The World’s Best Islands with Overwater Bungalows
Not every island is blessed with the sand and surf worthy of an overwater bungalow resort—but those that are are as spellbindingly beautiful as the hotels that line their shores. Here, seven islands with overwater bungalows that prove heaven is a place on earth.
The chain of 26 natural atolls that make up the Maldives include some 1,190 separate coral islands—real estate that just lends itself to overwater bungalow development. The variety of stays here (over 100 properties, all told) is mind-boggling: whether you’re a dedicated diver or environmentalist, honeymooner or family group looking to splurge, there’s a bungalow here for you. Interested in personal butlers and meals delivered straight to your room? Privacy is paramount at COMO Cocoa Island. Prefer something more social? Villas at Soneva Jani have their own slides and outdoor swings while the property hosts live music and outdoor movie nights. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island made the biggest news splash last year when it debuted the world’s first underwater villa—though any guest can experience the novelty at its ethereal underwater restaurant Undersea, where guests dine on fine European cuisine while schools of tropical fish swirl all around.
Few islands on this planet are as idyllic as Bora Bora, the French Polynesian isle crowned by its famous pinnacle, Mount Otemanu, which rises like a beacon above the surrounding lagoons and coral reefs. It’s no wonder some of the world’s most luxurious resorts built their coveted stilted bungalows here, from St. Regis (think Jean-Georges dining and butlers for every suite) to the Four Seasons (which has its own yacht along with saltwater plunge pools for 15 select rooms). The biggest stunner of all, Conrad Bora Bora Nui, replaced a former Hilton, where it debuted the island’s first two-story suites that feature decks fitted with catamaran nets—makeshift hammocks perfect for snoozing in the sun.
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Only one resort on Fiji counts overwater bungalows among its accommodation options, but that’s just fine by us, since that property is Likuliku Lagoon Resort. The adults-only sanctuary is a honeymooner’s paradise (and the guest list shows). We chalk that up to its spacious digs—especially the beachfront bures, which come with ladder access to the sea, freestanding baths, and private plunge pools.
It took until 2016 for Jamaica to debut its first overwater bungalow resort, but it now holds a secure spot on this "best islands with bungalows" list. Like their South Pacific predecessors, the thatch-roof bungalows at Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort and Private Island near Montego Bay take design cues from their breezy, turquoise surrounds—think floating decks, personal hammocks, infinity pools, and soaking tubs for two (it’s adults-only, after all). The price to stay in one is steep—over $1,000 a night, a far cry from the typically affordable Sandals rate—but the amount you’ll save on flights alone will probably make it worth it.
This quiet Indian Ocean island, off the east coast of Madagascar, is blessed with both beaches and mountains—so you can fit in all the adventure or R&R you please. Journey to the island's eastern end to find Constance Prince Maurice, a 60-acre private estate home to thatch-roof villas stilted over mangroves that are a study in understated elegance (think outdoor baths, heated pools, and Asian-inspired interiors). The infinity pool is just as stunning, lined with cabanas-for-two and overlooking the sheltered bay, as is the floating seafood restaurant—reached via a lantern-lit walkway that's even more magical come nightfall.
One look at Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort and you could be convinced to skip Tahiti altogether and head straight to neighboring Moorea. The property's overwater bungalows come with all the necessary trappings (thatch roofs, deck hammocks, soaking tubs, rain showers) but with the added bonus of being on French Polynesia’s most wild island—a lush, forested expanse home to dramatic waterfalls, fern-covered cliffs, and deep ravines ripe for exploring.
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Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, Cambodia
A stay at Song Saa Private Island—built across two islands in the Gulf of Thailand—is reason enough to book a flight to Cambodia. Just 27 villas are as natural as the rain-forested islands themselves, done up with beach driftwood and recycled timber saved from retired fishing boats. The mantra here is serenity: in addition to a spa, there’s a yoga and meditation center as well as a tranquil infinity pool where guests can recharge after a morning spent snorkeling the nearby reefs.
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