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The 21 Most Incredible Overwater Bungalows in the World

There was a time when highly coveted overwater bungalows were a figment of travelers’ imagination. Those seeking the ultimate island paradise in places like Fiji, the Maldives, and Tahiti had only two options: a hotel room or a villa on the beach. It’s almost hard to imagine now, when the plane descent into one of these destinations displays a full spectrum of bungalows lined up along long pontoons, jutting out over the crystalline cerulean waters that made these places famous.

In 1967, on the island of Raiatea—which, without a sandy beach, was proving a challenging sell for tourists—a trio of Californians known as the Bali Hai Boys conceived the game-changer of a dream accommodation: the overwater bungalow. At the time they assured the government that, like traditional Tahitians’ fishing huts, they would not harm the coral with their pandanus leaf–thatched roof structures, and that edict still holds true. Their trio of bungalows at Bali Hai Hotel became a craze that spread to Bora Bora and beyond; after all, the charming stilted cottages offered immersion into the magic of the sea, sans snorkel mask or air tank. Now 50 years old, the iconic honeymoon hideaways, sought-after spots for not just romance but easy access to throngs of Technicolor sea creatures below, are looking better than ever.

In the last half-century the overwater bungalow has gone from simple to over-the-top opulent in some cases, although there are also plenty of very affordable, basic versions around the world. Its homeland, the Islands of Tahiti, lays claim to nearly 900 of them, from Moorea (where the Sofitel forbids motorized activities to protect its pristine lagoon) and Tikehau (by night, sharks swim beneath Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort’s charming perches) to Rangiroa (Hotel Kia Ora’s ten bungalows boast some of the best views of all the islands) and Bora Bora, where Le Meridien’s Mount Otemanu–facing bungalows have the largest glass floors of all. Of course, other destinations have done their best to catch up, and now there are whopping numbers of thatched-roof villas standing over not just the Caribbean Sea, the South China Sea, and the Indian Ocean, but lakes, too.

Wherever they stand, the overwater bungalow tends to comprise similar elements, with design hallmarks tending to stay consistent. Thatched-roof systems made of natural, indigenous materials (which must be replaced every couple years) are standard, as is the layout of bungalows attached to a wooden pontoon walkway. Of course, it’s hardly worth sleeping over the water if there’s no peekaboo window set in the floor. Panoramic views of the countless shades of blue outside are another requisite element. More recently, private overwater pools, jacuzzis, and suspended hammocks, have been introduced along with two-story versions that dwarf a Manhattan studio apartment.

In celebration of the revolutionary structure’s major birthday milestone, we look at some of the most spectacular modern overwater bungalows from around the world.

homes over water
Photo: Moeava de Rosemont
1/21
Four Seasons Bora Bora, French Polynesia
While all the overwater bungalows at this impeccable property epitomize the genius of the genre with their celebration of the gorgeous environs, the four Otemanu Overwater Bungalow Suites are truly awe-inspiring. Whether you’re in the airy living room, noshing at the dining table, bathing in the sculptural tub, lounging in the palapa, or swimming at the edge of the infinity pool, the lagoon’s beautiful blues are staring back, truly the star of the scene. fourseasons.com/borabora/

home over water blue skies
Photo: Courtesy of Song Saa Private Island
2/21
Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia
Cambodia might not be the last place you’d expect a breathtaking resort of overwater bungalows, but it’s probably surprising. In 2012, the Koh Rong Archipelago became home to this sustainable Robinson Crusoe–chic property with, among other layouts, a two-bedroom overwater Royal Villa of rough-hewn timber, with a vast glass floor in the living room (alongside driftwood furnishings), a half-moon infinity pool with an expansive terrace, dual oversize sunken bathtubs, a personal chef, and a private jetty complete with a boat for the guests’ exclusive use. songsaa.com

over water homes by trees
Photo: Laucala Island Photographer
3/21
Laucala, Fiji
The Overwater Villa on this private island property is more like an overwater estate. It’s distinctive not just for its split-level design, but its dramatic outdoor spaces—massive terraces and a large pool carved directly into the rocks on the shore. Guests of the $8,800-per-night two-bedroom stunner are transported to and from the main resort facilities by private yacht (or they can walk on a wooden pathway), but with 3,000 square feet of flawlessly curated luxury and the emerald lagoon at their feet, there’s not much reason to go anywhere at all. laucala.com

room by the water
Photo: Mel Yates
4/21
One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives
There are hundreds of overwater bungalows in the Maldives, but these have the distinction of being some of the most private, since only a couple connect to each pontoon, each facing a different direction in the unbelievably turquoise Indian Ocean for an edge-of-the-earth feel. Lofty wood-beam ceilings keep things light and airy in the Grand Water Villa, but understandably extras like the long infinity pool (complete with built-in submerged chaise), separate jacuzzi, draped outdoor daybed and lounge areas minimize time spent inside. (It’s also worth booking a visit to one of the spa’s overwater couples’-treatment suites.) oneandonlyresorts.com

home over water clouds in sky
Photo: Courtesy of Cayo Espanto
5/21
Cayo Espanto, Belize
As island paradises go, this one—featuring the first overwater bungalows in Belize—is up there. While all the villas are luxe, Casa Ventanas, at 1,100 square feet and more than 150 feet of privacy, goes above and beyond with custom-crafted furnishings and a new glass floor featuring a light that can be switched to different colors to filter the sea-creature-filled waters below. aprivateisland.com

home over water at dusk
Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Palafitte
6/21
Hotel Palafitte, Switzerland
The overwater craze is not confined to tropical climes. This Swiss bolthole became the first and only hotel in Europe built on stilts when it was constructed as part of the National Expo 2002 as a “surprising work” by architect Kurt Hoffmann with a group of students. Actually, the stilts reference ancient Swiss construction techniques, but also give guests of the 26 overlake bungalows (each with a private terrace) the sense of being on a remote island, complete with access to stand-up paddling, boating, and waterskiing to make up for the lack of tropical fish. palafitte.ch

Photo: Courtesy of St. Regis Hotels & Resorts
7/21
The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, French Polynesia
At a low-season rate of more than $5,000 per night, the Overwater Royal Otemanu Villa with Pool—it’s worth noting the 20-by-16-foot infinity edge pond is the largest suspended pool in the South Pacific—is one of the more extravagant ways to vacation. Crafted of exotic noble woods with vibrant accents, the nearly 3,000-square-foot bungalow is a prime place to watch neon lagoon fish either behind glass portholes or in the flesh via private ladder access. stregisborabora.com

bedroom near water wooden floors
Photo: Courtesy of Six Senses
8/21
Six Senses, Ninh Van Bay, Vietnam
One of the beautiful things about overwater bungalows is that, to a large degree, they allow nature meld with the indoors, and tend to act as frames for their postcard-perfect surrounds. An ideal example is this destination on the bucolic coast of Vietnam, where excessively private 1,600-square-foot Water Pool Villas overlook the bay’s coral formations and give way to flawless sunset vistas, not to mention boasting plunge pools, outdoor showers, handcrafted wooden bathtubs, and steps into the water for snorkeling. sixsenses.com

structure by water
Photo: Courtesy of Conrad Hotels
9/21
Conrad Bora Bora Nui, French Polynesia
The just-opened resort (formerly the Hilton Bora Bora Nui) is set on arguably the most spectacular part of Bora Bora, and is home to the only two-story overwater bungalow in French Polynesia. With a palette that reflects their azure surroundings, the Presidential Villas (there are two)—outfitted with a well-being room with sauna, three bedrooms, a private sundeck, a pool, and a bar—are like the ultimate playgrounds in one of the planet’s prettiest neighborhoods. conradhotels3.hilton.com

There’s something special about a water arrival, and the boat trip through verdant mangroves to the private dock of a Deluxe Overwater Lagoon Suite at this ultraluxe Riviera Maya paradise sets the right tone. The peaceful over-lagoon villa is a couple minutes from the crashing waves of the Caribbean, but presents several opportunities to cool off, with attractive amenities including a plunge pool and shower in a lush garden. rosewoodhotels.com

This Maldivean bastion of luxury’s Ocean Villas are the definition of opulent, giving a pair of guests their own 2,000 square feet in which to enjoy the gentle aquamarine lagoon below. Two stories with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows, large glass floors, and split-level verandas mean every single angle of the show-stopping sea is visible. Despite the high-tech amenities (mood lighting, interactive LCD TV, sunken bath and rain shower with infinity pool off the bathroom) it’s all about what’s outside, like the unbeatable sunset view from inside the infinity pool. jumeirah.com

Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi
The Waldorf Astoria features two Stella Maris Ocean villas that, as their name implies, are elegantly hoisted above the crystal-clear Arabian Sea. The spacious retreats, which are exclusively accessible by boat, offer an intimate getaway complete with indoor and outdoor living areas, a barbecuing station, a private infinity pool, and, of course, direct ocean access. There’s also a delectable Japanese culinary outlet, Zuma, that serves sushi above the crystal-clear Maldives water. waldorfastoriamaldives.com

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
The Sunset Water Villa, a nearly 1,000-square-foot thatch-roofed bungalow set on stilts above the sea, boasts a spacious an eye-catching glass desk set over a glass-paneled floor, offering views of the turquoise ocean beneath. There may be a spacious living room, but the best spot to lounge is in the villa’s infinity plunge pool. conradmaldives.com

An archipelago of tranquillity on a coral islet, Bora Bora by Pearl Resorts’ villas are nestled in the coconut grove. With views of the towering Mount Otemanu, the villas are surrounded by hardly much more than lush flora and glimmering ocean. Perhaps the only reasons to leave the villa are the Tāvai Spa treatments or the property’s solar-powered catamaran, Okeanos Pearl. relaischateaux.com

JOALI, Muravandhoo Island Raa Atoll, Maldives
Tucked deep within Raa Atoll, JOALI Maldives’ unique aesthetic was designed to be an incredibly artistic resort on the water. In fact, each of the spaces is complete with a collection of art that tells the story of the island and JOALI, driven by the women founders’ commitment to sustainability and female empowerment. Plus, in each over-water villa, the dedicated jadugar (private butler) will arrange just about anything, from delivering a gourmet breakfast in bed to organizing a dazzling celebration for friends. joali.com

On the Maldives’ Hadahaa island in the North Huvadhoo atoll, the luxurious resort’s 14 over-water villas boast floor-to-ceiling windows, private decks, and some with their own plunge pools overlooking the azure water. Plus, the nearly 400-square-foot native timber and stone Overwater Sunset Pool villa, which features panoramic vistas of the Indian Ocean, is unrivaled beauty at its finest. hyatt.com

Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
In Riviera Maya, Banyan Tree Mayakoba whopping $50 million expansion encompasses 34 private beachfront pool suites, a new beach club, and perhaps most alluring, seven Lagoon Sunset Pool villas, which reside just above the clear lagoon’s sparkling surface. And they’re hardly charming beach shacks; they’re 2,385 square feet of indoor-outdoor space spread across two floors. They also feature an open layout and a highly organic atmosphere. Not to mention, each over-water villa is complete with an outdoor shower and whirlpool bathtub, a private solarium with pristine sunset views, and a heated plunge pool. banyantree.com

Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea, French Polynesia
With a collection of 113 mountain-framed bungalows on the water, Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea resort is redefining the concept of a secluded oasis on the pillowy-soft white sand beaches of Temae. And the five over-water bungalows, each of which has its own private solariums, feature a crystal-clear glass panel embedded in the floors to offer guests a glimpse of the active seabed below. sofitel-moorea-kiaora.com

The Standard’s first foray into island living is set within the Raa Atoll on Huruvalhi island, and boasts more than one multi-bedroom over-water villa that comes with delectable dining options that range from a beachfront barbecue shack to local chefs whipping up their own Maldivian dishes. Between meals, guests are invited to relax in the indoor hydrotherapy oasis or at The Standard Spa which is complete with an aroma steam room, daily yoga, and nine private treatment rooms. standardhotels.com

Any private villa on the Caribbean is worth its salt, but Sweet Bocas is a 15-acre private island off the northern coast of Panama in Bocas del Toro, is top-notch. It comprises quite a few over-water villas and lounges with a freshwater lake in the center, and it’s all surrounded by a lush tropical jungle. The main seven-bedroom house’s terrace features an infinity-edge pool, a pool house, a fully-equipped gym, and a tennis court. Not to mention the staff. Guests can choose between a range of range of experts, including chefs, bartenders, hostesses, housekeepers, on-call concierges, tour guides, massage therapists, yoga teachers, personal trainers, tennis coaches, and even surfing instructors. elitelyfe.com

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