For most of us, staying in an overwater bungalow perched above some turquoise lagoon far, far away, is a dream trip, a once-in-a-lifetime thing. We scrimp and save so we can spare no expense. And it’s worth it—especially if you’re headed for one of the world’s best.
Escape with us to thatched-roof hideaways where colorful reefs await at the bottom of your ladder and glass floor panels and outdoor showers remind you that there’s no vacation quite like this.
Overwater Bungalows to Add to Your Bucket-List
Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
Number of Bungalows: 108
What’s Unique: The classic magazine cover shot, Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora‘s picturesque string of bungalows arcs over turquoise South Pacific waters at the foot of Mt. Otemanu. The bungalows, fanning out from a lush private island, are some of the newest and most luxurious in French Polynesia. And, at the moment, they rank #1 on TripAdvisor for Bora Bora accommodations. Most thatched-roof bungalows have glass floor panels that look into the lagoon and some have private infinity-edge pools. The resort’s own marine biologist grafts coral and offers tours of the lagoon sanctuary.
Over-the-Top Services: Breakfast is delivered to you in a ceremonial Polynesian canoe and served with fragrant bouquets of flowers. As your table is being set, you can take a short canoe ride with a rower and wake to the sounds of Tahitian song.
Anantara Kihavah Villas, Kihavah Huravalhi Island, Maldives
Number of Bungalows: 42
What’s Unique: Book a stay at the Anantara Kihavah Villas resort in the Baa Atoll region and you’ll arrive via seaplane from Male, the Maldives’ capital. Set out over crystal-clear waters are the resort’s one-bedroom and two-bedroom overwater villas, each with its own private infinity-edge pool. From your sunken glass-bottom bathtub (built for two) you can watch tiny fish swim beneath you while you soak. Other luxuries include his-and-hers walk-in wardrobes, a wine chiller, a hammock, a rain shower, an outdoor shower, and a personal villa host who is on call 24 hours a day.
Over-the-Top Services: Dine at the Anantara Kihavah’s underwater restaurant, then return to your villa for the Slumber Guru experience: a luxury milk bath by candlelight, a massage, homemade cookies and tea, mist for your pillow, lavender silk eye masks, and earplugs. It sure beats the standard “Do Not Disturb” door hanger.
Song Saa Private Island, Koh Ouen And Koh Rong, Cambodia
Number of Bungalows: 9
What’s Unique: This resort is the first to be built on Cambodia’s mostly untouched islands in the Koh Rong archipelago. Song Saa spreads across two islands which are connected by a footbridge over a marine reserve, and with any luck, you’ll spot one of the protected sea turtles or seahorses during your stay. The resort’s ultramodern overwater villas have an air of always-been-here authenticity thanks to the reclaimed wood from retired fishing boats and local driftwood incorporated into the architecture and furnishings. The organic design manages to effortlessly blend luxuries like private infinity-edge pools, outdoor showers, and twin bathtubs into the surrounding rainforest.
Over-the-Top Services: Indulge in a Buddhist-inspired treatment at the resort’s rainforest wellness center or have local monks perform a traditional blessings ceremony for you. Staff can also turn your villa into a private cinema with a screen and projector for movie night.
Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort, Moorea Island, French Polynesia
Number of Bungalows: 39 overwater bungalows, with a total of 113 on the property on beaches and in the gardens
What’s Unique: On the northeastern coast of Moorea overlooking Tahiti, Sofitel Moorea occupies a coveted spot on one of the island’s most beautiful white-sand beaches. Snorkeling is popular here, and overwater-bungalow guests often have to shoo aside fish when climbing into the water from their private terraces. The bungalows—with glass floor panels, daybeds, stunning stone-tiled rain showers, and lavish bath amenities—define modern luxury with the French sophistication the Sofitel brand is known for.
Over-the-Top Services: You can book a lobster dinner right on the seashore. The resort’s K restaurant, with views of Tahiti and the peaceful lagoon, presents Te Vahine (The Woman), a Polynesian dance performance. Snorkeling-gear rental is free during your stay.
Cocoa Island By COMO, South Male Atoll, Maldives
Number of Bungalows: 34
What’s Unique: Just a 40-minute speedboat ride from the Maldives’ international airport, this luxurious COMO resort on the private Cocoa Island (known locally as Makunufushi) is like no other. Cocoa Island by COMO‘s overwater-bungalow suites are built in the style of traditional Dhoni, the wooden boats used by local fishermen. They might look like mini Noah’s arks, but these suites don’t actually float. They’re fixed to stilts over the Indian Ocean and include private sundecks, luxurious bathrooms, and large windows with gorgeous views.
Over-the-Top Services: Wellness is a major focus at the resort, with therapies at the Shambhala Retreat center and Shambhala raw-cuisine options. Take a yoga or meditation class in the retreat center’s open-air pavilion, or experience India’s holistic Ayurvedic therapy in one of four massage-treatment rooms. Cocoa Island butlers often arrange intimate dinners for guests and give guided snorkeling tours.
Cayo Espanto, Ambergris Caye, Belize
Number of Bungalows: 1
What’s Unique: Cayo Espanto, on a private four-acre island in Belize’s Ambergris Caye area, is the next best thing to having your own Caribbean island. There are no more than 18 guests here at any given time, and the overwater bungalow and six beachfront villas are situated so that you need not see another soul during your stay if you don’t want to. As overwater bungalows go, Cayo Espanto’s one-bedroom is huge at 1,000 square feet. It sits alone at the end of a 150-foot dock. A glass floor panel looks onto the silvery bonefish below, and one of the world’s largest barrier reefs is nearby.
Over-the-Top Services: The chef customizes a menu based on the preferences you indicate in a pre-arrival survey. While you’re here, a personal butler is assigned to you.
Likuliku Lagoon Resort, Malolo Island, Fiji
Number of Bungalows: 10
What’s Unique: The first and only resort in Fiji with overwater bungalows (called bure in Fijian), Likuliku is built on the edge of a protected coral reef. Between the overwater bures and the shoreline is a tidal lagoon that fills at high tide and dries at low tide, which makes for interesting seabed exploring. Since there are only 10 overwater bungalows here, foot traffic on the boardwalk is minimal. The experience feels exclusive in this remote part of the Mamanuca archipelago, making the five-star resort especially popular with honeymooners.
Over-the-Top Services: The chef delivers a complimentary daily canape plate at sunset, exclusively to overwater-bure guests. Planning an engagement or vow renewal? Check Remarkable Honeymoons or Likuliku’s wedding page for packages that include everything from engagement-ring scavenger hunts to a Fijian-warrior guard and escort.
Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa, Moorea Island, French Polynesia
Number of Bungalows: 54
What’s Unique: These bungalows perch above the wide, shallow lagoon that surrounds the island of Moorea, a seven-minute flight from Tahiti. Located on Moorea’s north side, Hilton Moorea Lagoon‘s bungalows are perfectly positioned for taking in views of sunrises, sunsets, and the island’s mountain ridges. Bedrooms feature a glass floor panel, and large Italian bathrooms include marble flooring, rain showers, golden claw-foot tubs, and dual vessel sinks made of stone. You can snorkel right off your deck. At night, sharks are occasionally sighted beneath the boardwalk at the resort’s Toatea Bar.
Over-the-Top Services: There’s private butler service to cater to your every whim. You can have breakfast delivered by canoe or a romantic dinner on your deck. When you order turndown service you’re greeted with lit candles, essential-oil aromas, soft music, and flowers on the bed and floor.
InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, Motu Piti Aau, French Polynesia
Number of Bungalows: 80
What’s Unique: This eco-friendly hotel pumps ice-cold seawater from depths of 3,000 feet to power the air-conditioning in overwater bungalows and throughout the resort. InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa is also home to the South Pacific’s first thalassotherapy center and uses the deep-sea waters in spa treatments. In the overwater bungalows, very little separates you from spectacular mountain and lagoon views. There’s a glass wall in the bedroom, and the living room features a glass coffee table that opens up so you can toss pieces of bread to the colorful fish below. Even the bathtub offers a picture-perfect view of the water.
Over-the-Top Services: During a treatment at the Deep Ocean Spa, you can watch marine life pass below glass floor panels. Resort staff will deliver breakfast by a traditional decorated outrigger canoe.
Misool Eco Resort, Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Number of Bungalows: 8
What’s Unique: On a private Indonesian island inside a protected No-Take Zone, this dive resort and conservation center treads lightly. Not a single tree was felled to create Misool, a Secret Retreats-member resort. It was built entirely of driftwood and naturally fallen timbers milled onsite in the presence of cockatoos, parrots, baby sharks, and sea turtles. Surrounding Misool are some of the richest reefs on Earth, in the waters of the Coral Triangle region. When you’re not diving, read a book on your verandah’s hammock or soak in the tropical vibe while showering in a Balinese-style bathroom that opens up to the sky.
Over-the-Top Services: Excellent service is a hallmark here. The resort’s maximum capacity is only 32 guests and the staff-to-guest ratio is three to one. Book the spa’s after-sun skin-rescue treatment, complete with a banana-leaf body wrap right on your verandah.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Cheap Tropical Vacations to Take in 2020
- 7 Best Remote Islands for a Tropical Getaway
- 7 Tropical Vacations Under $500, Including Airfare and Hotel
What to Pack
Women’s Swimsuit for the Ocean
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.