It’s no secret that I’m drawn to water. It’s been my happy place and what allows me to truly unwind, so most of my earlier vacations revolved around islands and beach time. I seek out the clearest waters, the most idyllic tropical locations and of course the best resorts! If you have the inkling to escape to an exotic tropical locale, you’ll love these overwater bungalows in 4 distinct locations-Tahiti, Maldives, Jamaica and Mexico. They represent the best of barefoot luxury and the uniqueness of being able to step right into the water from your room.
Although over water bungalows are now becoming more common at beach destinations, Tahiti holds the original claim to fame. The first overwater bungalow was developed on Ra’iatea by 3 Southern California boys at a small hotel they purchased called Bali Hai. These three rooms on stilts allowed clients to snorkel directly from their bungalows and the rest, as they say, is history.
The islands of Tahiti have a plethora of options for accommodations, including overwater bungalows. Because the natural lagoons are formed by atolls and the calm waters are protected by barrier reefs and other islands, they present the ideal location for extending a resort’s accommodations onto the water. One of my favorites is on the island of Bora Bora at the Four Seasons resort. I’ve never seen water so clear, so still and so warm. It’s actually where my husband and I decided to go for our honeymoon and where we will return to this July, this time with our multi-generational extended family. Although Tahiti is often thought of as a honeymoon destination, it’s actually quite family friendly. Most of the resorts have children’s programs and there are a variety of activities, both in and out of the water to keep everyone engaged It’s all about options-be as still or as active as you’d like, but enjoy the slow pace and the chance to connect with those that mean the most to you. With only an eight hour non-stop flight from Los Angeles, Tahiti is closer than you think!
The Maldives are another chain of islands that offer breathtaking water views and a huge assortment of resorts. There are so many phenomenal hotels, it’s difficult to choose just one. The one that’s been getting the most press is of course Soneva Jani. These earthy villas range from a 1 bedroom Water Retreat with nearly 4,500sf to a 4 bedroom Water Reserve over a sprawling 14,000 sf. These aren’t just any villas-think water slide, open air bathrooms, plunge pools, retractable roofs for phenomenal star gazing, your own Ms. or Mr. Friday (aka butler), outdoor deck and seating areas, and even your own fitness room and walk-in mini-bar with espresso machine and private wine cellar selection. This is a place where you can bring not only your significant other, but your entire tribe for a fabulous getaway!
Granted the Maldives aren’t a quick hop from California, which is why I like to combine them with a cultural vacation. Explore the temples, rice paddies, and elephant sanctuaries of Thailand or the incredible palaces, backwaters or leopard safaris in India THEN head to the Maldives to enjoy several days of complete R&R in preparation for your journey home. Whether you’re visiting Sri Lanka, Indonesia, or even Dubai, the Maldives are a perfect compliment to the culturally-immersive activities you find in each region.
So you don’t want to venture out to the Indian Ocean and you don’t even want to explore French Polynesia. If you’re looking for something closer to home or something that’s a little more familiar, you can experience an overwater bungalow in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Opening in December 2016, Sandals Royal Caribbean boasts its overwater villas were the first in the Caribbean and are modeled after the original Tahitian bungalows. These adults-only spaces include see-through glass floor panels, private infinity pools, a sun deck with overwater hammock, and an outdoor shower. The private water taxi takes you to and from the main resort and of course you have your own butler to take care of all the details. Being first to market also means they are the most expensive individual hotel rooms to be constructed in the Caribbean, estimated at $1.7M each. These villas booked out a year in advance and their popularity led to the addition of overwater bungalows at Sandals Grande St. Lucian in St. Lucia last summer and at Sandals South Coast, Jamaica last December.
You’ve been to Mexico a thousand times. You probably even have your favorite resort that you frequent again and again. How about an option that’s familiar but still new? Situated in the Riviera Maya, the Palafitos at El Dorado Maroma, touts itself as the first overwater villas in Mexico. This adults-only all-inclusive resort is part of the Karisma Hotels & Resorts collection and situated between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos. Of course you have the standard glass panel floor, the outdoor shower, the sun deck and infinity pool but as guests of one of the 30 overwater bungalows, you have access to your own restaurant and even your own spa at the end of the pier. Guests from the villas and suites of the El Dorado Maroma don’t get such privileged access.