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.
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.
One of the hotel buildings.
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 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.
Many of the hotel walls were covered in crude graffiti. This seems to be a drawing of a mermaid holding a fishing spear.
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.
This tiny Art Deco chapel was my favorite part of the hotel.
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.
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.
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.
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What was the energy like before the degradation? The sea view is amazing.
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.
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!
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:-)
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!
I holidayed there in the early 70’s as a child with my family. Wonderful memories.
Cool! Although kind of sad that the history is behind us now. But who knows…Maybe someday the place will be rebuilt.
Hi Warren,my name is Belinda and we have been there the past weak for a second time and was hoping you don’t perhaps have any photos of what it did look like back then? Would really appreciate it. Thanks in advance Belinda
What are the chances of Paradise Island being resurrected ?
I have no idea. That would be cool though.
We used to holiday there as children. It was a magical place. We used to swim around the island and go by dhow to Bazaruto. It was always basic and simple but nobody minded (it kind of added to the charm). I am so disappointed to see it has been abandoned. What a shame. It saddens me. I had always imagined that it might have been bought by the rich and famous. I wonder who actually owns it.
What a sad state of a wonderful island. I actually was given free holidays on the island, as I was a Nursing Sister and there was a small clinic on the island, for treatment of staff health problems and tourist emergencies. I have photos and may stories to tell about all the wonderful and amazing times spent on the island. Who owns the island and why does someone not revamp the glory of the island – it truly is a Paradise.
We visited it 2 days ago. The island is beautiful and the old hotel is so interesting to see. I don’t think it could be renovated though, it would need to be knocked down and rebuilt. The expense would be enormous and I doubt the financial returns would be there to justify it. I bet there are some amazing stories to tell!
Th kas for the comment and the update, Paula. I hope you enjoyed your visit!