Luxury hotels and resorts conjure images of carefree travel, designer furnishings, lavish restaurants and the well-to-do milling about in grand fashion. But all that can change in rapid time, leaving decay and squalor in its place.
War, weather, financial foul-ups and manmade catastrophes have all contributed to many of these former pleasure palaces being left to ruin.
Here are 10 of the most celebrated abandoned hotels in destinations around the world:
1. Sheraton Rarotonga, Cook Islands
This sprawling almost-resort along the coast road on Rarotonga, one of the Cook Islands, is still shown on Google Maps even though it has never hosted a single guest.
Called the “Heartbreak Hotel” by islanders, the project nearly bankrupted the tiny Pacific nation.
The 200 rooms were tiled, plumbed, wired and fitted with air-conditioning. Some were carpeted and furnished – but now the only residents are a few squatters and local gangs.
Construction began in the late 1980s but, when it was almost complete, the backers pulled out amid allegations of misappropriated funds.
2. Sofitel Heiva, Huahine, French Polynesia
Ideally located on a secluded spit of land on the French Polynesian island of Huahine, the over-water bungalows here still appear alluring and the botanic garden-like grounds are still meticulously maintained.
Closer inspection reveals a totally derelict property, battered by the elements and stripped of all fittings, with gaping holes in the bungalow roofs and many of them in danger of collapse.
It’s been more than a decade since the last guest checked out and the former Sofitel stands as a somber monument to the dramatic downturn in this onetime holiday paradise.
It was reported in February 2018 that Californian investment group Mega 5 is interested in redeveloping the site as a new hotel complex.
3. Lee Plaza, Detroit, Michigan
The city of Detroit is slowly rebuilding itself after filing for bankruptcy five years ago, but even so, many of the beleaguered metropolis’s great buildings are still crumbling into dust.
Already the grand Statler, Tuller and Madison-Lenox hotels are gone, leaving the Lee Plaza, a stately 1929 art-deco high-rise, the sole unoccupied survivor of heritage status.
Closed for more than two decades, the Charles Noble-designed 15-floor structure has deteriorated badly despite a preservation order and inclusion on the US National Register of Historic Places.
Images from inside reveal its former grandeur and serve as a tragic indictment of this once great city’s spectacular fall from prominence.
There is hope for the building yet, however: There have been several redevelopment proposals and, in September 2018, crews were spotted installing acrylic glass windows at the plaza.
Location: 2240 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan 42°21′34″N 83°6′6″W
4. Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea
Is this hotel the world’s greatest construction folly? Many say yes.
Begun in 1987 as a monument to North Korea’s eternal leader, Kim Il-sung, what was conceived as an attempt to create the world’s tallest hotel has turned into the secretive Stalinist state’s greatest visible embarrassment.
The 330-meter, 3,000-room, 105-story pyramid-shaped tower has yet to welcome a single guest.
A new LED display was added to the exterior of the skyscraper was added in 2018, but there is still no news of long-term plans for the building.
5. Hotel Renakse, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
This historic hotel is a well-known landmark opposite the Royal Palace on the waterfront at the Tonle Sap and Mekong junction.
It began as part of the Royal Court of Justice and, in 1979, housed the first post-Khmer Rouge government. The century-old French colonial-style hotel is owned by the Cambodian People’s Party – or was.
In a controversial transaction that broke the leaseholder’s contract, it was sold in 2008 to a private development company with ties to the ruling party.
Phnom Penh residents and other concerned persons launched a petition to save it from demolition, but its future remains uncertain.
6. Varosha, Famagusta, Cyprus
The once flourishing resort district of Varosha in the Cypriot city of Famagusta was once frequented by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot.
Some regarded it as the most famous seaside resort in the world.
When Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, Varosha saw bloody fighting on its streets and, since partition of the island, the once hedonistic enclave is now a forbidden, fenced-off no man’s land.
Not one, but dozens of hotels are slowly falling apart as the urge to resettle this region has long diminished.
The Argo, Grecian, Asterias, Florida and King George are just some of the luxury hotels that will probably never see another guest.
7. Igloo City, Alaska
If you’re driving out along the George Parks Highway in Alaska, keep your eyes peeled for the bizarre Igloo Hotel near Cantwell.
At first glance you might think it was some forgotten Cold War installation or spaceship, but it was started in the 1970s and contravened so many building codes it couldn’t ever be opened.
It’s served variously as a souvenir stand and gas station over the years but is now all but derelict.
Open to vandals, wild animals and the savage Alaskan elements, enter at your own risk.
8. El Hotel del Salto, Colombia
Overlooking the stunning Tequendama Falls on the Bogota River 30 kilometers southwest of the Colombian capital, this hotel sat empty and forlorn for two decades.
Scenic beauty regardless, the river powering the falls is one of the most polluted in the world and, coupled with the hotel’s “most haunted” reputation, soon put overnight guests off.
The popularity of the falls for suicides also helped to doom this ornate little hotel.
Built as a mansion in 1928 for the Colombian elite, it will never host another guest even if they did want to stay – it’s become a Museum of Biodiversity and Culture.
9. Hotel Polissya, Pripyat, Ukraine
This then 10-year-old, eight-storey hotel, along with the entire city of 50,000 residents, was hurriedly evacuated in April 1986 after the catastrophic explosion of the nearby Chernobyl nuclear reactor.
One of the tallest structures in the abandoned city, Hotel Polissya serves as a prominent and sad reminder of that fateful day.
The new wave of disaster tourists make a beeline for the building for a rooftop view over the desolate urban wasteland.
The hotel, along with a ghostly amusement park, high school and stadium, make of Pripyat an altogether unsettling experience.
10. Unknown hotel, Vientiane, Laos
Just as many abandoned hotels are famous for their once lavish accouterments and celebrity guests, others are notable for their anonymity.
This forlorn, riverside pension still has a couple of ground level occupants but is largely abandoned.
Clearly of French colonial origin, it probably dates from the 1920s or 1930s – no definitive written or other record remains to confirm it.
On the corner of Rue Sibouaban and Quai Fa Ngum, who knows what stories these vacant walls and empty rooms could tell?