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12 Unusual World Ruins Reclaimed by Mother Nature

Roots over a temple in Cambodia

Ruins reclaimed by Mother Nature can be discovered in every corner of 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 fig tree roots engulfing the 12th-century temple ruins of Ta Phrom?

Over centuries humanity has built structures of every description but over time has left many of them abandoned. From castles to theme parks and from temples to entire towns, these forgotten places have gradually been engulfed and reclaimed by Mother Nature.

Working in collaboration with other travel bloggers, I have put together a selection of some of the most unusual world ruins reclaimed by Mother Nature. These are places that have been personally visited by the writer and allow you a first-hand insight into these unique locations.

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Updated by author – March 2021

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Unusual Ruins Reclaimed by the Forest

 1. Ta Phrom – Cambodia

Constructed in the 12th century, Ta Phrom was known initially 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.

Up 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 from falling debris, and restoration works are being undertaken.

Ta Phrom is a spectacular sight to behold with its vivid green moss covering ancient stonework like a patchwork quilt. Wander around the ruins and see for yourself a place that was borne from the jungle and has gradually been reclaimed back by it.

Ta Phrom temple with tree roots growing over it
 

 2. 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 of 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, 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.

Written by Lisa from Hot Flash Packer

Ferris wheel overgrown by foliage in Chernobyl
 

3. Bagan – Myanmar

Exploring one of Asia’s most inspiring religious sites, it’s easy to create an unforgettable itinerary of Bagan in Myanmar. Today, over 2,000 temples stand in Bagan, Myanmar that draws in tourists from around the world, and with good reason.

Most structures in this ancient city were built between the 11th and 13th century and hold a lot of 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. Mother Nature hasn’t just reclaimed the physical formations of these structures; many titles have been forgotten as well. Nature just adds to the sense of amazement and adventure by exploring rural streets with decaying stupas and pagodas, now known only by a number rather than a name.

Written by Ben from Horizon Unknown

 

4. Taman Festival – Bali

On the east coast of Bali, in a town called Sanur, 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 was abandoned over 20 years ago.

Costing $100million to build, Taman Festival was to feature laser shows, a 3D cinema, an inverted rollercoaster, and the biggest 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 it was struck by lightning 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.

Written by Lauren from The Planet Edit

reclaimed ruins of a theme park in Bali

 

5. Ciudad Perdida – Colombia

The Lost City of Ciudad Perdida in Colombia is one of the best places to visit in South America. Located deep in the jungles of 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 ruins, Machu Picchu. Only 10% of the site has been discovered due to its remote location in the depths of rebel territory. It has only been safe to visit the Lost City in the last 15 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 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

Written by Roshni of The Wanderlust Within

Ruins of Ciudad Perdida in Columbia covered in trees and jungle
 

6. Club Med Resort – Hawaii

The Old Club Med trail near Hanalei, Kauai is an incredibly unique hike: the ruins of a new defunct vacation resort have been completely taken over by nature. In the 1960s and 70s, Hanalei Ridge was home to a vast Club Med Resort. At the height of its popularity, the 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.

As you walk 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 up, now covered in lush plants which 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 views of the shoreline. It is one of the best spots for sunset in Kauai. Mostly frequented by locals, this hike is a hidden gem on Kauai. You can access it via Hanalei Plantation Road from the top or walk up from the beach near the St. Regis Princeville Resort and Hanalei Bay Resort.

Written by Julie from Wandering Sunsets

Old Club Med Ruins
 

 7. Tskaltubo Spa Town – Georgia

Georgia in the Caucasus is rich with abandoned buildings and exciting ruins reclaimed by mother nature. Many of them leftovers of the country’s time as the Soviet Republic. In its heyday, the town of Tskaltubo in western Georgia’s Imereti region was a wildly popular spa resort. Now, it lays mostly abandoned.

More than 100,000 people travelled to Tskaltubo from across the Soviet Union every year for their annual ‘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 himself. 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 pretty niche and relatively unknown, so you probably won’t encounter any other tourists as you wander around taking photos. There are still functioning spas in the town, so be mindful of other guests. It’s especially important not to trespass on private property or attempt to enter any buildings that are fenced off or occupied.

Written by Emily from Wander-Lush

ruins of a Georgia spa left abandoned

8. 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 have to trek through the jungle to get from one ruin to another. And you probably won’t have to share the experience with anyone else except the howler monkeys who live in the surrounding trees.

Yaxchilán lies 25 kilometres downriver from Frontera Corozal, a small border town with a couple of hotels that also serve basic Mexican food. This place is so remote that Mexican phone networks don’t even cover it; the locals who do have 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 there for a couple of hours while you explore. Yaxchilan is an unusual remote ruin both reclaimed and protected by Mother Nature.

Written by Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan

 

9. Wat Mahathat – Thailand 

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

The most well known and the 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 of the temple is stunning, and there are endless rows of headless cross-legged Buddha. The main area of the temple is deserted, primarily because most people come here specifically to see one thing – and that’s the single Buddha head reclaimed by nature.  Tangled into the roots of a tree is a Buddha’s head.

While there are many legends as to how the head came to be there, its 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 we 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.

Written by Sarah of A Social Nomad

buddha head reclaimed by tree roots in Thailand
 

10. Choquequirao – Peru

Just 40 kilometres south-east 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 it’s not just its relative obscurity that 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 need to be prepared with camping equipment plus food for the journey, although you can hire a mule (or opt for a tour) if you want to make your life easier.

Written by Steph of Worldly Adventurer

 

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Sites Reclaimed by the Ocean

11. 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, there is one historic shipwreck that’s accessible to divers and snorkelers – the SS Copenhagen. The Copenhagen crashed into a shallow reef in 1900 while transporting coal to Cuba. Salvage crews tried for days to save the ship 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.

Written by Ed and Jennifer of Coleman Concierge

underwater shipwreck ruins with a diver
 

12. Shettihalli Rosary Church – India

The Shettihalli Rosary Church, also 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 so that you can explore the church up close! The area surrounding the church is so peaceful and calm, its a wonderful place to spend a day.

Written by Neethu of Our Backpack Tales

Copyright of photo – Wikipedia

view of the ruins of a church in India
 
Pinterest Graphic for World Ruins
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About Author

Angela Price

Angie is a full-time travel writer with over 30 years of travel experience. She has always had a passion for travel, and after a 3-month world trip with her 18-year-old son, she created her popular travel blog to share her adventures with a wider audience. When Angie is at home in the UK, she enjoys exploring the English countryside, visiting castles and gardens and planning her next big adventure. Her motto is "Live Life Wandering not Wondering".

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Riana Ang-Canning
11 months ago

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!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Riana Ang-Canning
11 months ago

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.

Joanne
11 months ago

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

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Joanne
11 months ago

I can recommend the Cambodian temples, utterly amazing!

Runawaybrit
1 year ago

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!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Runawaybrit
1 year ago

Glad you enjoyed it 😃

Lynnette
1 year ago

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.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Lynnette
1 year ago

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

Holly
Holly
1 year ago

Wow! Some of these look amazing!

Nancy Hann
1 year ago

Wow! What amazing places. I would love to visit all of them. Thanks for sharing.

Sinjana Ghosh
Sinjana Ghosh
1 year ago

This is quite an unique and amazing list. I have been to shettihalli church and it looks beautiful even in ruins

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Sinjana Ghosh
1 year ago

I couldn’t get a photo of it immersed in the water but I have seen it online and it looks incredible. This ruin is continually reclaimed by nature and then given back on a yearly cycle.

Megan Miks
1 year ago

Fascinating! Opens up a whole new way to learn about a location’s history and culture.

Candy Wafford
1 year ago

Love this list! I hope to visit some of these someday. The ruins in Peru and Mexico look particularly interesting!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Candy Wafford
1 year ago

I was lucky enough to visit Ta Phrom in Cambodia which was sensational but I am know thinking that Peru looks really cool.

Karthika
1 year ago

This is so beautiful. Goes to show that if left untouched, Nature does take over. Reminds me of the movie “I am Legend’.

Yukti Agrawal
Yukti Agrawal
1 year ago

I loved this post as it has some of the beautiful places in the world which are very unique and that too reclaimed by Mother Nature. I was knowing about Ta Phrom in Cambodia and Chebronyl in Ukraine but reading other places is also a good read. Though trees engulfed the temples of Cambodia and they are ruined but then also they look very beautiful and unique.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Yukti Agrawal
1 year ago

I loved the temples in Cambodia. They have a spiritual vibe to them and the nature all around really amplifies this.

WhereAngieWanders
Admin
1 year ago

I visited one temple per day but in the late afternoon and stayed until closing. We got the temples to ourselves more or less and this made such a difference to the atmosphere in each one. No crowds and no selfie sticks in sight. Perfect.

Jan
1 year ago

A very unusual but interesting blog post! Trees engulfing the temples in Cambodia looks amazing and mysterious. That picture of Choquequirao – Peru taken from the top looks awesome. I would love to visit some of these places! 🙂

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Jan
1 year ago

Cambodia is a fabulous place to visit and one I would like to return to. There is nothing comparable in my mind.

The Holidaymaker
The Holidaymaker
1 year ago

How very interesting, as I was reading this I was pondering whether I would have come across any in my past travels. I love how they were all unique, it’s hard to pick a favourite isn’t it.This is the reason why we travel is to learn about these interesting stories and history.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  The Holidaymaker
1 year ago

Absolutely. It was an interesting collab to put together as I uncovered places that I had not previously heard about.

Natalie
1 year ago

Isn’t it interesting to see the circle of life at work – the things that we think are permanent are eventually eroded away and reclaimed by the natural world. I would love to visit Ta Phrom in Cambodia.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Natalie
1 year ago

Ta Phrom and the other temples in Cambodia are a must see. I waited many years to get there and when I did it was worth every minute of the wait. There’s no where quite like it

John and Susan Pazera
1 year ago

Very cool and different post. Cheers!

Sue
1 year ago

Love this! I am fascinated by all of these monuments & there is something very eerie but magical about visiting a site which is being absorbed into nature. Ta Prohm was my favourite temple in Cambodia & moved me much more than my visit to Angkor Wat. Often these are the places where fewer people visit, making it feel even more like you have discovered a secret. Thanks for sharing – great post!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Sue
1 year ago

Thanks Sue I’m glad you enjoyed it. I loved the diversity of the collabs especially things like theme parks and towns being reclaimed, very spooky. Like you I loved Ta Phrom but my favourite was Bayan even though it hadn’t been reclaimed in the same way as Ta Phrom 😃

Georgina
1 year ago

Love this! Very interesting post and one for my list, in particular the Yaxchilán in Mexico. We have one right in the heart of London. An old ruins of WWII turned into a garden for Londoners.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Georgina
1 year ago

Yes I love St Dunstan’s in the East 💕

Katriona
1 year ago

I really enjoyed this read as I love seeing nature reclaim what is hers! I visited Ta Phrom and it was so incredible.

I was planning to visit Mexico soon, so I’ll have to add the Yaxchilan Mayan Ruins to my list 🙂

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Katriona
1 year ago

Yes I loved Ta Phrom as well. Truly amazing

Ann
1 year ago

Oh my this is so cool!
I just love places like this! We have a huge staircase around where I live, in the middle of the woods that is completly covered in moss, so pretty!
I would love to see the Ta Phrom in Cambodia with my own eyes 🙂

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Ann
1 year ago

I’m glad you liked it, Ann. Ta Phrom is a place that I loved, it is totally amazing as are all the temples in the Angkor complex. I hope you get to experience it one day, I want to go back again it was so magical.

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