15 Dreamy Overwater Bungalows Around the World—From the Arctic to the Tropics

Sleep over (and under!) lagoons in the Maldives, Belize, Indonesia, and one special spot in Swedish Lapland.

The first overwater bungalows in the world were built in the Islands of Tahiti in 1967 by three Americans who had moved to Raiatea, opened modest hotels, and wanted to give guests direct access to the lagoon. Soon after that, overwater bungalows began to appear on the nearby French Polynesian islands of Moorea and Bora Bora, and an enduring travel trend was born.

Overwater accommodations have since evolved into a more luxurious experience: Many of the resorts that offer them now feature private infinity pools, butler service, glass floors, and private terraces. You can even sleep underwater in one (see Conrad Maldives Rangali Island below).

Today, overwater bungalows are available globally, from French Polynesia to the Maldives, a nation of more than 1,000 tiny islands in the Indian Ocean. For something closer to the USA, you can find floating thatched-roof villas and cabanas hovering over the water in warm destinations like Belize, Jamaica, and St. Lucia.

For the latest installment of AFAR’s Hotels We Love series, we’ve selected the 15 best overwater bungalows around the world, from suspended cabanas in Panama to bungalows in locales as varied as Sweden, Cambodia, and Indonesia.

1. Nayara Bocas del Toro

Aerial view of Nayara Bocas del Toro Panama hotel, with six overwater villas linked by boardwalk

Nayara Bocas del Toro Panama has 16 overwater villas in the Bocas del Toro archipelago.

Courtesy of Nayara Resorts/Brice Ferre Studio

  • Location: Panama
  • Why we love it: An adults-only overwater villa experience close to the USA
  • Loyalty program: Leaders Club (Leading Hotels of the World)
  • Book now

Located on a private island off the north-central coast of Panama, Nayara Bocas del Toro has 16 overwater villas and two tree houses that hover above a turquoise-blue sea. Each features floor-to-ceiling windows framing views of Dolphin Bay Reserve and Bastimentos National Marine Park, plus a glass floor for watching the ocean life below.

The all-inclusive, adults-only resort is ideal for honeymooners and couples who want to immerse themselves in the region’s natural beauty. Guests can explore that nature by snorkeling (each room includes a snorkel kit), hiking in the nearby rainforest (keep an eye open for sloths, birds, bats, and red frogs), or joining a guided night swim with the bay’s bioluminescent plankton.

The resort has made great strides to protect the nearby environment. It’s entirely off the grid, powered by sun and rainwater, and has partnered with locally based Caribbean Coral Restoration to help preserve coral reefs. From $1,398. Read AFAR’s in-depth interview of Nayara Bocas del Toro.

2. Punta Caracol Acqua-Lodge

Punta Caracol overwater bungalows in Panama

These colorful bungalows pop against the green and blue backdrop of the jungle and sea.

Courtesy of Punta Caracol

  • Location: Colon Island, Panama
  • Why we love it: A gently priced overwater getaway near the United States
  • Book now

Off Panama’s east coast on Colon Island, the palm-roofed cabins at Punta Caracol Acqua-Lodge sit on stilts over an aquamarine stretch of the Caribbean Sea. Each of the nine western, sunset-facing cabins were constructed using traditional local methods, making use of natural materials such as native woods, clay, bamboo, and wild cane, giving them a close-to-nature ambience.

The surrounding Bocas del Toro archipelago is home to sloths, howler monkeys, and scarlet dart frogs and worth venturing out from your private terrace to view. But if you decide to stay put, chances are good that you’ll spot a pod of dolphins splashing in the waters nearby. From $265

3. Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort, Tahiti

Roofed open air restaurant at Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort lit at night with torches

Dine at a romantic, thatched-roof restaurant at the Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort.

Courtesy of Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort

  • Location: Moorea, Tahiti
  • Why we love it: An easy-to-reach Tahitian retreat that feels a world away
  • Loyalty program: Accor Live Limitless
  • Book now

Surrounded by ocean views and white-sand beaches, Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort is an idyllic luxury retreat on the Tahitian island of Moorea—and also one of the easier ones to reach. (Guests can take a catamaran directly from the Faa’a international airport in Papeete.) Even so, it’s still a peaceful and remote-feeling escape. Thanks to its location next to a lagoon free of Jet Skis and other watercraft, the area’s turquoise-blue waters are full of tropical fish and other marine life, which guests can see while swimming or snorkeling.

As for the property’s 113 thatched-roof bungalows, only some are suspended above the water (its beachfront bungalows are on land), so be sure to book one of the rooms that float over the lagoon for an overwater experience. From these accommodations, guests can slip right into the crystal-clear waters from a private deck, or peer through glass floor panels that give a direct view of the pelagic world below. No matter which room you choose, expect comfortable, king-size beds, wood-accented rooms with touches of Polynesian decor, and floor-to-ceiling windows framing views of the palm trees and ocean. From $870

4. Cayo Espanto

Aerial view of Caya Espanto surrounded by trees and sea, with walkways over water

Explore some of the world’s best scuba-diving while staying at Caya Espanto

Photo by Olivera Rusu

  • Location: Ambergris Caye, Belize
  • Why we love it: An overwater bungalow experience with epic scuba diving
  • Book now

For an easier getaway from most U.S. cities, Cayo Espanto—just off the coast of Belize in Ambergris Caye—has six beachfront villas and an extra-special one-bedroom bungalow with a private dock. Luxury travel company Scott Dunn recommends it especially for the world-class scuba diving experiences in the Belize Barrier Reef, second in size only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. If scuba isn’t your thing, try the snorkeling, fly fishing, jungle trips, and tours of Mayan ruins for a bit of historic context. Four nights from $8,380

5. Arctic Bath

Aerial view of Arctic Bath, with overwater bungalows and large circular structure perched over an icy lake

The bungalows at Arctic Bath are not surrounded by coral reefs and palm trees, but they are every bit as appealing as their tropical counterparts.

Courtesy of Arctic Bath

  • Location: Lule River, Sweden
  • Why we love it: Overwater rooms with northern lights views
  • Loyalty program: Invited (Small Luxury Hotels of the World)
  • Book now

The Lule River in Swedish Lapland may not be bath-warm like the Indian Ocean, but to experience a floating hotel here is like nothing else. Arctic Bath, a member of Small Luxury Hotels, offers a standout experience with six overwater cabin options. It’s remote and cozy, outfitted with contemporary Scandinavian textiles and architecture: sleek glass walls, rooms clad in blond wood with beds topped by wool throws, and otherworldly floating wood walkways. Arctic Bath offers a special base for experiencing the northern lights—best viewed after the healing ritual of a cold bath and sauna at the spa. From $500

6. Cheval Blanc

Table on roofed wood deck set a for a meal overlooking water at Cheval Blanc Randheli

Cheval Blanc Randheli offers elegant, spacious overwater villas.

Courtesy of Cheval Blanc

  • Location: Randheli, Maldives
  • Why we love it: Barefoot luxury with sprawling villas in a picturesque atoll
  • Book now

Set in the Noonu Atoll in the northwest Maldives, this LVMH-owned Cheval Blanc property is composed of 46 overwater villas; 36 of them were designed by French Belgian architect Jean-Michel Gathy with thatched roofs, white walls, and sleek stone floors. Each sprawling villa has its own infinity pool, multiple private terraces with stepladders leading directly into blue waters, and a shaded outdoor dining area.

Cheval Blanc is also home to a “spa island”—a dedicated wellness island with treatment pavilions, a boutique selling Guerlain products, and a bar serving healthy food—plus a tennis island with two courts. For an ultra private experience, the resort’s Cheval Blanc Randheli Private Island has its own four-bedroom villa and private jetty. From $4,180

7. Joali

Interior of large guest room with high ceiling at Joali in the Maldives

Joali is known as the first art hotel in the Maldives.

Courtesy of Joali

  • Location: Muravandhoo, Maldives
  • Why we love it: A castaway experience with world-class art and family-friendly amenities
  • Book now

An art-focused, 73-villa resort, Joali opened in 2018. Each overwater villa has its own infinity pool, outdoor shower, and hammock, plus carefully chosen, nature-inspired artwork like that featuring manta rays or coral. Fancy a fresh passionfruit smoothie each morning? Your villa also comes with its own smoothie maker (and coffee machine, of course). The Spa by ESPA offers full fitness and wellness programs, including spin and HIIT classes. A roster of complimentary activities designed for kids, like a Maldivian storytime and cooking classes, make this a great family-friendly option.

Sustainability is also front of mind here: Choose to offset your carbon footprint with Joali’s offerings or learn about the hotel’s coral garden and nursery. From $2,000

8. Kudadoo Maldives

Aerial view of Kudadoo, with large area of solar panels in foreground and overwater accommodations in distance

Solar panels significantly reduce carbon emissions at Kudadoo.

Courtesy of Kudadoo

  • Location: Kudadoo, Maldives
  • Why we love it: A solar-powered private island with warm hospitality
  • Book now

Kudadoo is a fully solar-powered private island with 15 overwater residences designed with responsibly sourced wood with a minimalist Japanese aesthetic by Yuji Yamazaki. The resort is committed to sustainability, from helping to protect local green sea turtles and manta rays to using local and responsibly sourced produce and seafood.

The resort is fully inclusive, and its guest service promise is an “anything, anytime, anywhere” concept, achieved with the help of private butlers. Staff have been known to welcome guests by singing their favorite songs on arrival, arranging a special-occasion barbecue under the moon at 2 a.m., and setting up outdoor movies and photo sessions. From $3,022

9. Raffles Maldives Meradhoo

A private pool and wood deck with two lounge chairs at Raffles Maldives Meradhoo, with sunset in distance

At Raffles Maldives Meradhoo, enjoy sunset at your private pool.

Courtesy of Raffles Hotels & Resorts

  • Location: Meradhoo, Maldives
  • Why we love it: Urban sophistication over the ocean
  • Loyalty program: Accor Live Limitless
  • Book now

With the glossy service of global hospitality brand Raffles, this corner of the Maldives feels especially luxurious and idyllic with 22 villas. The colonial-meets-seaside feel evokes the design of its famous flagship sister, the Raffles in Singapore (think blue-and-white striped awnings, rattan fans, and bamboo ceilings). The overwater residences with two bedrooms and private pools are a massive 3,229 square feet and have the most panoramic views at the tip of the lagoon, with high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. From $1,270

10. Conrad Maldives

Semicircular transparent ceiling and walls of underwater Muraka Suite at Conrad Maldives, with large bed

Sleep underwater in the palatial Muraka Suite at Conrad Maldives.

Photo by Justin Nicholas

  • Location: Rangali Island, Maldives
  • Why we love it: A (luxurious) underwater wonderland
  • Loyalty program: Hilton Honors
  • Book now

Conrad hotels, a boutique extension of Hilton, went all out on two private islands in the Maldives with overwater villas—and the underwater Muraka Villa at Conrad Maldives. The retreats that hover above the ocean on stilts are sanctuaries with infinity pools and large verandas.

For something a little different, 16 feet below the water’s surface and surrounded by glass walls, you’ll find the Muraka Villa, which has a bedroom with its own bathroom and television—though you’d probably spend most of your time staring at the fish and marine life surrounding you. Plus, there are three other bedrooms, a suite for in-laws or friends, and a private kitchen, gym, and personal butler. From $1,648. See AFAR’s full list of the most unique hotels around the world.

11. Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora

Pairs of overwater bungalows on right and left of long walkway at Four Seasons Bora Bora, with rugged green island in background

Four Seasons Bora Bora was inspired by a traditional Polynesian village.

Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts

    • Location: Bora Bora, French Polynesia
    • Why we love it: Overwater bungalows with superlative service
    • Book now

    Let’s face it: When it comes to romantic getaways, overwater bungalows deliver with their ultra private accommodations and sublime settings. Blending this formula with some of the best service in French Polynesia, Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora offers all the elements of a magical experience. There are a total of 108 overwater bungalows—27 with private pools. The most over-the-top option is the Otemanu Overwater Bungalow Suite with 1,576 square feet of space, a private plunge pool, and views of both the lagoon and Mount Otemanu. The overall design was inspired by a traditional Polynesian village, so it feels perfectly at home in the South Pacific waters. From $2,500. See AFAR’s full list of top romantic getaways.

    12. Bawah Reserve

    Aerial view of forked walkway at Bawah Reserve, with one bungalow at end of each fork

    All stays at Bawah Reserve include one spa treatment per day.

    Courtesy of Bawah Reserve

    • Location: Anambas Islands, Indonesia
    • Why we love it: Sustainable luxury meets nature on a private Indonesian island
    • Book now

    For a luxurious yet nature-filled experience, stay in one of 11 overwater bungalows at the all-inclusive Bawah Reserve on Indonesia’s Anambas Islands between Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo. All suites were designed with recycled wood and recycled copper bathtubs. Proceeds from each stay contribute to the Bawah Anambas Foundation, which aims to help support the 45,000 people living across the 200 islands of the Anambas, through marine conversation, education, and financial support.

    Guests are well taken care of: The rate includes one spa treatment per person per day and access to activities like kayaking to nearby beaches and lagoons. Although Bawah Reserve is located in Indonesia, the closest international airport to the resort is in Singapore. Hot tip: It’s worth tacking on a few days there at the start or end of your visit to Bawah, especially since the hotel offers easy transfer packages (via driver, ferry, and seaplane) from the city-state. From $8,500 for three nights

    13. Pangkor Laut

    Distant view of overwater accommodations on stilts over water, surrounded by greenery

    This private island was a favorite of opera star Luciano Pavarotti.

    Courtesy of Pangkor Laut

    • Location: Pangkor Laut, Malaysia
    • Why we love it: Rainforest meets ocean, with plenty of activities and quiet corners
    • Loyalty program: Invited (Small Luxury Hotels of the World)
    • Book now

    The privately owned island of Pangkor Laut, off the west coast of Malaysia, is a favorite of luxury travel company Scott Dunn, which arranges activities like water sports and daily guided rainforest walks for clients. Out of 140 room options—many built into the rainforest—the overwater suite accommodations are the most appealing, with sea and spa villas, plus two signature suites.

    Couples may want to opt for a spa villa, with direct access to the resort’s Spa Village, home to an adults-only pool and treatments inspired by China, Japan, India, Thailand, Bali, and Malaysia. There are three “nap gazebos” at the spa—where you can sleep, meditate, or read—but it might be easier to stay in your overwater bungalow for that. From $230

    14. Song Saa Private Island

    Two wood walkways leading to small clusters of thatched-roof bungalows at Song Saa

    Song Saa is a 35-minte speedboat ride from Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

    Courtesy of Song Saa Private Island

    • Location: Song Saa, Cambodia
    • Why we love it: A sustainably operated, wildlife-filled private island retreat on the Cambodian coast
    • Book now

    The overwater villas at Song Saa Private Island in Cambodia are located within a marine reserve in Cambodia’s Koh Rong Archipelago. The 27 villas were built using sustainable materials and are all open plan, designed to let the outdoors in (with indoor-outdoor showers, shaded daybeds, and airy thatched-roof ceilings).

    Song Saa is home to abundant marine life—including seahorses, turtles, and octopuses, which guests can see up close on snorkeling excursions. Song Saa also offers opportunities for guests to get involved with its Song Saa Foundation, which focuses on conservation work and marine life preservation. From $1,000

    15. The Mandina Lodges

    Three bungalows with green roofs at Mandina Lodges in a mangrove forest, viewed from water

    The Mandina Lodges are located in a mangrove forest in the Gambia.

    Courtesy of the Mandina Lodges

    • Location: Kubuneh, Gambia
    • Why we love it: Accommodations on a tributary in a West African mangrove forest
    • Book now

    These floating bungalows and rooms on stilts are on a mangrove-lined tributary of the River Gambia, 45 minutes from the West African coast in the Makasutu Culture Forest. When not relaxing in one of the nine, thatched-roof rooms, guests can venture out by canoe in search of the monitor lizards, baboons, and myriad bird species that inhabit the surrounding mangroves. From $1,770

    This article was originally published in 2021. It was most recently updated on February 14, 2024, with additional reporting by Erika Owen and Billie Cohen.

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