The world’s most beautiful over-water villas and bungalows (that aren’t in the Maldives)

Have you really stayed in the Maldives if you haven’t checked into an over-water villa?

We’d say that would be a definite yes, although there’s no denying that a stilted, over-water hideaway is the first thing many people picture when they think of this Indian Ocean paradise.

That said, we’re also firm believers that there are fantastic examples of over-water opulence elsewhere in the world – and we’ve got the proof.

There’s nothing quite like the serenity and luxury of staying over the water on private islands, in beach resorts or even just in the middle of the ocean, whether you’re on an island off the coast of Africa, a picturesque tropical retreat in Latin America or by the side of a dam in southeast Asia.

But while you can go as far as Mexico and Mauritius, there are plenty of enticing stays closer to home, including a waterside retreat on a Swiss lake and a log cabin in Cornwall. Read on to find out more.

Cayo Espanto

Location: Belize

Cayo Espanto (Cayo Espanto)

There are just seven over-water villas on this pint-sized Belizean island, so the chances of your view being ruined by a fellow guest floating past your villa on an inflatable pink unicorn are slim. Put even more space between you and your fellow guests by opting for Casa Ventanas, a one-bedroom villa perched on the end of a pier. The tiny island covers just four acres, although keeping boredom at bay is easy – there’s a shuttle service between Cayo Espanto and the mainland (5km away) and activities on offer including diving excursions, bird-watching and day trips to other parts of Belize.

From £1,679 per villa per night, all-inclusive.

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Hotel Palafitte

Location: Lake Neuchâtel, Switzerland

Hotel Palafitte (Hotel Palafitte)

Say hello to Swiss engineering at its finest – 38 sleek wooden cabins, many of which are perched over the Alpine waters of Lake Neuchâtel. Floor-to-ceiling windows makes it easy to soak up the views of the Swiss Alps, and you can even shimmy down the ladder at the rear of your villa and take a dip in the lake – although you should banish any notions of bath-warm water. On the plus side, cold water therapy is apparently all the rage.

Banyan Tree Mayakoba

Location: Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Banyan Tree Mayakoba (Banyan Tree Mayakoba)

The Banyan Tree Mayakoba Resort, which opened in 2021, was one of the first resorts in Mexico to offer over-water accommodation. What sets the property apart is that its villas aren’t located off sandy beaches but along the wildlife-filled waterways which weave through the Riviera Maya area. This beautiful ecosystem is home to a number of species, including agoutis (ridiculously cute fruit-munching rodents), tiger herons and iguanas. It’s also a seriously sustainable property – all organic waste is sent to a local pig farm, and the property even has its own authorised turtle field, where 4 of the 7 worldwide species come to nest.

Constance Prince Maurice

Location: Mauritius

Constance Prince Maurice (Constance Prince Maurice)

The Constance Prince Maurice is sandwiched between the Indian Ocean and a natural lagoon, and the latter is where you’ll find the over-water villas. The lagoon is a fish conservation reserve and fantastic snorkelling spot, and the property is located at the tip of a peninsula, so there are plenty of gorgeous beaches to explore, and there’s also an on-site kite-surfing school. Our favourite spot is the resort’s floating restaurant – just try to ignore the guilt pangs when a shoal of rainbow-hued fish swims past as you’re tucking into your seafood carpaccio.

Bawah Reserve

Location: Indonesia

Bawah Reserve (Bawah Reserve)

The over-water villas at Bawah’s private island reserve offer uninterrupted idyllic views across crystal-clear turquoise waters to the surrounding Anambas islands. Each with their own deck and stairs into the sea, the villas feel private and exclusive while only being a short walk to the island’s restaurants and the Aura wellness centre and spa. Bawah stands out for its commitment to conservation and sustainability – it’s home to Indonesia’s largest floating solar panel farm – and is designed so that guests feel part of the nature of the island, rather than disrupting the environment. Visitors also have access to some of the best snorkelling in the world thanks to the protected coral reefs that surround the island.

From £1,213 per night, all-inclusive

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The St Regis Langkawi

Location: Malaysia

The Royal Sunset Villa at St Regis, Langkawi (St Regis)

Less over-water villa and more over-water palace, the St Regis Langkawi’s accommodations come with private infinity pools, separate living and dining rooms, kitchenettes and walk-in wardrobes. Great views come as standard here (the resort is tucked between a lush rainforest and the Andaman Sea) but if you can’t quite stretch to an over-water villa, the next best thing is dinner at the resort’s Kayuputi restaurant, where you can drink (and dine, if you dare) while reclining in the restaurant’s over-water hammocks.

Underwater Room, The Manta Resort

Location: Zanzibar

Manta Resort (Manta Resort)

Don’t be fooled by the name – this floating villa (don’t worry, it’s securely tethered so the chances of you waking to find you’ve floated halfway across the Indian Ocean are slim) has both an over-water section and a glass-walled underwater room, although the best spot for views is the rooftop, with its supersized day bed. The vibe is seriously laidback here – the main resort (within swimming distance of the Underwater Room) has a gorgeous sun lounger-dotted beach, although there’s also a PADI dive school for guests keen to explore underwater. We recommend asking a member of staff to teach you how to play bao – a traditional Tanzanian boardgame.

From £880 per night, all-inclusive.

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The Boat House, Pengelly Retreat

Location: Cornwall

The Boat House, Pengelly Retreat (The Boat House, Pengelly Retreat)

We’re all for more over-water accommodation in the UK. Admittedly, you’re more likely to spot beavers than batfish during a stay at the Boat House in Cornwall, but there’s something fabulously cosy about its wooden cabin, complete with log burner, Scandi-inspired décor and tangle of wooden beams. Step out onto the veranda and you’ll be able to row your very own boat around the lake before watching the sunset from either the patio’s bathtub or the firepit.

From £129 per night.

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Location: Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Misool (Derrick Thomson)

This is admittedly one of our more expensive over-water options, but we promise it’s worthy of your hard-earned cash. Located in Indonesia’s remote Raja Ampat archipelago, Misool was founded by keen divers Marit and Andrew, who built their eco-lodge on an island which was once home to a shark-finning camp. Their subsequent achievements include the creation of the Misool Marine Reserve, the recruitment of local rangers (many of whom are former shark finners) to prevent illegal fishing and the founding of the Misool Foundation, which tackles problems such as plastic marine waste. Oh, and the construction of what might just be the most beautiful over-water villas we’ve come across.

From £2,777 per person for seven nights, all-inclusive.

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Panvaree resort

Location: Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

Panvaree Resort, Thailand (Panvaree Resort, Thailand)

Over-water accommodation in national parks is few and far between, but that’s not the only thing which sets the over-water villas at Panvaree resort in Thailand’s Khao Sok National Park apart. The villas are located on a lake, rather than over the ocean, so the views are a definite upgrade: instead of endless sea you’ll get forested mountains, bird-dotted limestone cliffs and the lake’s emerald-green water.

Read more on the best destinations to visit in Southeast Asia

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