The Maldives or the South Pacific: Which overwater bungalow destination is right for you?
If you want to stay in an overwater bungalow or a water villa, you most likely are going to want to head to either the South Pacific (Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahiti etc) or the Maldives, which is just southwest of India. There are nearly 30 resorts with overwater bungalows in the South Pacific , and over 75 with water villas (as they are usually called there) in the Maldives. Between these two places you'll find literally ALL of the best overwater resorts in the world.
In many ways these two destinations are quite similar, but in many other ways they are very different. We'll discuss all of this below so you can choose which is the best destination for you.
This is the biggest factor for sure so we'll start with it. Simply put, if you are in or near North America then the South Pacific is MUCH closer and cheaper to reach, but if you are in or near Europe then the Maldives is MUCH closer and cheaper to reach.
We discuss the specifics of getting to Bora Bora and getting to the Maldives in greater depth, but the short version is that (unless you are lucky enough to live in Australia or New Zealand) to reach the South Pacific you'll be taking an overnight flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti as part of it. This is true whether you start out in London or in San Francisco. So if you are starting in London you'll be flying to Los Angeles and then to Tahiti and then to Bora Bora or the final destination of your choice.
Similarly, to reach the Maldives you'll almost certainly be taking an overnight flight from somewhere in Europe to change planes in the Middle East (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar) and then onto the Maldives Airport. The frustrating thing for Americans is that there seem to be no available flights that start in Los Angeles and connect through, say, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur and then onto the Maldives. So even if you live in Los Angeles you'll be flying almost 60% of the way around the world to reach the Maldives.
The Maldives is spread over the tropics, with a few resorts even a bit below the equator. The South Pacific islands with overwater bungalows are all a bit below the equator, so the climate in all of them is very similar. There is a rainy season and a dry season in both regions, but it will be sunny most of the time in rainy season and it will rain some days during the dry season. Honestly, there isn't much difference, and by going in the off-season you can save a lot of money.
The dry season in the South Pacific runs from June through October and in the Maldives it runs from December through April. This means that it's “dry season” in one of these areas for 10 months a year, so if that is important to you then it might be worth going that extra leg to reach the other one. It also means low-season prices are in effect all year round at one or the other as well.
A quick word of warning: It's quite humid everywhere in the Tropics all year, even during the “dry season.” Many people are a bit uncomfortable on their first day there, especially those who've flown in from somewhere cold or very dry, but almost everyone feels much better starting on the second day. Plan on this in advance and you'll cope with it better knowing that it gets better quickly.
The most striking difference between the two is that the Maldives (consisting of hundreds of small islands) is as flat as a pancake, and the South Pacific islands all have gorgeous volcanic mountains at their center. The highest point anywhere in the Maldives is only 2 meters above sea level, so all of these island resorts are decorated with palm trees and sandy beaches, but nothing else.
In the South Pacific the most beautiful and dramatic island is Bora Bora, with Moorea not far behind. Tahiti looks rather plain compared to those two, but some of the other remote islands with overwater bungalows are lovely.
See where they are located on this overwater bungalow resorts in the South Pacific map.
The cost of the bungalows and villas
Another difference between the two is that there is a much wider range of prices at Maldives resorts. At the bottom end you have all-inclusive resorts that are a bit on the basic side that start around US$300 per night (all resorts price in US dollars, by the way). And further up the scale the Maldives has really nice resorts starting well under US$500 per night, all the way up to the premiere resorts that don't have any rooms under US$1,500 per night.
In the South Pacific there are a couple of places under the US$400 per night mark, but honestly the ones you want to stay in start at just under US$600 per night and go up from there. Even at the high end, like at the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort you can get an amazing overwater villa for around US$1,100.
So in other words, the Maldives caters far more to lower budgets, and those cheaper resorts are still fantastic by most standards. The Maldives also has a handful of super-exclusive resorts that are far more expensive than anything in the South Pacific.