A Crumbling Hotel in Paradise

I recently spent three days at the Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort and Spa, a perfectly maintained luxury hotel off the coast of Mozambique. I loved every minute of it, but my favorite part of the trip was the time I spent exploring an abandoned, dilapidated hotel that was crumbling into the sea before my eyes.

Crumbling hotel

The slowly disintegrating Santa Carolina Hotel.

The Santa Carolina Hotel is on Paradise Island (formerly called Santa Carolina Island), which is a quick boat ride from both Bazaruto and the coastal town of Vilankulos. We took a half-day excursion there from Anantara. While my travel companions were lounging on the beach or walking around other parts of the island, I was creeping around the old hotel grounds taking pictures.

Hotel building2

One of the hotel buildings.

Hotel building

Another building, perhaps a former staff quarters. Check out the stairwell on the side.

Santa Carolina Island was a penal colony during World War II and was eventually developed as a resort destination in the 1950s. I’m not exactly sure of the history of the hotel. According to one post I found it was built in 1962 and abandoned in 1974, due to changing economic conditions and civil war. But I have a hard time believing that this hotel has been empty for 40 years.

Apparently Bob Dylan once stayed at Santa Carolina and wrote a song about it, and I think a season of Survivor was filmed here. The island is pretty much deserted now except for the occasional group of day-trippers from nearby resorts.

View from hotel

View of the ocean from what I assume was the hotel restaurant. I love the stone tiles. On the upper floors I found neat piles of wooden parquet tiles — already removed from the floor — stacked against the corridor walls.

Mermaid graffiti

Many of the hotel walls were covered in crude graffiti. This seems to be a drawing of a mermaid holding a fishing spear.

Guy at hotel

This is Alexander (or maybe Alejandro?), the only person I encountered while exploring the hotel. He might be a security guard of some sort. I asked him how long he’s been living there and I think he said 22 years. We struggled to communicate.

Hotel chapel_edited-1

This tiny Art Deco chapel was my favorite part of the hotel.

Inside chapel1

The inside of the chapel took my breath away. It felt like the congregation had just left. In fact, I felt certain that people must still go there to pray. But I asked Alexander and he said no.

Inside chapel2

This half of a plastic bottle, filled with sand and a seashell, was on the table at the front of the chapel. I like to think it’s some kind of religious offering but I’m guessing a tourist put it there. There was a biblical verse scrawled onto the wall by the door: “For he so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son (John 3:16)”.

I’m really grateful that I got the chance to visit Santa Carolina. I’m rarely able to do this kind of exploration on my own and it was a special experience.

Sitting on roof

Alone in my flip-flops on the roof of the Santa Carolina Hotel. I felt like I was the only person in the world.

Speaking of unique opportunities, I’m leaving for Zimbabwe tomorrow morning. I’m spending eight days in Harare and in Zimbabwe’s remote eastern highlands. This is a holiday trip and I’ll be cut off from the digital world for most of the week. (Gasp.) So don’t be surprised by my silence. Be back soon.

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11 Comments

  • Reply reneejohnsonwrites November 7, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What was the energy like before the degradation? The sea view is amazing.

    • Reply 2summers November 7, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      I know. I’ve explored a lot of abandoned buildings before, but in this place I felt such an unusually strong connection to the past. It was eerie.

  • Reply Sunshinebright November 8, 2014 at 5:32 am

    Yes, and the sound of the sea the only sound you heard besides your breathing in its salty air. I can feel it.

    Have a great time in Zimbabwe!

  • Reply Sine November 8, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Very cool. To be honest, we felt like the whole of Mozambique was a little like that hotel. Abandoned and crumbling. Of course that’s not true, rather the opposite, as Mozambique is one of the highest growth countries in Africa at the moment (because there is a lot of lost ground to make up I suppose), but to us, in comparison to South Africa and Zimbabwe where the people working in tourism seemed more or less very motivated and focused on customer service, Mozambique seemed like it could care less. Dilapidated rooms, terrible food, broken-off doorknob, missing towels – maybe it was just our hotel, Pemba Beach, and I wrote about that extensively, but overall it left a sour taste about Mozambique with us that had us not return there. Seeing your pictures now makes me wonder, and I’d love to try it again, but the word “crumbling” in this blog post also makes me wary of being disappointed a second time. I suppose it’s all a matter of “you get what you pay for” – our hotel wasn’t quite as high up in the stratosphere of overpriced luxury hotels:-)

  • Reply Eugenia Parrish November 9, 2014 at 5:09 am

    What a beautiful place to explore. I love the view from the little chapel. One of those ‘if the walls could talk’ things. Enjoy Zimbabwe!

  • Reply Warren Stead August 1, 2016 at 9:39 am

    I holidayed there in the early 70’s as a child with my family. Wonderful memories.

    • Reply 2summers August 2, 2016 at 10:03 am

      Cool! Although kind of sad that the history is behind us now. But who knows…Maybe someday the place will be rebuilt.

  • Reply SA Guided Tours September 21, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    What are the chances of Paradise Island being resurrected ?

    • Reply 2summers September 21, 2017 at 5:38 pm

      I have no idea. That would be cool though.

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