I am back with another list in my continuing series which is a play off the 7 Wonders Of The World. This time I have created a list of the 7 Most Fascinating Abandoned Wonders Of The World. I am attempting to make a distinction between Dark and Abandoned sights. The places on this list were NOT subject to genocide, assassination, incarceration, ethnic cleansing, war or disaster — either natural or accident, which is an accepted definition of dark tourism.
I was quite excited to create this list of the 7 Most Fascinating Abandoned Wonders Of The World. This list is actually a collaboration with some of the most highly regarded experts in the Dark Tourism/Abandoned circles. After traveling for many years and blogging for over six years, I am fortunate to have grown my network of fascinating and accomplished travelers. I was able to reach out directly to all the collaborators and was thankful that my request for suggestions was met with enthusiasm.
So, again, all of these lists are quite subjective, and always curious to see which ones you think we missed on this list of 7 Most Fascinating Abandoned Wonders Of The World.
7 Most Fascinating Abandoned Wonders Of The World
Akarmara – Abkhazia
Akarmara is a half-abandoned mining town located in lush green hills of Western Abkhazia, close to the contested border with Georgia. The city used to be a thriving community of more than 5000 inhabitants living in modern and spacious Soviet flats and enjoying a high standard of life for USSR parameters. The vast majority of Akarmara’s citizens were employed in the now deserted coal mines surrounding the town. Following Gorbachev’s disastrous economic reforms during the perestrojka most mines were closed, and people began to leave Akarmara for good heading towards the coast. The exodus increased at an exponential pace after the fall of the Soviet Union and the breakout of the bloody conflict between newly independent Georgia and the separatist government of Abkhazia. Today only ten families inhabit Akarmara and its beautiful buildings and apartment blocks are left rotting in the woods: eerie, somber, and yet spectacularly photogenic reminders of a bygone era.
I travelled to Akarmara from Sukhumi, Abkhazia’s capital, by cab stopping en route in the crumbling and nostalgic towns of Ochamchira, Gali and Tkvarcheli. Once in Akarmara I toured the town by foot and met the few locals still inhabiting it. There were some kids playing near a neglected Soviet memorial and a drunk man in his 50s telling interesting stories about the Soviet heyday of Abkhazia, when Akarmara used to be a hardworking mining town full of life. I first visited Akarmara in 2016 on my third trip to Abkhazia, which was made easier since I speak fluent Russian as well as organizing tours to Abkhazia. For first-time visitors, however, I would recommend taking a tour or travelling there with a local guide/friend since the areas around Gali have a bad reputation of lawlessness and aggressive behaviors.
Gianluca Pardelli, an “internet” friend, has a fascination for all things Soviet, including the founding of his company, Soviet Tours, which specializes, as you might have guessed, in visiting the former Soviet Union. Gianluca and I were scheduled to meet in person at the Travel Massive Forum in Berlin, but our meeting was postponed due to Covid.
Check out his fantastic tours at Soviet Tours, whether you have a hankering to visit Karakalpakstan, Gorno-Badakshan or beyond.
Lighthouse “Francesco Crispi” – Somalia
Built by the Italian government in 1930s in the shape of a “Fascio littorio” (the Italian Fascist symbol). It is the largest surviving “Fascio littorio” in the world and sits on the very tip of the Horn of Africa where the Red Sea becomes the Indian Ocean. Originally a British built lighthouse marked the spot to help ships pass up the Red Sea to the Suez Canal. For many generations, sailors knew the building but very few people had ever visited due to its incredibly remote location. It sits on the very tip of the horn of Africa.
When I visited in 2016, we were the first non-Somalis to visit the lighthouse or been on the trip of the Horn of Africa for 15 years. It is a 15-hour drive from the nearest airport at Bosasso. A 7-man armed escort is recommended.
James Willcox is the co-founder of Untamed Borders, a company that brings their clients to challenging locations like Iraq, Afghanistan … and Somalia. James has a true passion for peeling back the onion of adventure as he explores the path less traveled. I had the pleasure of meeting James in person for coffee in London and missed him by minutes in the airport in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
Make sure you take a moment to check out the amazing tours of Untamed Borders. And I really encourage you to watch this excellent brief presentation James made to the Royal Geographical Society on his journey to this remote corner of Somalia.
Futuro UFO Village – Wanli, Taiwan
Taiwan is home to some stunning scenery and impressive cultural sites, but it is also an exciting place for urban explorers. One of the most visually striking abandoned places in Taiwan is the Futuro Village at Wanli, a collection of highly unusual deserted homes. From the sky, they appear as yellow dots hiding among the trees but up close, they resemble flying saucers that have landed from space. This has led Wanli to be known as UFO Village. The UFO-shaped houses are called Futuro and among them are cake-box shaped houses called Venturo, also in ruins. In the early 1970s, these Finnish-designed Futuro and Venturo houses were (briefly) hyped to be the portable dwelling of the future. For various reasons, the idea never took off and today dozens lie abandoned around the globe.
Visiting the abandoned Venturo and Futuro houses is an easy day trip from Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. Wanli lies around 30 kilometres north-east of downtown Taipei and most visitors to that region are heading to a more famous attraction, Yehliu Geopark. We took a bus from Taipei which took us a little under an hour and a half, and then walked the final short distance to the coastal site. As with all abandoned places, we exercised caution until we realized there didn’t appear to be any restrictions in wandering around. In fact, we were surprised that there appeared to be renewed signs of life in some of the buildings.
Kirsty and Mark Bennetts are the creative minds behind Kathmandu and Beyond. We have been in contact over social media for several years after our mutual friend Frank Thomae of BBQ Boy and Spanky, e-introduced us over our shared interest in getting off the beaten path.
Make sure you grab a cup of coffee and block off a lot of time to peruse Kathmandu and Beyond.
Juragua NPP – Cuba
At Juragua, Cuba, roughly 180 miles south of Florida’s Key West, there stands an unfinished nuclear power plant. The project began construction in 1983, when Soviet scientists and engineers were flown into the Caribbean to create the plant – which was to feature two 440-megawatt reactors – as well as a new city nearby to house its workers. The US wasn’t thrilled by this. The last time the Soviets moved their nuclear technology into North America, two decades earlier, it led to the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’, perhaps the most nail-bitingly tense episode of the entire Cold War period. Then in 1986 a Soviet-built reactor at Chernobyl went into meltdown, which raised further concerns about the idea of having a Soviet NPP so close to US shores. The Juragua NPP never became an issue in the end though, as funding for the project was cut off when the USSR collapsed – and in the 1990s, the half-built power plant on the Cuban coast was left unfinished, and abandoned.
Today the remains of the power plant are guarded against intruders; entry is forbidden for scrap-metal thieves and foreign photographers alike. But ‘forbidden’ is not the same as ‘impossible.’ The Juragua NPP was built on the Caribbean coast, with cooling canals dug right from the sea leading all the way to the complex. We drove down to the beach, walked a mile or two, then hacked our way back inland through the dense tropical undergrowth. The place was teeming with wildlife – swarms of land crabs, clouds of mosquitoes, and once we reached the buildings, we started encountering the massive bats that slept inside the ruins. It took us a whole afternoon to circle around and into the back of the ruined power plant, bypassing the security detail at the front gate. But eventually we had free run of the complex: we explored the turbine halls, inside the reactor blocks, and eventually made our way up to a sixteenth story rooftop just in time to watch the sun set over the Caribbean Sea.
Darmon Richter based in Bulgaria is well-known in the circles of Dark Tourism as he recounts his travels in the Bohemian Blog. I had communicated with him occasionally, but had the pleasure of meeting and traveling with him as he highlighted the best of dark and abandoned sights in Bulgaria over several days.
Check out his depth of knowledge at the Bohemian Blog.
Abandoned Colonial Cities – Paramaribo
To be frank, large urban settlements have no place on the coast of the Guiana shield. In constant risk of flood (Georgetown, Guyana and Paramaribo, Suriname sit at zero and nine feet of elevation, respectively) and the onslaught by the rabid vegetation of the jungle, the upkeep required to maintain any sort of housing in these cities is monumental. The abandoned, jungle-infested Dutch Colonial architecture prevalent sit directly next to the few preserved buildings, inscribed to UNESCO in 2002.
When people ask me about my most memorable travel experience, I invariably talk about our trip to Guyana and Suriname in 2017. The heat of the region was oppressive but exhilarating, and neither of us had any real cultural references to draw on before we arrived. What resulted for us was a truly honest experience. And while travelers often refer to people as the most hospitable or most friendly, Suriname and Guyana definitely take the crown for warmth.
Nick Myers is another one of my “internet” friends. We have communicated across social media before, but I first became of his blog Concrete and Kitsch, since we are both occasionally highlighted on the great email newsletter Travel Blogger Buzz.
Check out the great writings and adventures at Concrete and Kitsch.
Kadykchan – Russia
The last people to leave, emptied their guns into the face of a bust of Lenin in the town centre, which still stands today. It was a sign of their dissatisfaction at the dream ending so cruelly, and today the city is being slowly taken back by nature. Built to last and still remarkably intact considering the extremely harsh winter environment of Magadan, Kadykchan makes for a surreal exploration experience for anyone making it this far along the Road of Bones.
I have visited Kadykchan several times, starting in 2011, a never anything less than fascinating experience. Kadykchan is the perfect sized city to spend a long day exploring, especially as the day itself in the northern summer lasts deep into the night. With multiple residential blocks still standing solidly despite the two dozen harsh winters since their abandonment, plus such municipal buildings as two schools, a sports centre, a cinema, city archive and medical centres to explore. Around the outskirts of the main town is the dacha areas, with various ersatz sheds, greenhouses built for small farming, and garages for vehicle storage and repair. South of the city and across the Kadykchan river, over a collapsed bridge, is the coal mine which was the cause of the city being established in the first place. While going into the mine is both impossible and ill-advised, the buildings put up around it, including administrative centre, vehicle pool storage, etc are still there to be explored. Abandoned trucks and machinery litter the area and offer both amazing photo experiences as well as that spooky end-of-the-world feeling familiar for afficionados of abandoned settlements. While Kadykchan may be a long and arduous journey to reach it truly is, to me, the alpha and omega of abandoned cities.
Simon Cockerell is the General Manager of Koryo Tours, which focuses on unusual destinations like North Korea. I have known Simon virtually over email since we are both Chapter Leaders at Travel Massive, the largest online travel industry platform. And I actually went to North Korea with Koryo years ago.
Check out the great tours at Koryo Tours.
Laguna Vere – Tbilisi, Georgia
A Brutalist amphitheatre featuring three swimming pools, a gym, sauna, athletics halls, a café and offices, upon opening in 1978 Laguna Vere was originally known as the Leninist Komsomol. The first Olympic-standard aquatic centre in the Caucasus, with dazzling mosaics of psychedelic waves in blues and greens and a freaky orange squid, it won prizes for its design. In addition to hosting international events, it the only open-air swimming pool in Tbilisi open to the general public. Sold into private ownership in 2000, with maintenance issues ignored the complex soon fell into decline, closing in 2014. Its pools filled with silt from the flood of 2015, with a snaking silver waterslide delivering sludge to thirsty nettles, today it is just another Soviet Modernist relic.
As I’m working on a book about the Caucasus with a focus on oral histories and lingering specters from the Soviet-era, this was my seventh visit to Georgia, a country I’ve come to love. Though Laguna Vere is officially off-limits and asking for access pays no dividends, by using my travel companions as a distraction, I was able to sneak behind a lorry and make a dash for the doors. Inside the colour-coded building, the stench of urine was overpowering, wires hanging from ceiling panels and paint peeling from the walls. Though it only closed six years ago, the clunky exercise bikes and treadmills felt like vestiges from a bygone era.
Stephen and I met in Bangkok as he presented at my travel networking group, where he read a passage from his book Does It Yurt? Stephen is an author and speaker with a keen appreciation for the Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Take a look at Does It Yurt? which I recommend to all who are traveling to Central Asia.
Pyramiden – Svalbard, Norway
Pyramiden is a deserted Russian outpost in the archipelago of Svalbard (also known as Spitsbergen) located about halfway between Norway and the North Pole. It was founded as a coal mining station by Sweden in 1910 and later sold to the Soviet Union in 1927. Pyramiden once had over 1,000 residents, who worked in the mines and enjoyed use of a theater, cafeteria, indoor swimming pool, and basketball court. Residents abandoned the settlement in 1998 and the buildings remain untouched.
I arrived in Svalbard at the end of a nine-day Oceanwide Expeditions cruise from Aberdeen that included an unsuccessful attempt to land on the volcanic Norwegian island of Jan Mayen. However, it’s easier just to fly to Svalbard’s only town, Longyearbyen, on regular SAS flights from Tromsø or Oslo. From Longyearbyen, several tour agencies run regular day trips to Pyramiden, located a few hours away by boat. But I recommend staying overnight in Pyramiden’s only hotel, which re-opened for tourists in 2013. This will allow you to explore the settlement at your leisure after the day trippers leave and as darkness descends on this creepy Soviet ghost village.
Matt McCaughey is a world traveler, having traveled to 192 of the 193 countries in the world. Matt and I have met in Bangkok over dinner and a drink on more than one occasion as he is a former resident of neighboring Phnom Penh.
You can check out Matt’s quest for 193 at Nomad Mania.
Jermuk Sanatorium – Armenia
Jermuk Sanatorium is a large, low-slung recreation center in the Spa town of Jermuk in the southeast of Armenia. It’s set back from the road in a kind of sculpture park and has lain unused for nearly 30 years. The town of Jermuk is typical of many Armenian provincial settlements, very poor and full of abandoned buildings, but also tidy and safe and full of lovely people.
I was in Armenia to cover the 2018 revolution. After several days of dramatic action, events slowed down and I was (after finally getting a proper sleep!) able to explore Armenia a little bit as we waited for political events to move forward. I was tipped off about this location by an Armenian friend and amazed to find it exactly as she described. It was a vast space full of eerie remnants of the Soviet period. A local man said it was completed shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and later bought up by an investor. That purchase eventually went sour and a bank seized the property. It obviously doesn’t know what to do with it as it continues to decay. But the old local man didn’t seem upset at the situation, remarking only that he was “just happy people have come to ask about Jermuk.”
Amos Chapple is a professional photographer whose work can be seen at Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty among others. Amos commits fully to his work whether it is covering the Armenian Revolution or illegal tusk hunters in Siberia. I met Amos by chance at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan and connected over some mutual friends as well as our love of travel.
Please take a look at Amos’s incredible portfolio of work.
Ducor Hotel – Monrovia
The 5 star Ducor opened in 1960, as one of Africa’s first luxury hotels. The eight storey complex took its name from Ducor Hill, the highest point in Monrovia on which it sits upon, with views across the city and over to the Atlantic Ocean. Its 106 rooms, pools and tennis courts attracted not just tourists but celebrities and high ranking visiting government officials. Idi Amin stayed here regularly and locals tell stories about him swimming in the pool with his AK strapped to his back. The hotel was run by Intercontinental but after they pulled out in 1985, it began to fall into disrepair before closing in 1989.
It was on my second trip to Monrovia in 2017 when I discovered the Ducor. I was apprehended by angry security guards as I approached it, quizzing me on to know what I was doing there. They softened their tone after I persuaded them I was only a tourist and once a few dollars exchanged hands they were happy to let me in and gave me a brief history of the site. With huge swathes of the city destroyed during the civil war it was incredible to see much this huge structure still intact.
Dylan Harris is the founder of Lupine Travel. Dylan supercharged his travel as he crossed Europe into Asia overland and then visited North Korea for his first time. We only e-met just recently, but I am sure at one point we will meet in person somewhere around the globe.
Take a look at tours, available in 30 countries.
Buzludzha – Bulgaria
High in the mountains of Bulgaria rests The Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party. This structure was opened in 1981 and sits on Buzludzha Peak. This mountain plays a critical role in Bulgaria’s history. Nineteenth century freedom fighters battled the Ottoman Empire on these hills, the first country wide socialist meeting took place on Buzludzha, and WWII partisans trained and fought on this mountain. Work began on the Buzludzha Monument in 1974 continuing until 1981 and required over 6,000 workers and 70,000 tons of concrete. The end product was a memorial house and monument that honored the socialists who had secretly met on this peak in 1891. A true highlight of Buzluzdha are the richly detailed mosaics in the interior, including a sickle and hammer centered on the ceiling of the dome encircled by the words “Proletarians of all countries, unite!”. Buzludzha was used for a decade until 1989 when communism lost its grip in Bulgaria. Since then there has been a three-decade arc of neglect, indifference, vandalism and theft, and a growing and continuing fascination for fans of dark tourism. Today, Buzludzha sits in isolation, a shadow of its former self, chipped away by thieves and the elements. But many admire this historical structure in its dilapidated state.
As I mentioned previously, I connected with Darmon Richter during my visit to Bulgaria. Darmon, a true expert on all things Soviet and dark tourism, shared with me the highlights of Bulgaria. I did not look closely at the multi-day agenda that Darmon had drawn up, knowing I was in good hands. As we were driving around, the word Buzludzha slipped into the conversation. This word was completely foreign, and I was completely unaware of the Brutalist work of art. Eventually our tour brought us to the peak when I first witnessed this hulking concrete flying saucer. At the time of my visit, you were able to sneak into this boarded off monument (today it is guarded and closed). We headed to the innards of the flying saucer and I was stunned as I entered the Solemn Hall, a large amphitheater. Mosaics tracing the socialist historical highlights were depicted on the walls in great and colorful details. The elements and vandals had destroyed much of this magnificent, but it was simple to appreciate the fine craftsmanship which created this artwork. The weather changed abruptly as fog slipped into Buzludzha marking the end of our remarkable visit.
Buzludzha is a fan favorite of many dark tourists. As I reached out to the collaborators for suggestions for this post for 7 Most Fascinating Abandoned Wonders Of The World, several offered to write about their experience of Buzludzha. I felt a twinge of guilt saving this gem for myself, but I wanted to share my experience here.
Photos supplied by the contributing writers/photographers (except for Buzludzha).
If you like this check out my ongoing series of 7 Wonders Of The World, beyond this list, 7 Most Fascinating Abandoned Wonders Of The World.
And if you made it this far and you like counting, you will note that I fibbed a bit. My list of 7 Most Fascinating Abandoned Wonders Of The World actually has ten places listed. I reached out to more than 7 potential collaborators, and most everyone heeded my call to share their experiences. In addition, I shared my bonus pick of Buzludzha.