you right to sleep. The resort is also home to an ecological center that focuses on preserving coral and caring for turtles, including a touch pool, museum and aquarium.
Sandals Grande Lucian – St. Lucia
Nine more overwater bungalows have become part of Sandals Grande Lucian’s giant’s growing inventory, along with the Caribbean’s first overwater wedding chapel. Of course, it’s hard not to be a beach bum here, with a butler-prepared spot on the sand complete with hand-delivered jerk chicken and Piton beers. But it’s worth peeling yourself away for the Helen of the West Indies.
Climb the Pitons; tour the Caribbean’s only “drive-in” volcano, which erupts with sulfurous steam instead of lava; take a mineral bath; explore Diamond Botanical Gardens; and learn how rum is made at St. Lucia Distillers. The bungalows just opened for booking in May, so get one while you still can.