The Top 10 Beachfront Bungalows

Need to get away? Far away? Where you, and maybe someone else, can spend some time on an endless beach and in a whole lot of water? Here you go.

The bar

The bar    Photo: Barefoot at Havelock

It’s time for a real vacation in your own shack by the sea, where the sun is hot, the waves are perfect, and checking your Twitter feed isn’t an option. When it comes to pure, hedonistic escapism, it’s tough to beat these ten places, whether you’re looking to walk long white sand beaches where elephants swim nearby or dive with eagle rays and recover with a dinner of recently spearfished red snapper. Go now, before reason takes hold.

Azura Quilalea, Mozambique

Go wild next to the Indian Ocean

Azura at Quilalea
Plenty of sand, and not a lot of people   Photo: Courtesy of Azura at Quilalea

Best For: An on-water, multi-sport marathon.

In the middle of an underexplored marine sanctuary in the Indian Ocean, this 86-acre island is thick with baobab trees and is a hot zone for wildlife—from Olive Ridley and Green Hawksbill Turtles to humpback whales and dolphins. There’s a PADI-certified dive center on site. Sign up and swim with 375 species of fish, including schools of potato bass and hunting jacks, or stay above it all by sailing in a traditional dhow or rowing a kayak. Deep-sea fishing is also an option. The ways to commune with the water are endless.  After a $2.5 million renovation, the nine-bungalow resort is state-of-the-art, but still low energy—the owners designed the coral stone villas to have two options: Eco or Luxe. With the flip of a switch, you decide how much power you want to burn. Our suggestion: Go Eco, which provides only basic lighting and a fan. The alternative: Air conditioning and a minibar. Eight villas are spread out over two white sand beaches that are plenty long enough for privacy.

When to Go: April through October is hot and dry.

How To Get There: Fly to the closest major airport, Pemba, Mozambique, then take a puddle jumper to the Quirimba Island, followed by a 20-minute boat ride to Quirea Private Island; from $595 per person, per night; azura-retreats.com

Barefoot at Havelock, Andaman Islands, India

Explore the best beach in Asia

Barefoot at Havelock Elephant
The elephant, Rajan, on Beach No. 7   Photo: Barefoot at Havelock

Barefoot at Havelock bar
The bar at Barefoot at Havelock

Best For: Dive fanatics who think they’ve seen it all.

OK, so you’ve crossed every shark in the ocean off your diving life list, but have you ever swum with a dugong? The coral reefs surrounding Havelock Island teems with sea turtles, barracuda, tuna, stingrays, and, yes, even an occasional endangered dugong. The trouble will be gathering enough motivation to leave the comfort of legendary Beach No. 7, a 1.5-mile stretch of sand so pristine that Time magazine once rated it the best in Asia. The 18 bungalows, with hardwood floors and palm-thatch roofs, are nicely spaced on seven acres—each within spitting distance of the sand. Go austere and book one of the eight Nicobari villas, which have no television, Internet, or telephone. Fill your days with snorkeling, diving, jungle walks through 100-foot-tall maruma trees and wild orchids, expeditions to distant volcanic islands, and Ayurvedic treatments.

When to Go: December to May is the best time for scuba diving.

How to Get There:  Fly to Port Blair from Calcutta, Chennai, or New Delhi, then take a two-hour ferry to Havelock Island. The resort is a 30-minute drive from the ferry; from $91 per person, per night for a Nicobari villa; barefootindia.com

Vatulele, Fiji

Take your pick of dive, sailing, and fishing options

Vatulele
Deluxe bure, freshwater plunge pool included   Photo: Vatulele

Best For: Honeymooners with cash flow.

A splurge to this 12-square-mile island just off the south coast of Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu, will cost you. But it’s the spot to indulge every tropical fantasy there is, from diving underwater fortresses to dining on fresh lobster in candlelight on the sand. With at least 14 dive excursions offered, you can aim to see everything from rainbows of coral to barracuda. You could also wile away the day sailing, kayaking, fishing, or swimming. Go ahead, just save some time for the villas, all 19 of which are just a stone's throw from the perfect white sand. Keep it basic with a beach bure, a two-tiered palace with a king-sized bed, AC, a wine cooler, and twelve doors that open on to a private terrace facing the South Pacific. For the quietest experience, rent a villa farther down the beach, which offer a freshwater plunge pool and an outdoor shower shrouded in the jungle.

When to Go: April to early October

How to Get There:  Fly to Nadi, Fiji from Los Angeles, then take a 25-minute flight to Vatulele. Price: Doubles from $751; vatulele.com

Che Shale, Malindi, Kenya

Kite surf when the wind blows. SUP when it’s not around.

Banda at Che Shale
A Banda at Che Shale   Photo: Stevie Mann

Best For: Kitesurfers who dream about consistent 18 to 25 knot winds that blow all day, almost every day, 300 days a year.

At Che Shale, a chic cluster of seven bures that sits on a 3.5-mile long deserted beach, there is nothing to get in the way of a kite. The owner, Justin Aniere, is a third-generation Kenyan who pioneered kitesurfing in East Africa 12 years ago. When the wind dies around November some of the best deep-sea fishing spots in the world are off Malindi and Watamu and the glassy bay out front is perfect for SUP lessons. Sleeping quarters are open and breezy thatch-roof bures with designer furniture, comfy daybeds, and open-air showers. Out back, for the budget-conscious, there are solar-powered, basic bandas with a double bed, a covered verandah with table and chairs. Not convinced. They are built on stilts, and only 30 steps from the beach. On the unlikely days when the kiting conditions aren’t right, walk the beach, hike the dunes, or explore the bustling city of Malindi, with its Swahili food and African markets, 30 minutes away.
Note: Be sure to check U.S. State Department Warnings before you book.

When to Go: July to April

How to Get There: From Nairobi, fly to Malindi. Che Shale is a 30-minute drive from Malindi; Che Shale bures from $105 per person, per night; Kajama rooms from $46 per person per night; cheshale.com

Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia

Become one with nature

Song Saa bungalow
An overwater bungalow at Song Saa   Photo: Markus Gortz

Best For: Eco-minded travelers who like to be first.

This brand-new, beautifully designed, environmentally sustainable luxury resort with 27 strategically placed villas is the first of its kind in Cambodia. Built on two islands known as “The Sweethearts,” which are connected by a footbridge, the place is so in tune with its surroundings that it established its own marine sanctuary, a no-take zone covering 247 acres and extending more than 656 feet out from the farthest edge of the coral reefs. The seven ocean view villas, each with their own private beach, are decked out with a daybed, sundeck, swimming pool, and, for those who want to wax poetic, a writing desk. Don’t waste your time inside. Circumnavigate the islands with a mask and snorkel, explore the archipelago in a kayak, or take a nighttime boat cruise to swim in the ethereal phenomenon known as bioluminescence.

When to go: February-May; November-December

How to Get There: Fly from Siem Riep to the city of Sihanoukville, which is only a 30-minute boat ride from Song Saa. Ocean-view villa from $1,415 per person, per night, all-inclusive; songsaa.com

Niyama, Maldives

Find urban chic in the middle of nowhere

Niyama studio
A studio at Niyama   Photo: Courtesy of Niyama

Best for: Hipsters who want to take cocktail hour underwater.

Niyama ups the ante of resort decadence with “Subsix” the first-ever underwater club where djs spin world music and you overlook swimming creatures through glass walls while dancing. With a nightclub vibe and 87 ultra-modern villas, you won’t exactly be stranding yourself alone on a desert island here. But you will have plenty of escapist diversions like guided snorkeling tours to coral reefs teeming with fish, a private sail around the atoll on a traditional wooden sailing dhoni, a spa open 24 hours a day, and dreamy stretches of palm-lined sand beaches. Reserve a studio with a pool, where you can lounge on a deep, elevated couch that sways in the breeze and overlooks a pool lit by fiber optics, just a few steps to the edge of the ocean. 

When to Go: December to April

How to get there: Fly to Malé, the capital of the Maldives, on nonstop flights from a number of cities, then take a 40-minute seaplane flight right to the resort. $1,300 per person, per night; niyama.com

Jashita, Tulum, Mexico

Escape the hustle and rest easy in the Caribbean

Jashita aerial view
Jashita view from above   Photo: Monika Pardeller

Best For: Quick, luxurious escapes from the East Coast.

Technically, you won’t have your own cabana at this new boutique eco-hotel just north of Tulum. But the top two suites are still worlds away, each with a giant palapa roof and private terrace where sunbeds present a sweeping view of the Solimon Bay. It’s all in the Venetian family: Enrico, the father, designed the chic space, his wife Monika, decorated it, and Enrico’s son, Tommaso, not only manages the hotel, he spearfishes dinner. Just a few steps off the protected beach, the Mesoamerican reef runs all the way to Honduras. Dive and snorkel with eagle rays, turtles, and tropical fish or help Enrico catch dinner by deep-sea fishing for marlin, sailfish, dorado, wahoo, or kingfish. Lounge by the pool, take a yoga class, sign up for a kitesurfing lesson, or venture inland to snorkel in cenotes and explore the Mayan ruins of Tulum. 

When to Go: Year-Round

How to Get There:  Fly into Cancun from any major U.S. City, rent a car and drive 1.5 hours south on Mexico 307; Doubles from $350 per night, three-night minimum; jashitahotel.com

Punta Teonoste, Nicaragua

Surf’s up and nobody else is around

Surfing Nicaragua
Surfing Nicaragua's breaks   Photo: Punta Teonoste

Best For: Serious surfers who have time to explore.

Forty-five minutes down a dirt road from the town of Tola, no one just happens upon Punta Teonoste, a beautiful cluster of palapas on the “Pacific Riviera” near the fishing village of El Astillero and Popoya, one of the best surf breaks in Nicaragua. Sixteen freestanding, two-story palapas with hammocks out front and a private outdoor shower in a tropical garden out back are nicely spaced around a massive thatched-roof open-air dining room where the French chef uses only the freshest local ingredients like shrimp and lobster harvested by local fishermen. The half-mile-long deserted beach out front is not only gorgeous; it’s also the perfect spot to take a two-hour lesson from the on-site instructors. Serious surfers, however, will want to expand their horizons and take advantage of the boat tour that prowls the coastline, hitting some of the best breaks in Nicaragua. For the non-surfers, Punta Teonoste employs two local men to run an on-site Leatherback turtle nursery to protect and nurture the hundreds of turtles born on the beach. There’s also lazing around the pool in a chaise or hiking a mile up a well-marked trail for a gorgeous sunset view of the beach and beyond.

When to Go: November to April

How to Get There: Fly into Managua, rent a car, drive to Rivas, then follow the directions found here; five-night surf package including all meals, transportation to and from Managua, three days of two-hour surf-lessons, and a massage, $1,450 per person.

Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef

Go on safari, Aussie-Style

Sal Salis
Sal Salis at Night   Photo: Archie Sartracom

Best For: Going beyond the back of beyond.

This solar-powered Northwest Cape tented outpost that sits on the World Heritage Ningaloo Coast, is as far away as it gets. The digs may be tents, but they aren’t lacking in the essential amenities: cozy king beds, plush towels, a compostable toilet, and, beyond the flap, a veranda with forever views of the Indian Ocean. But you’re not going to be inside much. The coral reef just a few strokes off the beach supports 500 species of fish, 250 species of coral, and 600 species of mollusk. This is one of the best places in the world to dive with whale sharks, manta rays, and Hawksbill, Green, and Loggerhead turtles. Less than two miles behind camp is Mandu Mandu Gorge, a geographic wonder with fossil limestone formations, red kangaroos, rock wallabies, and a 30,000-year history of Aboriginal use. As if that’s not enough, there are also deep-sea fishing charters, kayaking excursions, and an unpolluted sky to gaze toward every night.

When to Go: Year round, but April through June is ideal.

How to Get There: Sal Salis is 838 miles north of Perth. From Perth, fly to Exmouth (flights on Qantas Airlines offered Friday, Sunday, Wednesday). From Exmouth Sal Salis is a 47-mile drive. Arrange for transfers in advance; doubles from $787 per person, per night; salsalis.com.au

Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge

Earn your sand

Bosque del Cabo
Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge   Photo: Angie English

Best for: Jungle lovers.

From Tucan, a beautifully intricate thatch-roof cabana with a private outdoor shower, there are stunning views of the Pacific. It just takes a few steps to get to the beach. This lofted aerie with a deck out front, sits on precipitous, Cabo Matapalo on the Osa Peninsula, where the Pacific meets the Golfo Dulce. It’s 500 feet above the ocean, but the waves crashing on the beach below are omnipresent, the hike to the sand through the dense jungle is awe-inspiring, and the palm-backed Pacific beach that stretches for miles is worth the walk. That’s only the Pacific side. Backwash Beach and Pan Dulce Beach on the Golfo Dulce side, a 45-minute walk away, are idyllic for swimming. The surf breaks of Cabo Matapalo are some of the least visited in Costa Rica and the deep-sea fishing for marlin, sailfish, tuna, and dorado is the stuff of trophies. But Bosque del Cabo, with its 20 cabinas and casas scattered throughout the 750-plus acre property, is primarily a nature lodge. A labor of love started by expat Americans Phil and Kim Spier in 1990, the lodge sits among manicured gardens and every day a deluge of wildlife, from scarlet macaws to agoutis to pumas, visit. Over the past 20 years the Spiers have created a community in paradise, supporting everything from the Osa Sea Turtle Conservation Program to a bilingual school in nearby Puerto Jiminez to Friends of the Osa, a non-profit conservation group committed to preserving the region’s unbelievable biodiversity.

When to Go: Year-Round

How to Get There:  From San Jose, Puerto Jimenez is an eight-hour drive or a 50-minute flight. From Puerto Jiminez it’s an hour drive over a dirt road. Bosque del Cabo can help arrange in-country transportation; deluxe cabinas from $190 per person, per night; bosquedelcabo.com

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