Stilt Houses – Over Water

The stilt houses are types of houses that are built on stilts (usually on wooden pillars) and that are located on calm water surfaces, such as lakes and on the seashore. The stilt houses are considered the oldest ecological houses in America .


Living near the sea, lakes and rivers has been one of the challenges of the human being, since resources abound in them. Many towns throughout history settled near rivers and seas, and even on them, creating a type of traditional and ecological housing, whose name is palafito.

Wooden and guano houses on stilts in the water .
Wooden and guano houses on stilts in the water.

Stilt Houses Meaning

These types of constructions are generally houses that are built on wooden or concrete pillars. These pillars or columns are sunk in turn, in calm water surfaces, such as lakes and lagoons or rivers . Stilt houses have also been built on the mainland, by the sea or on sloping terrain.

Today, it is common to find a variety of tourist facilities with modern architecture of stilt houses.

El Dorado Maroma Palafitos

One of the most interesting examples of stilt houses is El Dorado Maroma , located in the Riviera Malla, Mexico. Palafitos Overwater Bungalows , is one of the most visited and desired resorts by tourists, who want an exclusive experience, with suites raised on the waves of the sea, and spectacular views in a very natural environment.

El Dorado Maroma Palafitos

El Dorado Maroma resort offers traditional and modern architecture, within one of the best beaches in the world.

Palafitos en la riviera maya
 Palafitos Overwater Bungalows

In a section of private and exclusive suites in the modern stilt style , you will find exclusive architectural and interior designs.

Palafitos Overwater Bungalows
Cabin interior on the water.
Aerial view

Among its characteristics, EL DORADO MAROMA Palafitos presents glass floors, private infinity pool, direct access from the stilt hut to the sea, outdoor shower, indoor whirlpool tubs, large terraces, among others.

Definition of stilt houses

What are Palafíticas Dwellings?

The stilt houses are generally located in humid ecosystems , and are built taking advantage of the materials that predominate in the site, mainly wood and tree trunks.

In summary, the stilt houses are simple constructions that are erected over the water, with wooden pillars and gabled or hipped roofs.

Why is it called Palafito?

The term palafito , is derived from the Italian palaffita , which arose from the Latin palum (stick) and fictum (to sink), that is, sticks that are stuck.

Houses in palafitos, on the island of Chiloé, Chile
Houses in palafitos, on the island of Chiloé, Chile

Palafitos Overwater Bungalows

Kudadoo Maldives Private Island Hotel

Kudadoo Maldives Private Island Hotel
View of the cabins and the restaurant building.
Palafitos Overwater Bungalows
Overwater bungalows.

On a private island in Lhaviyani Atoll, Maldives, a luxury hotel with spectacular spaces has been built.

The Kudadoo Maldives Private Island has 15 residences on the water, with a sustainable and efficient design, providing electricity through the installation of solar panels on the roof of the restaurant building. This overwater bungalow-style hotel is priced at 3,000 euros per night.

Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort

Sandals Royal Caribbean general plan
Top view of general plan of the project.
Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort
Aerial view of the cabins on the water.

In Montego Bay, Jamaica, is the Sandals Royal Caribbean , a hotel that has ‘normal’ rooms and others that rise above the crystalline waters of the Caribbean. The impressive resort is inspired by the bungalow cabins of Tahiti, and has private islands for its “best” guests.

Advantages of the Construction of Stilt Houses

Among the main advantages or benefits of building stilt houses are the following:

  • Protect from flooding due to flooding in rivers and lakes.
  • Avoid the entrance of animals to the house.
  • Living in a house on the sea, with better visuals. In primitive times, they helped prevent the arrival of enemies.
  • They have very good bioclimatic behavior. They are generally built in tropical regions, with constant high temperatures, both day and night. With light covers that do not retain heat, and raised above the ground (over water), they become very cool buildings throughout the year.
Palafitic architecture, in Colombia
Palafitic architecture, in Colombia.

Disadvantages of Living in Casas Palafitos

  • The main disadvantage is related to construction materials. Fundamentally, the wooden pillars that are driven into the water tend to weaken with the passage of time, the affectation by humidity and microorganisms.
  • Another aspect against it is the resistance of the swampy soils, where the foundations or pillars are supported, and differential settlements may appear, which damage the structure of the stilt house as a whole.

Cities and Constructions of Tilts

Currently, we can visit this type of houses, in different countries and regions around the world… Argentina, Benin, Belize, Jamaica, Indonesia, Burma, Colombia, Chile, France, Peru, Venezuela and many more.

Stilt Houses

Stilt Houses on the Beach

Hotel in the Maldives Islands
Hotel in the Maldives Islands.
tourist stilt houses
Tourist stilt houses.

Cabins in Palafito

Hotels from all over the world are betting on having this type of construction to offer luxury experiences on the sea. For example, in the Maldives or Jamaica, located in the Caribbean Sea.

Huts on stilts, Maldives
Huts on stilts, Maldives.
House on stilts in Nicaragua
House on stilts in Nicaragua.

Stilt Houses in Architecture

Who made the Palafitos?

The origin of the stilt houses in America dates back to the pre-Columbian era (before the arrival of Columbus) and they constitute one of the main contributions of the Añú culture (indigenous tribes of Venezuela, in the territory of the state of Zulia).

The first constructions of stilt houses in America, are made in Venezuela, by the aborigines called Añú. The Añú are the first architects and builders of the stilt houses.

Stilt Houses in the Neolithic

Pre-Historic Stilt Houses Around The Alps

Some research has shown evidence of stilt house construction in pre-historic times (5000 to 500 BC) in the Alps.

Alpine region (in red)
Alpine region (in red).
prehistoric remains
Prehistoric remains.

The images show examples built in the Neolithic period, in the Alpine region, which includes the countries of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France and Slovenia.

Palafitos en el Neolítico
Prehistoric stilt houses, in the Alps region.

In 2011 UNESCO declared the prehistoric stilt houses located in the Alpine region as World Heritage of Humanity .

In its statement, UNESCO describes the sites as follows: “ This serial property of 111 individual and small sites encompasses the remains of prehistoric dwellings called stilt houses (or houses on stilts), being settlements built between 5,000 and 500 years ago. BC on the edges of lakes, rivers or wetlands ”.

Architecture of a Palafito House

Economical houses with a favorable bio-climatic behavior to achieve good interior comfort. Being located in front of the sea, they are located on docks or sloping terrain, with thick piles.

They usually have a terrace facing the sea, which serves as a patio, and the other facing the street or main access road.

In fishermen’s houses, they have a lower terrace that is used for fishing work, acting as a terrace-dock and mooring for boats. The general design and its floor levels on each terrace are built taking into account the variations of the tidal level.

Construction of Stilt Houses

How is a Stilt Built?

To build a stilt house, it is necessary that the piles are buried in the bottom of the lake, river or sea and that they remain correctly driven and level. Since they are generally constructions for affordable housing, places with calm waters or low waves are chosen.

On this type of foundation (on piles) the house is built (architecture and upper structure), which is almost always built entirely with wood and organic materials. In places where bamboo abounds, like Thailand, this material is used because it is so resistant.

The walls and roofs are also made with pieces of wood to form the upper skeleton of the structure.

Photos of Houses in Palafitos

Below are different ideas with images of TYPES OF HOUSES on stilts.

Where are the Stilt Houses?

Wooden Stilt Houses

Where are the Stilt Houses?
In Buenaventura, Colombia.
In a lake .
In a lake.

Modern Stilt Houses

Modern house on stilts.
Modern house on stilts.
Modern house on stilts
Modern house on stilts.

Houses on the Sea

Overwater houses, in Castro, Chiloé.
Overwater houses, in Castro, Chiloé.
cabins on the sea
Cabins on the sea.

stilt houses in the sea
stilt houses in the sea

Materials to Build a Palafito

What are the Stilt Houses Made of?

The stilt houses are built of resistant wood, especially for the foundations or pillars driven into the water. Also made of wood, they are usually the walls, and the structure of the sloping roofs.

A more resistant type of wood allows its inhabitants to protect themselves from rain and cold, and even from relatively strong winds.

Palafitos in Chiloé

The unique stilt houses of Castro are one of the urban attractions of this coastal city. But not only in Castro, but also in Ancud, Quemchi and Chonchi, among other Chiloé ports, these constructions were built to take advantage of the coast during the commercial expansion of the 19th century.

Castro, in Chiloé, 1973. Photograph by Armindo Cardoso.
Castro, in Chiloé, 1973. Photograph by Armindo Cardoso.
Stilt houses in Chiloe.
Stilt houses in Chiloe.

What Wood is used for the Palafitos?

Being economical houses, native woods are chosen, close to the construction site.

In the case of the Castro area, in Chile, the wood is extracted from the  evergreen forest of Chiloé . For the piles, which require greater resistance and durability, dense luma wood or Guaitecas cypress is used. The wall coverings of these houses are made of larch wood.

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