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

These are the villas of our bucket list dreams: over (and under!) lagoons in the Maldives, Belize, Indonesia, and one special escape in Swedish Lapland.

The first overwater bungalows in the world were built in the Islands of Tahiti in 1967, on Raiatea, by three Americans who had moved there, opened hotels, and wanted to give guests direct access to the lagoon. More were soon built at hotels on Moorea and Bora Bora, and voila, a lasting travel trend was born.

But finding a simple bungalow stilted over the water seems impossible now. Overwater options have evolved into an increasingly luxe experience, with some including perks like private infinity pools, butler services, sun decks, glass floors, and private terraces. You can even sleep underwater in one! (See Conrad Maldives Rangali Island below.)

They can also be found outside the island of Tahiti, with many of the best overwater bungalows located on other French Polynesian islands and in The Maldives, a nation of more than a thousand tiny islands in the Indian Ocean. For something closer to the U.S., you can also find floating thatched-roof villas and suspended cabanas in closer-to-home locales like Belize, Jamaica, and St. Lucia.

From thatched-roof villas in the Maldives and suspended cabanas in Panama, to bungalows in locales as varied as Sweden, Cambodia, and Indonesia, these are 15 of the dreamiest overwater bungalows around the world.

Nayara Bocas del Toro Panama hotel aerial view of overwater villas, mangrove island and ocean

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

Courtesy Nayara Resorts/Brice Ferre Studio

Nayara Bocas del Toro, Panama

Located on a private island off the north-central coast of Panama, Nayara Bocas del Toro is one of the newest properties on this list. It has 16 overwater villas and two tree houses that hover above a turquoise-blue sea, each with floor-to-ceiling windows framing views of Dolphin Bay Reserve and Bastimentos National Marine Park, and 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—which guests can explore by snorkeling (each room includes a snorkel kit), hiking in the nearby rain forest (keep an eye open for wildlife like 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 as well. 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.

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

Punta Caracol Acqua-Lodge, Panama

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 natural, close-to-nature ambiance.

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

Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort

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

Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort

Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort, Tahiti

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 undisturbed 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 (their beachfront bungalows are on land), book one of the rooms that float over the lagoon for a truly unique experience. From these, 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 underwater world beneath. No matter which room you choose, expect comfortable, king-size beds, wood-accented rooms with touches of Polynesian decor, and floor-to-ceiling windows for enjoying views of the palm trees and ocean.

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

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

Photo by Olivera Rusu

Cayo Espanto, Belize

  • Location: Ambergris Caye, Belize
  • Book Now

For an easier getaway from most American 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.

Arctic Bath, Sweden's overwater bungalows perched over an icy lake

The bungalows at Arctic Bath may not be surrounded by coral reefs and palm trees, but they are ever bit a great place to stay as their tropical counterparts.

Courtesy of Arctic Bath

Arctic Bath, Sweden

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, and it offers a special base for experiencing the Northern Lights—and the healing ritual of a cold bath and sauna at the spa.

Cheval Blanc Randheli offers elegant, spacious overwater villas.

Cheval Blanc Randheli offers elegant, spacious overwater villas.

Courtesy of Cheval Blanc

Cheval Blanc Randheli, Maldives

As expected from a LVMH-owned Cheval Blanc property, the 30 overwater villas on this islet, out of a total of 46, were impeccably designed by Jean-Michel Gathy, a French-Belgian architect who specializes in luxury hotels. Set in the Noonu Atoll in the northwest Maldives, each villa here has its own infinity pool, multiple private terraces, and a shaded outdoor dining area, something akin to an overwater bungalow mansion.

Cheval Blanc is also home to a “spa island”—a literal island with treatment pavilions, a boutique selling Guerlain products, and a bar serving healthy food—plus a tennis island with two courts, and the spectacular Cheval Blanc Randheli Private Island.

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

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

Courtesy of Joali

Joali, Maldives

Joali is an art-focused, 73-villa resort that opened in 2018. Each overwater villa has its own infinity pool, outdoor shower, and hammock and is adorned with carefully chosen, eco-inspired artwork like those featuring manta rays or underwater 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.

Solar panels significantly reduce carbon emissions at Kudadoo.

Solar panels significantly reduce carbon emissions at Kudadoo.

Courtesy of Kudadoo

Kudadoo Maldives, Maldives

Kudadoo is a fully solar-powered private island with just 15 overwater residences, designed with a Japanese aesthetic by Yuji Yamazaki. The resort is fully committed to sustainability, including protecting local green sea turtles and manta rays, sustainably sourcing wood and ecoluxe bath amenities, and investing millions in solar power, which has reduced carbon emissions substantially. Much of the produce is grown on nearby islands, and food is sourced as responsibly as possible.

It is a fully inclusive resort, 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 an American barbecue under the moon at 2 a.m., and setting up outdoor movies and photo sessions.

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

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

Courtesy of Raffles Hotels & Resorts

Raffles Maldives Meradhoo, Maldives

With the glossy service of Asian 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.

Sleep underwater in the palatial Muraka Suite at Conrad Maldives.

Sleep underwater in the palatial Muraka Suite at Conrad Maldives.

Photo by Justin Nicholas

Conrad Maldives, Maldives

  • Location: Rangali Island, Maldives
  • Book now

Conrad hotels, a boutique extension of Hilton, went all out with the overwater—and underwaterMuraka Villa at Conrad Maldives. Sixteen feet below the water’s surface is 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.

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

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

Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts

Four Seasons Bora Bora, French Polynesia

AFAR readers named the Four Seasons Bora Bora the “best resort for an epic stay” in the 2020 AFAR Travelers’ Awards. There are a total of 108 overwater bungalows—27 with private pools—but 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.

And if that isn’t enough here’s another reason to choose the Four Seasons Bora Bora: Through its extended stay program, guests can receive complimentary nights, transfers, meals, and more for stays of 10 or more nights. “Extended” and “epic” are exactly what we need now.

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

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

Courtesy of Bawah Reserve

Bawah Reserve, Indonesia

  • Location: Anambas Islands, Indonesia
  • 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 in Indonesia, the closest international airport to Bawah Reserve is actually in Singapore. 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.

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

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

Courtesy of Pangkor Laut

Pangkor Laut, Malaysia

  • Location: Pangkor Laut, Malaysia
  • 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 rain forest walks for clients. Out of 140 room options—many built into the rain forest—the overwater suite options 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.

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

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

Courtesy of Song Saa Private Island

Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia

The overwater villas at Cambodia’s private island, Song Saa, are another pick of luxury travel company Scott Dunn. For clients staying here, the company arranges diving, snorkeling, visits to traditional Cambodian fishing villages, and wellness programs with yoga and meditation.

Located within a marine reserve in Cambodia’s Koh Rong Archipelago, Song Saa is home to abundant marine life—including seahorses, turtles, and octopuses. Song Saa also offers opportunities for guests to get involved with its Song Saa Foundation, which focuses on conservation work and marine life preservation.

The Mandina Lodges, Gambia

These floating bungalows and rooms on stilts lie 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.

This article was originally published in 2021. It was most recently updated on April 24, 2023, with additions. Brendar Brady, Erika Owen, and Billie Cohen contributed to this story.

AFAR Journeys
More From AFAR