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12 Unusual World Ruins Reclaimed by Mother Nature

12 Unusual World Ruins Reclaimed by Mother Nature

Ruins reclaimed by Mother Nature can be discovered everywhere on our planet.

The temple ruins of Angkor in Cambodia immediately spring to mind when you visualise buildings reclaimed by the forest. Who hasn’t seen the photographs of the magnificent strangler fig tree roots engulfing the 12th-century temple ruins of Ta Prohm?

Over centuries humanity has built structures of every description but, over time, has left many of them abandoned.

From castles to theme parks and temples to entire towns, Mother Nature has gradually engulfed and reclaimed these forgotten places.

In this post, I have compiled some of the most unique world ruins reclaimed by nature to give you first-hand insight into these forgotten locations.

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Unusual Ruins Reclaimed by the Forest

Ta Prohm – Cambodia

Constructed in the 12th century, Ta Prohm was initially known as Rajavihara (Monastery of the King).

This Buddhist temple is the perfect example of where Mother Nature has reclaimed the structures for herself. Tree roots engulf the temples, and vines trail through window and door spaces, making this jungle setting one of the most visited in the Angkor complex.

Until recently, archaeologists have left the temples untouched apart from clearing pathways for visitors. Things have now changed at Ta Prohm. 

Several trees have been removed to protect the temples from damage caused by the continual growth of roots and falling debris, and restoration works are being undertaken.

Ta Prohm is a spectacular sight, with its vivid green moss covering ancient stonework like a patchwork quilt.

Wander around the ruins and see a place borne from the jungle and gradually reclaimed by it.

Ta Phrom temple with tree roots growing over it

Chernobyl – Russia

One of the most extensive and most recent ruins reclaimed by nature is the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, including the former city of Pripyat and the Duga-3 or “Russian Woodpecker”. This approximately 30km zone was abandoned days after the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in April 1986.

Pripyat is a former city of 50,000 people. Today you can visit town sites such as the music hall, hospital, gymnasium, jail, schools, and swimming pool. Many of these buildings are starting to crumble, and plants and trees are beginning to grow in the structures.

You can visit the iconic rusting Ferris wheel and walk across the football field, which is starting to become a forest. The Duga-3 site is another favourite place to visit in the Chernobyl Zone. This site is a large radar facility – Soviet spy equipment and the control buildings. While the other spy towers have been torn down across the former Soviet Union, the one in the Chernobyl Zone remains and is a fascinating visit.

Tourism to Chernobyl has significantly increased over the last few years, with several companies offering 1-day and 2-day tours to the zone from the capital city of Kyiv, Ukraine. You must book ahead of time and provide passport information as you must have the permission of the government to visit.

Ferris wheel overgrown by foliage in Chernobyl

Bagan – Myanmar

Exploring one of Asia’s most inspiring religious sites and creating an unforgettable itinerary of Bagan in Myanmar is easy.

Today, over 2,000 temples stand in Bagan, Myanmar, which draws in tourists from around the world, and with good reason.

Most structures in this ancient city were built between the 11th and 13th centuries and hold much religious significance. 

As time passed, many have been destroyed by earthquakes and overrun by nature. One of the largest and most devasting earthquakes in 1975 saw vast amounts of damage to many iconic structures over the Bagan landscape.

Despite ongoing restoration efforts throughout Bagan, many of these pagodas continue to crumble, crack and cover with dust. Decaying stupas and pagodas are now known only by a number rather than a name. Mother Nature hasn’t just reclaimed the physical formations of these structures; many titles have also been forgotten. 

Updated March 2023 – Myanmar is experiencing civil unrest, so tourist travel is not advised.

Taman Festival – Bali

On the east coast of Bali, one of Indonesia’s most popular islands sits a scene straight out of Jurassic Park. Buildings are wrapped in vines; trees rise through the concrete, and old fairground stalls rot and decay. It seems as though Mother Nature has begun to reclaim what was once hers.

This fairground is the Taman Festival – a theme park abandoned over 20 years ago.

Costing $ 100 million to build, Taman Festival was meant to feature laser shows, a 3D cinema, an inverted rollercoaster, and the largest swimming pool in Bali.

However, the theme park was ultimately scrapped and never opened its doors. It seems ambiguous as to why.

Some say that it merely closed due to financial problems. Others say that lightning struck it on Friday 13th of March 1998, causing irreparable damage, which insurance refused to cover.

Whatever the reason for its abandonment, the theme park now sits in disarray, making a spooky yet fascinating urban exploration opportunity for the intrepid traveller.

reclaimed ruins of a theme park in Bali

Ciudad Perdida – Colombia

The Lost City of Ciudad Perdida in Colombia is one of South America’s best places to visit.

Located deep in the jungles of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, these Mayan ruins were left undiscovered until 1972.

Covered in thick vegetation, Ciudad Perdida is 650 years older than the most famous Mayan ruin, Machu Picchu. Only 10% of the site has been discovered due to its remote location in the depths of rebel territory.

Visiting the Lost City has only been safe in the last 20 years. Before that, the jungle surrounding the ancient city was overrun with guerrillas. The Colombian government have since stepped in, and the archaeological site is now safe to visit, though the area remains quiet and relatively unknown.

To reach Ciudad Perdida, you must hike for four days through tropical heat, sleep in a hammock, cross ice-cold rivers with chest-height water levels and overcome steep hills. A chance to spot a rare toucan, visit indigenous communities and explore this lost world all make it worth it

Ruins of Ciudad Perdida in Columbia covered in trees and jungle

Club Med Resort – Hawaii

The Old Club Med trail near Hanalei, Kauai is an incredibly unique hike: nature has completely overtaken the ruins of a defunct vacation resort. In the 1960s and 70s, Hanalei Ridge was home to a vast Club Med Resort. 

At the height of its popularity, Club Med was a bustling all-inclusive resort with incredible views of Hanalei Bay. After the hotel failed financially and closed down, the land was purchased and excavated but was never redeveloped. It has since been completely taken over by jungle and wildlife.

Walking along the trail, you can see ruins from the old development covered in moss and vines. Palm trees have popped up everywhere. Half-built bungalows are still covered in lush plants that have grown on the foundations. When hiking over the ruins, you feel like Lara Croft in a Tomb Raider movie in the middle of the jungle. 

The Old Club Med Hike is a unique sight and a walk worth taking on Kauai.

This short hike (about 1.5 miles round trip) overlooks Hanalei Bay and offers sweeping shoreline views. It is one of the best spots for sunset on Kauai.

Frequented mainly by locals, this hike is a hidden gem on Kauai. You can access it from the top of Hanalei Plantation Road or walk up from the beach near the St. Regis Princeville Resort and Hanalei Bay Resort.

Old Club Med Ruins

Tskaltubo Spa Town – Georgia

Georgia in the Caucasus is rich with abandoned buildings and exciting ruins reclaimed by mother nature. Many were leftovers of the country’s time as the Soviet Republic. 

Tskaltubo in western Georgia’s Imereti region was a wildly popular spa resort in its heyday. Now, it lies mostly abandoned.

More than 100,000 people travelled to Tskaltubo from across the Soviet Union annually for their ‘right to rest’. Long before that, as far back as the 7th century, the area was known for the healing properties of its radon-carbonate mineral springs.

After the USSR collapsed, many of the 19 sanatoriums, resorts and smaller bathhouses were abandoned. Visiting today from the nearby city of Kutaisi, you can walk amongst the ruins and observe relics of life as it was in the 1950s.

Bathhouse Number 6 is particularly noteworthy since it was built in 1950 for Stalin.

Bathhouse Number 5, with its unique rounded pools and cut-out ceiling, and Hotel Iveria, with its grand ballroom that’s now completely abandoned, are also worth visiting. Both are sprouting greenery from the cracks in the walls and floors.

Tskaltubo is niche and relatively unknown, so you probably won’t encounter other tourists while taking photos.

The town still has functioning spas, so be mindful of other guests. It’s especially important not to trespass on private property or attempt to enter any fenced-off or occupied buildings.

ruins of a Georgia spa left abandoned

Yaxchilan Mayan Ruins – Mexico

Most visitors to Chiapas only make time for one of its Mayan archaeological sites, and the one they choose is usually Palenque. And you can’t blame them, as it’s undoubtedly the most architecturally impressive of the three and is easily accessible. But the large tour groups and persistent hawkers detract from the experience.

For some more off-the-beaten-track Mayan ruins, I recommend Yaxchilán instead.

These unusual remote ruins are only accessible by river and are rarely visited. You must trek through the jungle to get from one ruin to another. And you probably won’t have to share the experience with anyone except the howler monkeys living in the surrounding trees.

Yaxchilán lies 25 kilometres downriver from Frontera Corozal, a small border town with several hotels serving basic Mexican food.

This place is so remote that Mexican phone networks don’t even cover it; the locals with mobile phones use Guatemalan systems.

In Frontera Corozal, you can hire a boat to take you to the Yaxchilán ruins.

The journey takes about 40 minutes each way, and the boat driver will wait a couple of hours while you explore. Yaxchilan is an unusual remote ruin both reclaimed and protected by Mother Nature.

Wat Mahathat – Thailand 

Ayutthaya in Thailand has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. As one of the first capital cities of Siam, the city contains many stunning temples; at its height, there were 400 temples here.

The most well-known and most photographed temple in Ayutthaya has been reclaimed by nature and is all the more stunning for it. Wat Phra Mahathat temple – the monastery of the Great Relic 

The most famous location in Ayutthaya is the famous sandstone Buddha head wrapped in tree roots, which you can find at Wat Phra Mahathat, located in the centre of the island of old Ayutthaya. 

The first recorded mention of Wat Phra Mahathat was in 1374, although the temple built at that time had another name – It wasn’t until 1384 that the temple was extended and got its present name. The whole city was abandoned around 1767 following an invasion by the Burmese. 

The Hidden Buddha Head

The area around the temple is stunning, with endless rows of headless cross-legged Buddhas. 

The temple’s central area is deserted, primarily because most people come here specifically to see one thing – the single Buddha head reclaimed by nature.  Tangled into the roots of a tree is a Buddha’s head.

While there are many legends about how the head came to be there, it’s most likely to have been abandoned following one of the times that the Burmese sacked the city, as it was likely too heavy for the thieves to take further. 

It’s the ultimate iconic photograph of Ayutthaya, but be sure to follow the rules – you’re not supposed to be above the Buddha, so crouch and be respectful!

The temples of Ayutthaya are well travelled, and the city is easy to reach and move around. The history is stunning, and the temple ruins are too, try to go early or later and avoid the crowds.

buddha head reclaimed by tree roots in Thailand

Choquequirao – Peru

Just 40 kilometres southeast of Machu Picchu lies another great Inca site: Choquequirao. Meaning “Cradle of Gold” in Quechua, this is quite possibly one of Peru’s most impressive but least-known ruins.

Unlike Machu Picchu, where visitor numbers hit 4,000 daily, only a few dozen tourists explore Choquequirao.

But not just its relative obscurity makes this site so fascinating. Constructed in the 15th century, it served as an estate for Inca royalty. Although larger than Machu Picchu, only about 30% of the ruins have been discovered. Excavations started as late as the 1970s.

Part of its appeal – and one of the reasons it receives so few visitors compared with the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu – is because it’s so damn hard to reach. The two-day Choquequirao trek involves a gruelling 10 kilometres of uphill hiking, meaning it’s no walk in the park.

If you plan on doing it, you must be prepared with camping equipment and food for the journey, although you can hire a mule (or opt for a tour) to make your life easier.

Unusual Sites Reclaimed by the Ocean

SS Copenhagen Wreck – Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is home to hundreds of dive sites consisting of natural coral reefs and ships sunk as artificial reefs. However, one historic shipwreck is accessible to divers and snorkelers – the SS Copenhagen.

The ship crashed into a shallow reef in 1900 while transporting coal to Cuba. Salvage crews tried to save the ship for days until they were called away to fight the Hoboken Docks fire.

The vessel lay derelict and visible from shore for forty years until pilots used it as target practice for WWII. Only then did she sink out of view. Today, SS Copenhagen is an underwater archaeological preserve.

Divers can see the wooden structure articulated on the sandy bottom, the ship’s anchor, and a plaque telling her story. Piece by piece, the sea is reclaiming the ruins of the boat as her history fades.

For now, she remains a decaying reminder of when America routinely traded with Cuba and wooden vessels sailed the seas.

underwater shipwreck ruins with a diver

Shettihalli Rosary Church – India

The Shettihalli Rosary Church, known as the ‘Submerged Church or Floating Church’, is in Karnataka, India. In the 1960s, the church was abandoned following the construction of the Hemavati Dam and Reservoir.

After the dam’s construction, the church remained submerged in the water during the monsoon season. It is one of the most popular places to visit near Bangalore.

The ruins of Shettihalli church seem to have an eerie charm, making them a mysterious and exciting place to visit. The best time to visit is during the monsoons (July to October) when the church is submerged in the water.

During the winter (December to May), the entire church and its grounds are accessible. You can take coracle rides during the monsoons to explore the church up close!

Copyright of photo – Wikipedia

view of the ruins of a church in India

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Riana Ang-Canning

Wednesday 22nd of April 2020

What a cool list! I love that Mother Nature is able to reclaim her territory and make these ruins that much more special. I think I've only been to Ta Prohm on this list and it was so much fun to explore. Lots more to see!


Wednesday 22nd of April 2020

It was great collating these places, a real eye-opener to what is around for us to explore. I have only been to Ta Phrom, and even though I may be a tad biased, I don't think it can be beaten.


Monday 20th of April 2020

Just loved this post! We've visited Mayan ruins in Mexico but I'd just love to see some of the others as well.


Tuesday 21st of April 2020

I can recommend the Cambodian temples, utterly amazing!


Saturday 18th of April 2020

These places look absolutely amazing. I really love seeing nature reclaiming man-made structures, even though there's something very sad about it too. Great idea for a post!


Saturday 18th of April 2020

Glad you enjoyed it 😃


Saturday 18th of April 2020

It's sad, and amazing, how some of the sites have fallen into such condition. On one hand, I feel like some sites should be saved and excavated in the name of history and on the other, they should be left alone. I love to visit historical sites and imagine life during their peak. Thanks for sharing these amazing places.


Saturday 18th of April 2020

I agree it is sad when whole towns such as Chernobyl are left exactly as they were but at the same time it adds a surreal atmosphere to the area which in turn makes it become a tourist attraction. There is definitely a fascination for ruins overgrown and reclaimed by nature


Saturday 18th of April 2020

Wow! Some of these look amazing!