A Dream Come True: Staying in an Overwater Bungalow in the Maldives

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I’ve always dreamed of staying in an overwater bungalow. I drooled over photos of luxury villas perched on stilts above an impossibly blue lagoon on a distant tropical island. I wanted to gaze at the sea from my bed and watch fish swim by my terrace. My only regret about our decision not to get married (we’ve been together 17 years) was that I missed out on a honeymoon—the perfect excuse to splurge on an overwater bungalow.

Because rooms on stilts are expensive. Prices of $1000+ a night are common and $500 is considered budget. But when we planned to visit the Maldives—a classic overwater bungalow destination—I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, even if we didn’t have a marriage to celebrate. For most of our trip, we travelled on a budget staying in guesthouses on inhabited islands like Fulidhoo, but we also wanted to experience luxurious resort life.

I did a lot of research trying to find the most affordable overwater bungalows in the Maldives and was amazed when I found one at Reethi Beach Resort for $250 a night. Was there a catch? The villas looked lovely, the lagoon suitably turquoise, and the reviews were excellent.

But could my dream possibly live up to expectations?

The Journey

Getting to Reethi Beach Resort was part of the experience. We flew by seaplane, a tiny 15-seater that uses the sea as a runway and flies low over the ocean. The Maldives is 99% water and is best appreciated from above. It looked like a painting in hundreds of shades of blue.

After a 35-minute flight, we arrived at Reethi Beach Resort’s private island. We disembarked on one of the floating “terminals” just offshore and transferred to a boat for the two-minute ride to the beach through inviting turquoise water.

Reethi Beach Resort from above
Arriving at Reethi Beach Resort by seaplane
Our first look at Reethi Beach Resort

At reception we were greeted by our personal check-in assistant, Igne from Switzerland, who brought us a cold towel and fresh coconut, and made the check-in process as easy as possible. Our luggage would be brought by wheelbarrow later (there’s no motorised transport on the tiny island) and Igne walked us to our villa.

The water villas are at the far end of the island about a 10-minute walk from reception. The walk on the sandy, shady trails was pleasant and Igne pointed out the various restaurants, bars, pool, and gym along the way. We were struck by how quiet the island felt, despite being fully booked.

Our Overwater Villa

When we reached the water villas I felt like we’d entered the pages of a magazine. The colours seemed unreal— the blindingly white beach, the crystal sea in vivid turquoise, the deep blue sky.

The thatched-roof villas sit on stilts above the lagoon in a gently curving row and are reached by wooden walkways. Ours was the last in the row. As we walked to our villa we saw schools of needlefish, powder blue surgeonfish, and even a reef shark.

Unlike most overwater villas in the Maldives, Reethi Beach’s villas are semi-detached, so you have a neighbour. This makes the price much lower and was worth the compromise for us. We never heard our neighbours inside the villa and only occasionally on the terrace. The terrace fence ensures privacy and people can only see you if they swim past (which doesn’t happen often).

The villas are spacious with a huge, comfortable bed that was decorated in red hibiscus when we arrived, a sofa, a long desk, and plenty of storage space. The bathroom is also massive with a bath and separate shower cubicle featuring a powerful, hot rain shower.

Facilities include a kettle with plenty of teas and coffee, a fridge (which you need to stock yourself from the nearby bar or room service), and TV and DVD player. There’s a fan and air conditioning, but it does take a while to cool the room down, especially in the afternoon when the sun hits the villa.

There’s no WiFI in the rooms, only in reception and some restaurants. Usually this would bother us, but we didn’t come to a resort like this to work, and we liked having the temptation to go online removed. It added to the feeling of getting away from it all.

The villa isn’t super luxurious by Maldives standards—there are no chocolates on the pillows, espresso machines, or jacuzzis on the terrace—but it had everything we needed and was very comfortable. We didn’t need fancy amenities—the real attraction is the view.

The large glass doors meant we could gaze at the lagoon from our bed, sofa, desk, and even from the bath if we raised the bathroom blinds. We felt like we were on a boat (without the seasickness) as all we could see was shimmering sea and tiny uninhabited islands on the horizon.

As the villas aren’t overlooked you can leave the curtains open and go to sleep with a view of the stars and wake up with the aquamarine water the first thing you see. Magical.

We loved the seamless flow between our room, terrace, and the lagoon. Outside there’s a table, chairs, and umbrella, two sunbeds, and a drying rack. Stairs lead down into the water—a mix of sandy patches and coral so we could stand on the bottom. The water height varies throughout the year, but when we visited in May it was the perfect level where we could stand but also swim.

All rooms at Reethi Beach Resort are allocated beach sunbeds. The water villa sunbeds are across the water on a narrow stretch of beach. The beach has eroded in recent years and doesn’t compare to the beauty of the wide west coast beach (around the corner from the water villas).

The water villa beach

You can ask to be moved—we were allocated new beds on a lovely stretch of sand at the other end of the island near the water sports centre. It was nice to have an afternoon on the beach, but we preferred relaxing on our terrace. That’s really what having a water villa is about. If you’d like to spend more time on the beach, consider a deluxe beach villa instead (and save yourself some cash).

Lazy Days in an Overwater Villa

The villa was so gorgeous that it was tempting to never leave, despite the many attractions and activities at the resort. And we did spend a lot of time there. I loved sunbathing in the privacy of the terrace and being able to jump down into the water to cool off.

Simon doesn’t like sitting in the sun, so he could relax in air-conditioned comfort but still enjoy the lagoon view. We loved ordering room service so that we didn’t even need to leave for lunch.

Other than the view, the thing we loved most about our villa was being able to snorkel right off our terrace, which we did twice a day. Even at the bottom of our stairs we could see dozens of fish—once we even saw a huge titan triggerfish munching away.

A few minutes swim took us to the edge of the reef where the dramatic drop off is home to an incredible array of sea life. We often hopped off our terrace, snorkelled along the west coast, stopped at the sunset beach bar for a drink (no money needed!), and walked or snorkelled back to our villa. It was the most stunning accessible snorkelling we’ve ever experienced.

Fish outside our villa

We did do a few worthwhile trips, but the highlight of our stay was the lazy days spent reading, sunbathing, snorkelling, and floating in the lagoon. With paradise on our doorstep, we didn’t need to venture far.

Our most difficult decision of the day was deciding whether to watch the sunset with a fruity cocktail and our toes in the sand at the sunset bar or on our terrace, watching the ocean turn a shimmering gold. Luckily we had time for both.

It’s not often that dreams become reality but staying in an overwater villa truly lived up to our expectations. It was an incredibly relaxing experience in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Reethi Beach Resort Details

Reethi Beach Resort is in the Baa Atoll and can be reached by seaplane or domestic flight from Male. Prices for a water villa start at $256 a night bed and breakfast. It’s one of the most affordable options in the Maldives. It’s worth staying as long as you can as transfers are expensive—the seaplane trip is $458 per person return. Domestic flights are $336 per person return.

Check the latest prices at Reethi Beach Resort here.

Read my comprehensive Reethi Beach Resort review for more details about the food, facilities, activities, and costs.

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Many thanks to Reethi Beach Resort for hosting us for three nights. We paid for an additional three nights ourselves. We would have extended our stay even longer (perhaps indefinitely…) if they’d had availability.

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