A room on the beach may be enough for the average island-hopper, but for a more immersive experience, nothing beats sleeping offshore, with the waves lapping practically at the foot of the bed. Two words: overwater bungalows. No surprise, fully half of the places that make our list are in the Maldives, the unofficial world capital of the life aquatic.
Fanning out along jetties from a private island in North Male Atoll, Gili Lankanfushi’s overwater villas are stuffed to the rafters with high-end furnishings and high technology. Best of all is the Private Reserve, a five-building compound complete with private spa, wine cellar, full kitchen and dedicated butlers — all suspended above the water, half a kilometer out to sea.
Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
Bora Bora, Tahiti
Most of the work in describing this place is done by the name alone. When you’ve got a hundred-odd bungalows on stilts over the calm, warm waters of a South Pacific lagoon, you don’t need much of a sales pitch. Be aware, for better or worse — depending on your circumstances — that it’s remarkably kid-friendly.
Como Cocoa Island
South Male Atoll, Maldives
Moored off a sliver of sand in the Indian Ocean, the overwater suites and villas at Cocoa Island take the form of the traditional Maldivian fishing boats known as dhonis. A staircase out the back door leads straight down into the warm, crystalline water, while the view from the bed, through large French windows, is of unbroken ocean as far as the eye can see.
Thatch Caye Resort
Proof that the Maldives aren’t the only venue for the overwater experience, Thatch Caye shows that the concept works equally well in Latin America, given still enough water and a remote enough setting. The perfect base for snorkelers, divers, kayakers, and seafaring adventurers of all stripes.
Set on a lake at the foot of the Jura mountains, with stunning views of the Alps across the water, Hotel Palafitte proves that the overwater bungalow concept works every bit as well beyond the tropics. Guests can gaze down into the lake through plate-glass floors in the futuristic rooms, or swing a ladder down from the balcony and climb right in.
Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
North Huvadhoo Atoll, Maldives
You can trust Park Hyatt to excel at whatever endeavor they set their minds to. Here that’s a tiny speck of a private island with an arching crescent of Aqua Villas on stilts cascading out into the shallow waters of the lagoon — all featuring the tasteful design and faultless professionalism for which the Park Hyatt hotels, on sea and land alike, are famous.
Vivanta By Taj Coral Reef
North Male Atoll, Maldives
The India-based Taj group is getting in on the fun as well, thanks to the Maldivian outpost of its boutique-style Vivanta sub-brand. Half of the sixty-odd thatched-roof villas are of the overwater variety, with ladders in place so that it’s only a couple of steps from the bedroom to the shallow lagoon.
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
Rosewood Mayakoba has long been one of Tablet’s best-reviewed Mexican resorts, but there’s always room for improvement — here that means the addition of the Overwater Lagoon Suites, which add an aqueous angle to what was already an impressive beachside hotel.
Six Senses Ninh Van Bay
Nha Trang, Vietnam
Just across the bay from busy Nha Trang on a lush, mountainous peninsula is a villa compound that gives the word ‘hideaway’ an extra dimension of meaning. Here the Water Villas are firmly planted on rock, not on stilts, but you can swim into the bay more or less directly from your bedroom.
Six Senses Laamu
Laamu Atoll, Maldives
We couldn’t resist one more Six Senses, and one more trip to the Maldives. The experience includes all the surfing and snorkeling you can handle, as well as a small army of instructors and guides including a resident marine biologist, and at the end of the day you push out to sea and sleep, as it were, with — or at least very near — the fishes.