The Maldives, the Caribbean and the Islands of Tahiti all boast overwater bungalows, but each destination offers a different experience. We zero in on what makes them unique so you can spend those long-awaited vacation days in your perfect version of paradise.
Who it’s for: Island hoppers who love to play in the ocean — from surfing (invented here) and snorkeling to windsurfing and kiteboarding. Desirable overwater bungalows (also invented here) start at around $600 a night and skyrocket to $2,000.
Why you’ll love it: Mountains, beaches, rainforests, valleys — Tahiti has it all. Swim in lagoons big enough to have their own horizons; marvel at black-sand beaches; hike to waterfalls through forests of chestnut trees; boat to a deserted motu for a picnic. In Tahiti, there’s never a shortage of Instagram-worthy encounters with nature.
Don’t miss: Don’t forget to go underwater. The unspoiled atoll of Fakarava is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, so snorkeling and scuba diving here are among the best. Lazy time is in order too, so be sure to park yourself on an empty beach, eat some poisson cru, drink a Hinano beer and daydream.
Know before you go: Never leave the resort without your credit card; you’ll get the best exchange rate. Also, remember you’re in the tropics, so you’ll likely live in your swimsuit. Pack more than just one.
Who it’s for: Beach lovers who crave seclusion and a calm shoreline and prefer to stay put on one island. The Maldives has two-thirds of the world’s overwater bungalows (or water villas, as they’re called here), ranging from $300 to $2,200 a night.
Why you’ll love it: As the lowest country in the world, the flat topography of the Maldives means white sand, blue ocean and sandbars for days. Sadly, this also means it’s sinking, so go now! Most resorts are on their own private islands, and you don’t even need to leave your comfy spot on the beach to see multicolored unicorn and picasso fish pass by.
Don’t miss: Forget the speedboat, and take a seaplane from the airport to arrive in style. Musts include eating underwater at Ithaa, riding in a local dhoni boat, and savoring local specialties like kavaabu. Spot whale sharks year-round, but most frequently from May through December.
Know before you go: In the capital of Malé, women must cover their thighs and elbows. Laws loosen once you’re at the resorts. Following a meal, it’s common to eat dried areca nuts wrapped in betel leaf to promote digestion. Try them!
Who it’s for: Weekenders looking for a close-to-home spot that feels a world away. Jamaica, St. Lucia, Panama Belize and the Riviera Maya have all jumped on the overwater-bungalow bandwagon, and several are all-inclusive. Some rustic, some posh, the suites range from $275 to $2,500 a night.
Why you’ll love it: Board a plane in the morning and be sitting on a beach, drink in hand, by lunch. Each island in this accessible slice of paradise has its own personality, culture and landscape — from desert-like Aruba with its Dutch influence to the salt flats of Bonaire to mountainous Jamaica with its rich African history.
Don’t miss: No matter the island you choose, try the street food and the local signature drink. Mofongo and piña coladas in Puerto Rico. Bokit and ti’ punch in Guadeloupe. Bake-and-shark and Caribs on Trinidad & Tobago. Beef patties and Planter’s Punch on Jamaica. Don’t worry — you’ll work off the calories when you go snorkeling.
Know before you go: The best time to visit is December through April, although deals abound during hurricane season. If you plan on island-hopping, book interisland flights before you leave the States to get the best prices, and always carry a printed copy of your itinerary.