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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