Some hotels were meant to be seen first from the water — not just glimpsed, but truly approached by boat from across a glassy lake or murmuring sea. Arrivals like these at waterside hotels ensure a sensory overload — surrounded by nature, with the wind in your face and the destination growing larger with each splash, you glide directly into the stunning property. It’s the ultimate way to check in. By Becca Hensley
I’ve rocketed down the Mekong and Ruak rivers in a long-tail boat, Laos on one side and a bamboo forest on the other, en route to Thailand’s secluded Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle. In Rajasthan’s Udaipur, a canopied boat, as colourful as a sari, has delivered me across Lake Pichola to the palatial Oberoi Udaivilas. Luffing sails have drowned out my conversation on the Chesapeake Bay as I sailed, Champagne flute in hand, toward the Inn at Perry Cabin in Maryland. Carried within the Cipriani hotel’s vintage wooden boat — a motoscafo dubbed Shirley — I’ve channelled my inner silver screen star. And, in Austin, I’ve foregone the city’s traffic to nab a ride on Lake Austin Spa Resort‘s speedboat from downtown to the property — a trip that passes through unspoiled nature, grounding riders in the relaxing powers of water long before they’ve reached the wellness getaway’s pier.
Here are 10 amazing waterside hotels that offer arrivals by boat.
Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, Thailand
With the verve and fearlessness of a 19th-century explorer, hold onto the edge of your long-tail boat as you buzz down the rivers that border northern Thailand, Laos, and Burma. Upon arrival at this rustically glamorous camp, with rescued elephants in attendance, you’ll disembark to strike a ritual gong — its universal om sound grounding you to the harmony of the leafy surroundings.
InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, French Polynesia
In truth, it starts with the landing in French Polynesia’s Bora Bora, where your plane seems to fall like a leaf, landing quickly on a slip of motu amid a thousand shades of blue. Steps from your plane, a slew of boats await. One takes you to your private islet, edged with radiating piers and overwater bungalows. Watch for manta rays and the ancient volcano, Otemanu, along the way. Greetings of flowered crowns and tropical libations meet you on shore.
Cipriani, A Belmond Hotel, Italy
With its labyrinthine passageways, ancient warrens, bridges, and charming architecture, Venice strikes a Machiavellian note. This timeless mood of mystery lingers as you get lost again and again — as one does in the City of Canals. That’s why coming “home” to the Cipriani on its vintage wooden boat, steered by captain Fabio, at the end of each exploratory foray, feels like a refuge. You can also zip to less bustling Giudecca Island across the water from St. Mark’s Square, just minutes from the hubbub.
Hoshinoya Kyoto, Japan
The ride to Hoshinoya Kyoto, a harmonious waterside hotel overlooking Japan‘s Oigawa River, might be called the boating version of forest bathing — every aspect of the float touches the spirit. Verdant, rife with wildlife sightings, and slow, the trip, steered solely with a rod, rudder, and oar, promises a peacefulness long before arrival.
The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur, India
Man-made in the 14th-century, shimmering Lake Pichola edges Udaipur. Wreathed by palaces and temples, the serene lake unfurls like a watery carpet, leading you at a languid pace to jaw-dropping Oberoi Udaivilas on the other side. As the palace comes into view, you’ll see bejewelled camels and elephants, dancers, and musicians ashore, with their merriment a glimpse of the coddling to come.
Lake Austin Spa Resort, USA
Texans love their lake houses, inveterate escapes from the nearly-all-year scalding heat. Building on that obsession, Lake Austin Spa Resort offers a waterside haven of repose and wellness, just 20 minutes from downtown. Though reachable by car, the retreat’s nifty water transfer from central Austin best initiates the spa experience, which starts the moment you hop on board and begin to cruise the lake. Don’t miss the herons and other wildlife lakeside.
Inn at Perry Cabin, the USA
Renowned for its scenery, the crab-rich Chesapeake Bay defines sailing culture for many. Park your car in Annapolis and sail to the historic, luxurious Inn at Perry Cabin, a bolthole in St. Michaels, Maryland. On your 90-minute jaunt, stand steady at the stern of the resort’s 55-foot Hinckley yacht as an immaculately uniformed crew member pours you oodles of Champagne. Revel in the views before docking at the hotel among a plethora of other flapping sails.
Rosewood Mayakoba, Mexico
It isn’t quite arriving at the hotel bastion by boat, but at Rosewood Mayakoba on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, you’ll hop a barge to crawl along an undulating, jungle-fringed canal to your eye-popping bi-level suite. Ensconced in a more than 500-acre reserve, awash with lagoons and peppered with mangrove forests, the wildlife-profuse waterside hotel isn’t like any other beach resort. Immerse yourself in this homage to the Mayan cenote-riddled landscape.
La Lancha, The Family Coppola Hideaways, Guatemala
Leave it to Francis Ford Coppola to orchestrate a dramatic entrance. On the shore of Lago Petén Itzá in the Guatemalan rain forest, this Lilliputian-sized, 10-room lodge embodies its region with hand-carved furniture, regional architecture, and local fabrics and art pieces. Tikal, the heart of Maya spirituality, lies not too far away. Feel the otherworldly vibe as you skate across the quiet lake in a small vessel, as if in your own movie. Upon landing, you’ll step on shore to ascend a tree house-like funicular to the resort.
Jumby Bay Island, Antigua
“Jumby” means playful in Antiguan, a feeling you’ll embrace as a catamaran whisks you from the V.C. Bird International Airport in Antigua and Barbuda across the gin-clear Caribbean Sea to this stylish, private island retreat, a member of the Oetker Collection. An island within a world of islands, Jumby Bay beckons as the ultimate tropical escape. With island views everywhere you look, the private, 10-minute boat ride sets the barefoot elegance standard and Robinson Crusoe seclusion you dream about for a Caribbean vacation.