Summer Paradises Lost: Seven Vacation Spots That Time Forgot
Luxury havens abandoned overnight, summer resorts that were the victims of bad business decisions. As summer ends, we look at seven abandoned vacation spots that were once the height of glamor before fading — or rusting — away.
This summer has seen record tourist numbers in many parts of the world. Yet amid the over-tourism, it's hard to imagine that all over the world there are resorts and beautiful destinations that have been completely abandoned.
Defunct tourist destinations have become popular attractions in their own right. The sight of a once grand structure, now eerie and destroyed, excites the imagination.
But why do once-popular sites get left to ruin? Sometimes the economy falls on hard times, draining the pockets of owners and investors. Other times, people simply become disinterested. Sometimes an environmental disaster washes away something that was once glorious.
From Italy to Indonesia, we rounded up seven former tourist destinations that have fallen on hard times so you can jet-set around the world from the comfort of your own home.
A lifeguard helps guests go down a waterslide at Marina d'Or
Marina d'Or Ciudad de Vacaciones/Facebook
1. Marina d'Or, Spain
Marina d'Or, ciudad de vacaciones (vacation city), had been the quintessential tourist destination for Spaniards since its first hotel opened in 1997. Marina d'Or expanded to include hotels of all categories, thousands of apartments, water attractions, a seawater spa, parks, and even a local medical center. In total, that's 1,400,000 squared meters of summer fun!
This conglomerate of a vacation destination is located in Castellón, on the eastern coast of Spain, a corner of the world that boasts of more than 300 days of sunshine a year. For decades, Marina d'Or was the place to be, but today it is mostly remembered by Spaniards as a quasi-mythical land, even though its doors are still open.
The first knock to Marina d'Or came with the 2008 housing crisis, as summer sales plummeted by 60%. Marina d'Or's debt grew to €540 million, and the construction company behind the vacation city filed for bankruptcy in 2014. Between then and 2019, hope resurfaced for Marina d'Or as management changed and bankruptcy was overcome – and then the pandemic hit.
Today, Marina d'Or is holding on to life: investments and renovations are underway, but will this be enough to resuscitate the once popular vacation destination?
An abandoned building in Yashima
2. Yashima Resort, Japan
During the 1980's, a group of entrepreneurs saw an opportunity present itself on Shikoku, one of Japan's major islands. The business people were interested in capitalizing on the spiritual relevance of the town of Yashima, which they identified as an entry point to the flow of pilgrims and tourists who make their way up the town's mountain and the Yashima temple. With the economy surging in the early 1980's, investment was plentiful and construction began on a luxury resort.
In total, six hotels were built, along with several parks and even an oceanarium. However, the golden promise of Yashima was never fulfilled. There was some tourist interest at first, but very quickly, visitors turned away from the resort. This location's failure was attributed to the mass disinterest of tourists, and with the economy beginning to falter, investors abandoned ship.
Today, the Yashima resort has found new life as a ghost tourist destination. The abandoned project still stands as a complex of dilapidated buildings, with eerie features, such as untouched hotel rooms and gift shops full of merchandise, as if abandoned in a rush. This ghost town has captured the gothic imagination of many, and it has become one of the most famous abandoned resorts in the world.
The desolate beach of Varosha
3. Varosha, Cyprus
Varosha, located in Famugasta, northern Cyprus, was famous for the kind of picturesque beauty that anyone would image from a Mediterranean port town. With a sprawling beach and crystalline waters, the appeal of this sunny destination was clear, and business was booming. Stars such as Richard Burton and Brigitte Bardot stopped by, and Elizabeth Taylor even helped popularize the Argo Hotel on JFK Avenue by saying that it was her favorite place to stay. Yes, Varosha was once a hotspot for the wealthy and famous, but today it is one of Europe's most famous ghost towns.
Varosha had to be abandoned not because of economic reasons but political ones. In 1974, Cyprus became divided after years of inter-ethnic violence between the Turkish and Greek populations. Residents of Varosha were forced to escape from their hometown when Turkey invaded Cyprus and occupied the northern third of the island. The resort was fenced off, with hotels and homes alike left to decay ever since. Locals recall the wedding gifts they had to abandon in attics, the pots and pans they left behind with food in mid-preparation, and even deserted car dealerships containing an array of ditched 1974 vehicles.
In 2003, travel restrictions were partially lifted, so that Cypriots could now venture into the UN buffer zone, but not quite into the resort. Then, in 2020, restrictions were lifted further, and now anyone can wonder into the ghost town if they hold a valid passport.
Ruins of Villa Epecuén, with a sign that reads 'swimming is prohibited'.
4. Villa Epecuén, Argentina
Villa Epecuén was founded in 1921 around the waters of Epecuén Lake, about 600km from Buenos Aires, and it quickly became one of the most famous locations in the country. It was particularly trendy among the wealthiest Argentinians because the lake was said to possess naturally healing qualities, with some of the benefits being the improvement of skin and rheumatic conditions. The town promoted the vacation spot through this mysticism, celebrating the waters as "miraculous".
With so much attention on the tourist spot, investors poured money into expansion, but little thought was given to the local dam that separated the lake from the town. Since the peak of Villa Epecuén's popularity in the 1970s, a weather event began delivering an unusually high amount of rainwater to the surrounding hills, and the lake began to swell. Then finally, in 1985, the lake's waters broke through the dam following a particularly windy storm, and the town was doomed. Locals were forced to abandon their homes, and it took 25 years for the water to recede back to its original level.
Still, some of the town's blocks remain underwater, and the once luxurious properties are completely damaged. As with other abandoned locations, the town still brings in tourists who seek to explore what remains of this once miraculous site.
An old slide in front of a lake in Dogpatch USA
5. Dogpatch, USA
Located in Marble Falls, Arkansas, are the remains of the once all-American Dogpatch theme park, a golden spot for wholesome family fun. This park opened its gates in 1968, and its attractions were modeled on the theme of Li'L Abner, a classic comic strip set in an impoverished southern town filled with hillbillies. Many of Dogpatch's buildings were authentic nineteenth-century log structures, and some of the most iconic features included a trout farm, horseback rides, an apiary, arts and crafts, and appearances from the comic strip's characters. One could even fish out of the lakes and have the park's restaurants cook up the catch or embalm it so that it could be taken back home.
A true icon of deep Americana kitschiness, Dogpatch had a particularly successful run. In its first year, it made close to $700,000 (adjusted for inflation). Trouble came when the owners thought to bite off more than they could chew. In 1972, they opened a sister park named Marble Falls, which would serve as a ski resort. Now, the park could boast of having year-round entertainment. But a series of warm winters and bad business choices ultimately put the resort into debt. Additionally, public interest in the "hillbilly experience" had waned, and the comic strip's creator retired. Dogpatch declared bankruptcy in 1980, but with several leadership changes it managed to stay open until October 1993.
Since then, the park has been passed between various owners, and it has been left to decay in the eerie atmosphere that abandoned theme parks naturally possess. In 2020, a new owner declared that it would be turned into a Natural Park, but that promise has yet come to pass.
An abandoned room in the Otranto Country Club
Nostalgia Country Club Alimini/Facebook
6. Otranto Country Club, Italy
In the beautiful coastal town of Otranto, located in the southeast of Italy, investors once decided to bet on the land's natural beauty and idyllic location. That's how investment was channeled into the magnificent Otranto Country Club, which finished its construction in 1977, and quickly became an iconic locale for 80's fun and debauchery. The club hosted nine tennis fields, two pools, several basketball fields, a nightclub, various restaurants and one pizzeria. Once a perfect destination where one could dance the night away, today it is evidence of the government's careless neglect.
This establishment was simply forgotten between years of ownership changes. The final nail in the coffin came when the country club was taken in by Italia Turismo, a development company owned by the Minister of Economy.
Today, the club is a shell of what it once was — pools empty, rooms decaying, acres and acres of land wasting away. The promise of investment in tourism by the Minister has itself dilapidated, but it is has been difficult for locals to attempt to regain ownership of the land. Even though it lies abandoned, the Minister will not respond to citizens' requests for re-purchase. In the meantime, the government is forced to pay condominium fees and taxes every year, a sum that is estimated to be €250,000 – money that is wasted just like this once iconic country club.
Photograph of the Ghost Palace Hotel taken on a misty day.
7. Ghost Palace Hotel, Indonesia
Originally named the PI Bedugul Taman Rekreasi Hotel and Resort but now known as the Ghost Palace Hotel, this establishment sprawls down a mountain range just above Indonesia's Lake Beratan. A beautiful luxury resort built in the 90s, it was promptly and mysteriously left behind for nature to take over. This tourist destination was never opened – in fact, construction was never even finished. But the haunting quality of its halls has captured the imagination of tourists around the world, and the Ghost Hotel has become an iconic destination for urban explorers. So, what happened to it?
There is no way to give a concrete answer: the facts of this story have long been buried by whoever was in charge, but haunting stories have built up around the resort's mythology. One story goes that the real estate developer behind the project was cursed into bankruptcy as a result of his corruption. Another story tells of a fully operational hotel full of staff and guests who all disappeared into the darkness of the night. Some believe that the spirits of workers who died during construction haunted the land of the hotel, terrorizing developers into abandoning the project.
There is one theory that doesn't include threats from the other world, but it is just as exciting and, though unverified, possibly the truth. It is likely that the project was the brainchild of Tommy Suharto, the son of former Indonesian President Suharto. Construction began in the early 1990s, but Tommy was sentenced to prison time in 2002 for ordering the assassination of a judge on Indonesia's Supreme Court who had previously found him guilty of corruption. With the head of the project locked away in prison, the hotel was left behind, a structure forever shrouded in mystery. Curious explorers now wander its halls, holding their breath in case they come across a ghost.
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