Overwater villa holidays: How to begin planning yours

InterContinental Bora Bora ThalassoSo you've decided that you want to take a vacation in an overwater bungalow or water villa, but you don't know where to begin? This is the single most common question we get at this site, and it's understandable because these amazing accommodations are only common in a few parts of the world.

Another complication for most of us is that overwater bungalows are among the most expensive hotel rooms in the world, although there is increasing variety among less expensive places lately as well. Honeymoon couples and others looking for a romantic getaway will often dream of overwater bungalows for the gorgeous setting and privacy, but there are also fantastic family resorts and even eco-resorts where scuba diving is the main activity.

Honeymoon-style water bungalows, or a scuba diving holiday?

Diamonds Thudufushi water villaFirst things first, if you are like most people you are interested in staying in one of those amazing huts on stilts out over a crystal clear lagoon in the tropics. We'll call those “honeymoon-style” overwater bungalows, and they are nearly all located in the South Pacific (Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahiti) and the Maldives (just southwest of India).

But there are also more than a dozen overwater “eco resorts” where the main attraction is daily scuba diving excursions and other local wildlife and sea life. For this type of holiday you are either going to want to check out the overwater huts in the Caribbean (mostly off Central America), or the overwater huts in Asia in Malaysia or Indonesia.

Honeymoon-style water bungalows

Okay, so you want to stay in one of those huts out over a turquoise lagoon. Where you decide to go will largely depend on where you start from. The South Pacific and the Caribbean are much closer to North America, while the Maldives is much closer to Europe and the Middle East.

There are a few other great resorts in different parts of Asia, and they might be worth a look if you are starting from Australia or somewhere within Asia, but for almost everyone their best bet is one of the main three regions.

Basic information about the main overwater resort areas

The section below should answer your first questions and help you decide in which part of the world is best for your holiday.

The Caribbean

A destination made famous in books, movies and TV shows, the Caribbean is comprised of hundreds of islands as well as the Caribbean coast of Central America and Mexico. The islands themselves only offer a few choices and have been dominated by the Sandals brand. Though there are only a few overwater resorts to choose from, each of the 3 Sandals resorts- the Sandals Grande St. Lucian Resort, the Sandals Royal Caribbean All Inclusive Montego Bay, and the Sandals South Coast Resort Whitehouse, Jamaica– wow with large rooms, luxury amenities and fantastic dining options that deliver the taste of the sea.

With that said, Mexico also keeps up with 3 great overwater choices as well. These resorts offer overwater rooms between US$500 and US$1,500 a night, allowing for guests with different budgets to enjoy a stay in paradise.

Prices

  • Jamaica overwater bungalows start off at US$2,159 per night per room
  • Mexico overwater bungalows start off at US$628 per night per room

Getting there

To reach the Caribbean, you'll find that there are several international airports to choose from, with the most commonly used being the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. If flying from Europe, you'll find several options as well, with most using the London International Airport in England. Because each destination is so far from each other, some based on the Caribbean coast of Central America while others on a Caribbean island, you'll find that most of the resorts are reached via a different airport.

More information

>>>Overwater resorts in the Caribbean
>>>Overwater resorts in Mexico

South Pacific

Hilton Bora Bora Nui AerialFar south of Hawaii, you will find Tahiti, Fiji, Moorea, and Bora Bora, plus about 7 other islands with one resort each. Bora Bora is home to about 10 of these resorts, including most of the most luxurious in the South Pacific, and among the most expensive as well. Moorea is a beautiful island just off Tahiti, and it's home to 5 of these resorts, while Tahiti itself has 2 larger international resorts with some overwater bungalows.

Prices

  • Tahiti overwater bungalows start at US$435 per night per room
  • Moorea overwater bungalows start at US$260 per night per room
  • Bora Bora overwater bungalows start at US$429 per night per room
  • Fiji overwater bungalows start at US$390 per night per room

Getting there

For nearly all of these resorts you'll need to fly from Los Angeles to Tahiti as part of getting there, even if you are starting in Europe. The Tahiti resorts are fairly close to the airport. You can book an onward 5-minute flight to Moorea for only a bit more, or take a short ferry ride to get there. To reach Bora Bora you'll fly to Tahiti and then take a 50-minute flight to Bora Bora itself.

More information

>>>Overwater resorts in Tahiti
>>>Overwater resorts in Moorea
>>>Overwater resorts in Bora Bora
>>>Overwater resorts elsewhere in the South Pacific

The Maldives

Lily Beach Maldives AerialSouth of India, stretching all the way to below the equator, the Maldives is home to over 80 resorts with “water villas”, as they are usually called there. Each resort, by law, is on its own private island, and they range from tiny boutique resorts to large family resorts with many hundreds of rooms.

All of the islands in the Maldives chain is completely flat, so there are no mountain views like you get in the South Pacific, but each island is surrounded by its own clear lagoon with great snorkeling and diving, so it feels like paradise just the same.

The Maldives resorts range from all-inclusive package hotels that have one large buffet restaurant serving every meal for a week, all the way up to super-luxury islands where there are as many as 10 restaurants and bars for only 70 rooms.

Prices

Maldives water villas start at around US$306 per night
All-inclusive Maldives water villas start at about US$370 per night for two people

Getting there

The Maldives is an island chain that is incredibly spread out, but all holidays to the country will start by flying into the Malé International Airport, just northeast of the main island of Malé. To reach this airport from Europe you'll almost certainly be taking an overnight flight, changing planes in the Middle East (Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai), arriving in Malé in the morning.

One at the Malé International Airport you'll be met by staff from your resort who with either guide you to a private speedboat that takes you directly to the island, or they'll put you on a sea-plane for a short flight to the island. When you make your hotel reservation they'll include the cost of the boat ride or flight, so it's best to save money and book it yourself online.

More information

>>>Overwater resorts in the Maldives

Overwater scuba and eco resorts

Eclypse de Mar PanamaWhile there is good scuba diving and snorkeling at all the honeymoon-style resorts as well, there are also over a dozen specialty resorts where diving is the main activity for nearly all guests. If you are looking for this kind of trip your best bets are just off the coast of Central America, in the Caribbean, or in Malaysia or Indonesia in Asia.

More information

>>>Overwater resorts in the Caribbean
>>>Overwater resorts in Asia


  • Margo says:

    Hi
    We live at the Gold Coast, Australia so can fly out of here or Brisbane. For our 20 year wedding anniversary in April we want to stay at an overwater bungalow – this will probably be a one-off so I want it to be in the clearest water with white sand so that the swimming and hopefully snorkelling is great. Maybe even some other water activities like sailboarding nearby? What do you recommend also considering ease of getting there? Thanks!

    • Roger Wade says:

      Margo,

      There are actually a few resorts in the South Pacific that aren’t far from you, including one in New Caledonia. Have a look at our list of resorts in the South Pacific for more details. The next closest to you are in the Philippines and Malaysia. You can find those under the Asia tab on the top of this page.

      But really you’ll find the best affordable resorts in the Maldives, which has 80 different overwater hotels, each on its own island. Click on the Maldives tab for all of that information. And of course Bora Bora, which also isn’t too far from you, has many of the world’s best overwater resorts if price isn’t a major factor. Best of luck and let me know if I can help more. -Roger

  • Andrew says:

    We our planning our honeymoon and live near San Francisco. We’d love to go to an amazing bungalow but the issue is we have only around 7 days for our trip, so the long flights really eat into our time. Is there an island you recommend we go to which is easy to reach from SFO? Thanks!

    • Roger Wade says:

      Andrew,

      From San Francisco the closest overwater bungalows are in Tahiti, which is only a couple hours farther than Hawaii. It looks like you’d have to fly down to LAX first, as that’s where all the flights to Tahiti start. There are two resorts not far from the Tahiti Airport that offer overwater bungalows. Those resorts are pretty nice, but there are 4 nicer ones on Moorea, which is a 5-minute flight or one-hour ferry ride from Tahiti. If you are going all that way, it’s probably worth going to Moorea, as it’s also a much prettier island than Tahiti itself. Bora Bora is a 60-minute flight from Tahiti, and it has even more options. Those islands are so gorgeous and wonderful that I think it’s worth the flight, even for a week. Best of luck with this. -Roger

  • Michael says:

    I am trying to plan our 10 year wedding anniversary. We are both pretty easy to please regarding vacations.

    I do know that my wife would really love to stay at an over water Bungalow for this trip.

    We would be traveling from Wichita, KS to Bora Bora or somewhere similar.(hopefully if price is right).

    I have browsed a bit and can’t find much for our budget (around $3-4k per person). Obviously I would love to be on the low end of my budget and save as much as possible.

    If not in Bora Bora, we would be okay with over water bungalow’s elsewhere.

    Travel dates would be leaving August 26th and Returning September 2nd (can go 1 day either way if needed).

    • Roger Wade says:

      Michael,

      We are simply an online guide to overwater bungalows and not a travel agency. You’ll find the best deals online for these resorts. You can usually get better value in Moorea, which is another gorgeous island right off Tahiti itself. The room rates are a bit lower and transportation is faster and cheaper as well. If you have any specific questions just let us know. -Roger

  • Merchel says:

    My wife and I will be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. It would be wonderful to stay at an over water bungalow.

    Is Tahiti, Bora Bora gay-friendly islands? Are any island more friendly than others?

    • Roger Wade says:

      Merchel,

      Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora are all part of French Polynesia, and the French culture there is quite strong. With that in mind, I’d expect that the islands and the resorts in particular would be quite LGBT-friendly. I don’t recall seeing anything in particular that stood out when I’ve been there, but I have a strong hunch that the resorts are all very progressive with that sort of thing. The island people seem to be quite open minded, and French people are famously tolerant. I wish I could give you more certainty. Best of luck with this. -Roger

  • Kim says:

    I would like to attend an over water bungalow resort for me and about 7 of my closest friends to celebrate my 45th Birthday. As most resorts are for honeymooners, are there single friendly resorts that can accommodate a “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” week long celebration. We live on the East coast and realize we will have to fly West for all the bungalows you have described above. All feedback is appreciated to guide me in the planning phrase.

    • Roger Wade says:

      Kim,

      That sounds like a lot of fun. You won’t find many resorts that are great options for “solo” travelers, but groups of singles will fit in with many other groups there. Most of the resorts in Bora Bora and Moorea allow 3 guests per bungalow, and they all have a sleeper sofa in them for that purpose (most don’t allow 4 guests per room though). So if two of your group are okay sleeping on a pull-out couch then you can get by with 3 bungalows.

      It’s true that many of the guests at these resorts will be honeymoon couples or anniversary couples, but there are also families with older children and multi-generational groups. I think your group would have fun at just about any of those resorts, but I’d probably focus on one that has some nightlife each evening such as a band or DJ. Some of the smaller resorts only have a beach bar and it’ll mostly be couples in those. Long story short, I think I’d look at one of the larger resorts on Moorea or Bora Bora or even Tahiti. The places with at least 100 total rooms (including beach and garden bungalows) should also have plenty of things to keep you happy and a diverse clientele.

      If your budget can handle a bit over US$2,000 per night you might even consider one of the Sandals resorts on Jamaica because the flights will be so much shorter and cheaper. The overwater bungalows there are huge (I just toured both resorts recently) and the nearby beach rooms are really wonderful there as well. The beach rooms start at around US$500 per night, but they are premium all-inclusive with even many activities included so they would be really fun for a group. In other words, maybe you could get 1 (or 2) overwater bungalows and a couple of beach rooms, and take turns in each? And you could mostly hang out in the overwater bungalow during the day, which is plenty big enough for everyone. When you add in the cost of flights and all that time flying to Los Angeles and to Tahiti then the Jamaica plan could look even better. Also you have to factor in the cost of meals and drinks and activities. In the South Pacific the room includes breakfast, but everything else is extra, while in Jamaica it’s ALL included in the price. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  • Kris says:

    I am looking to plan a family vacation that is budget friendly. I would love to stay in an overwater hut. Can you tell me the best and most reasonable place to stay with a family the kids are 12 & 16

    • Roger Wade says:

      Kris,

      Since you aren’t even sure which part of the world you want to visit, I’d recommend starting with this list of the world’s cheapest overwater resorts on our other site. Most of those resorts only allow 3 guests per room, even though almost all of them have a pull-out couch in addition to a king bed. You might find some good choices in Central America or in Asia other than the Maldives. And of course it really depends on where you are starting from because the cost of flights could cancel out any savings from a cheaper resort. I hope that helps and I’m happy to help with other questions if you have them. -Roger

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