The ultimate bucket list item: staying in an overwater bungalow. Ever since photos of the first overwater bungalows appeared in Time magazine in 1962, they’ve sparked wanderlust — the definition of inspirational travel way before Instagram was even a thing.
In the 50 years since the Bali Hai Boys debuted their overwater bungalows in Bora Bora, these types of accommodations have sprouted up in Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia, the Caribbean, even Switzerland. But nowhere has the surge been as prolific as in the Maldives, which is home to two-thirds of the world’s overwater bungalows.
The first thing to know about overwater bungalows is that you absolutely must stay in one in your lifetime. No matter the cost, it’s worth it. There are a few more things to know before you go, and we’ve shared our top tips about what it’s really like to stay in an overwater villa.
Once exclusive to Tahiti and the Maldives, now you can find overwater bungalows in the Caribbean. This is good news for those who live on the east coast or Midwest regions of the United States, as hopping on a direct flight to the Caribbean is much easier and faster than the alternative. There are overwater bungalows in Jamaica, Mexico and St. Lucia to choose from, so it’s easy to find a resort that suits your needs.
The South Pacific is often the first place that comes to mind when overwater bungalows are mentioned. The island of Bora Bora was first to build them, followed by other Tahitian Islands including Tahiti, Moorea, Taha’a and Huahine. But you’ll find the main concentration of overwater bungalows in Bora Bora, which is a 50-minute (and extremely scenic) flight from Papeete, on the main island of Tahiti. Fiji is another South Pacific paradise known for its overwater bungalows.
The overwater bungalows in Bora Bora are spread out around the postcard-perfect lagoon, some on their own private motus (small islands), with Mount Otemanu on the main island of Bora Bora at its center. Once you land at the airport, which is also on its own motu, most resorts will have a boat transfer ready to bring you to your overwater bungalow haven.
Located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is comprised of more than 1,000 coral islands, so it makes sense that every resort is located on its own private atoll. Geography like this lends itself well to overwater villas, which is why there are more overwater bungalows in the Maldives than anywhere else on earth.
And these villas are swanky, featuring private pools, personal butlers, multiple bedrooms — even waterslides down to the crystal-clear water below. To help you narrow your resort options, we’ve rounded up the best overwater bungalows in the Maldives. (Can we stow away in your suitcase?)
As anyone who has traveled to the Riviera Maya or Ambergris Caye can attest, Central America offers five-star resorts at bargain rates. But did you know you can also find overwater bungalows in Belize, Panama and Honduras? And not too long ago, the first overwater bungalows in Mexico made their grand debut (and they’re even all-inclusive).
These overwater bungalows are closer to the United States than Bora Bora or the Maldives, making the trek that much easier for U.S. residents. Bonus: the overwater bungalows in Central America are generally much more affordable than their counterparts.
What could be better than staying in an overwater bungalow where all meals and adult beverages are included? (Answer: not much.) While all-inclusive overwater bungalows are rare, they do exist.
In fact, we introduced the Best All-Inclusive Overwater Bungalows category in our 2019 Islands All-Inclusive Awards to showcase these amazing overwater villas that include everything in the room rate. These resorts are perfect for romantic getaways, whether you’re celebrating a honeymoon, your 50th wedding anniversary or any milestone in between.
Overwater bungalows come with a hefty price tag, usually around $1,000 (or more) per night, hence the bucket list designation. But before you cash in your 401K to visit, there are a few cheap(er) overwater bungalows out there, especially if you opt for a more affordable destination like Central America. Check out our list of the most affordable overwater bungalows and start planning your dream trip.