Just because you’re not flush with cash doesn’t mean you have to give up on the overwater bungalow fantasy, because who hasn’t dreamt of staying in a cabana stilted over shimmering water, fish cruising below? So we combed the world and came up with seven stellar stays, where you can score that stuff-of-fantasies experience without the dream-deflating prices.
1. Azul Paradise, Panama (Bungalows from $275, Doubles from $425, Three-Night Minimum): With its powder beaches, consistent surf breaks and Caribbean-style clapboard houses, Panama’s Bocas del Toro island group has been a regular stop on the backpacker and wave-chaser circuit for years. And sure, this hotel on Isla Bastimentos can play chilled-out surf hut, but it can also serve as a romantic getaway for the adventurously inclined. Make it what you want. Either way, the setting is far-out. A handful of thatch-roof bungalows, linked Water World-style by docks, possess the kind of amenities that make for those giddy, can–you–believe–we’re–really–here? travel moments: outdoor showers, lounge areas, glass floors and ladders that drop straight down into the water. Back on the beach, you can chill out on a lounge chair or swim in the sea (the hotel’s located on the calm, leeward side of Bocas). (Photo via Azul Paradise)
INSIDER TIP: Sleeping six, the Double Bungalows are great for groups.
2. 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, Cambodia (Tentalows from $220, Including Breakfast): Arriving at this remote eco-luxe lodge is half the adventure: It’s a four-hour drive from Phnom Penh, followed by a 30-minute boat ride down the misty Tatai River, thick jungle on either side, that recalls the Heart of Darkness journey in the best way possible. Once you spy the 12 handsome tented villas, inspired by African safari tentalows, you’ll realize that this is glamping — on water. Bathrooms hold wine-barrel showers and striped umbrellas shade chic chaise lounges, but you might be awoken at sunrise by a gibbon call. Plus, the best massage around comes courtesy of a nearby waterfall. (Photo via 4 Rivers)
INSIDER TIP: For a look at local life, take the resort-offered excursion to a nearby fishing village where houses are on stilts and boardwalks stand in for sidewalks.
3. Punta Caracol Acqua-Lodge, Panama (Cabanas from $350, Including Most Meals): This hideaway in the teal-blue Caribbean off Isla Colón has fewer cabanas than you have fingers, all of which are crowned with palm fronds, painted Caribbean colors and powered by the sun. And each — surprise, surprise — is a two-story affair with a four-poster bed tucked into the top floor. The laid-back vibes, the isolation and the limited electricity mean there’s nothing much to do here, and that’s exactly the point. Your go-to outfit: a swimsuit; your go-to hairstyle: wet; your go-to cocktail: a piña colada (the bartender makes a mean one) and your go-to mindset: totally blissed out. (Photo via Punta Caracol)
INSIDER TIP: As tempting as it may be to veg out on your patio for a week straight, get the hotel to boat you over to one of the deserted nearby isles so you can play Robinson Crusoe for a couple of hours on an empty beach.
4. Anthony’s Key Resort, Honduras (Bungalows from $302, Including All Meals): At this rustic hideaway on the Honduran island of Roatan, life simplifies and slows, and the meeting of your basic needs takes a distinct turn for the tropical. Food comes in the form of crab legs, fresh fish and seafood skewers and soups. Your ration of water is the shockingly blue ocean in which you’ll float, paddle and dive. Shelter is a wooden bungalow on stilts with a deck and hammock. Your clothing consists of little more than bikinis, swim trunks and flip-flops. And you realize that’s all you really need — that, and the occasional Frangipani cocktail, the hotel’s rum-coconut-banana-and-more-rum signature blend. The diving — more than 30 sites offering up sharks, rays and wrecks — draws most visitors here, but you can kayak, paddleboard or log lazy laps in the pool. (Photo via Anthony’s Key Resort)
INSIDER TIP: Strike out on one of the hotel-offered overnight trips to mainland Honduras where Maya ruins, coffee plantations and hot springs beg for exploration.
5. Reethi Beach, Maldives (Bungalows from $256, Including Breakfast): The Maldives — a dreamy sprinkling of palm-tufted islets across crystal waters. It’s a legendary place with legendary prices reserved for marquee life moments like honeymoons (and even then, it’s a pricey proposition). Or so you thought. This hideaway, on a petite private isle in the Baa Atoll, gives you the Maldives’ experience at a surprisingly reasonable rate. Drop your bags in your bungalow, throw open the sliding glass doors, take in the shimmering ocean and give your plus-one a big high five, because this is your home for the next week. Now all that’s left to do is decide which of the three beach bars you’re going to hit first. (Photo via Reethi Beach)
INSIDER TIP: Early on in your trip, take advantage of the resort’s daily free 30-minute snorkeling excursion — Reethi Beach has one of the Maldives’ best house reefs — then later in the week, graduate to a day of diving.
6. Royal Huahine, Huahine (Room Rates from $264): So you’re set on the islands of Tahiti, but you’re balking at the prices. Consider Huahine, which is as wildly romantic as Bora Bora (it was named Hermosa by Captain Cook), but is less known, less touristed, less talked about… and, consequently, less pricey. Which means that you can “splurge” (a relative term) on this rustic-luxe hotel, the swankiest digs on an island with one supermarket, eight small villages and countless bays and sugar-sand beaches, and still make your mortgage. Your room, one of 11 over the water, is west-facing for prime sunsets and has a soaking tub that probably won’t see a lot of action, given that you also have a private deck from which you can dive directly into the lagoon. (Photo via Royal Huahine)
INSIDER TIP: Stock up at the grocery store so you’re not locked into eating every meal at the hotel’s on-the-pricey-side restaurant.
7. Thatch Caye, Belize (Room Rates from $349, Including All Meals): Step outside on the deck of your bungalow, one of five overwater accommodations on this private island that’s a quick jaunt from the US, and you’ll quickly realize that the spot to be for the duration of this vacation is that Mayan hammock swaying in the breeze. So it’s only a matter of calling dibs before your travel partner does (or you can play nice and alternate days). When you’re not on hammock duty, practice floating in that clear Belizean water like you were five years old in guppy class again, or convince your companion to go on a little adventure. River tubing two miles through a nearby five-cave chain is one for the bucket list. However you spend your day, it’ll end much the same way: with a belly full of fresh fish and local Belikin beer. (Photo via Thatch Caye)
INSIDER TIP: To mix things up, head over to nearby Coco Plum Resort for lunch one day (the water is shallow enough to wade, or you can kayak or paddle board).
What’s your idea of a dreamy vacation? Tweet us @BritandCo!
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(Featured photo via Azul Paradise)