With their silent streets, derelict buildings, and remnants of homes and workplaces, abandoned towns offer a haunting view into the lives of once thriving communities.
Here’s a look at our top ten from around the world:
Once a booming mining town and trading post along railroad routes running through central Colorado, St. Elmo was abandoned when the railroad shut down in 1922. Many of the buildings—including stores, houses, and the church—were left intact, filled with the belongings of their former residents.
Planning: St. Elmo is in Gunnison National Forest. Numerous trails for hiking and off-road driving are easily accessible from the town.
The Chaco civilization thrived from roughly a.d. 800 to 1100. During this period, the canyon served as a ceremonial, civic, and commercial center. Residents built clusters of dwellings and circular ceremonial structures, called kivas, from mud brick, sandstone, and wood, many of which remain intact today.
Planning: A 9-mile (14 km) paved loop road runs through the canyon.
In 1879, Bodie was a bustling gold-mining town and home to 8,500 residents known for gunfighting and brawling. Within a decade, the mines had been largely depleted and the population had begun a steady decline that ended in total abandonment. The 150 remaining buildings are much as their residents left them.
Planning: Bodie is a California Historic State Park, 7 miles (11 km) south of the town of Bridgeport.
Home to saltpeter mines, these two company towns in northern Chile were abandoned in 1958. The well-reserved buildings include a theater with its original chairs, houses, a cast-iron swimming pool made from the hull of a ship, a hotel, and grocers’ shops complete with price lists.
Planning: Humberstone and Santa Laura are close to the town of Pozo Almonte, 30 miles (48 km) east of Iquique, which is the nearest city with places to stay and an airport.
When Bhangarh, a local capital in northwest India, was conquered by the raja of Jaipur in the 1720s, the city was quickly deserted. Dating from the 17th century and before, the ruins— including crumbling temples and pavilions, a fort, and a medieval bazaar—are said to be haunted, and eerie legends surround the city’s rise and rapid decline.
Planning: Bhangarh is situated 18 miles (29 km) northeast of Jaipur. Tours of the “haunted” city are available.
When the Greco-Turkish war ended in 1923, roughly a million Greeks living in Turkey were repatriated, and Kayaköy, a Greek village of roughly 2,000 residents in western Turkey, was abandoned. The remains of the village—including hundreds of ruined homes and two Greek Orthodox churches—are preserved as a historic site.
Planning: Fethiye, approximately 2.5 miles (4 km) north of Kayaköy, is the closest town.
This Arctic coal-mining town, owned by the U.S.S.R. since 1927, was an ideal Soviet settlement complete with workers’ barracks, a sports center, and a bust of Lenin. The mine is now exhausted, but the buildings, including a library full of books, a theater, and a music hall with the world’s northernmost grand piano, have been left as they were when the town was abandoned in 1998.
Planning: Stay in Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s largest city, and take a day-long boat trip to Pyramiden. Guided tours are available.
In the summer of a.d. 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the small, wealthy Roman seaside resort of Herculaneum in searing ash and rock. Archaeological excavations have uncovered private villas, shops, bathhouses, and a fascinating range of everyday objects.
Planning: Herculaneum, 5 miles (8 km) south of Naples, can be reached from the city by bus or train (Ercolano station).
Belchite was the site of a particularly brutal battle during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Occupied by Franco’s forces in 1937, the town was attacked by the Republican Army. The siege destroyed Belchite, but its ruined buildings serve as a ghostly memento of the intense violence they witnessed.
Planning: The remains of the old town are 0.5 miles (0.8 km) from modern Belchite, southeast of Zaragoza city.
Located among the sand dunes of the Namib Desert, Kolmanskop was built to house workers at a nearby diamond mine. The town was abandoned by the mid-1950s and since then the desert has consumed it, almost filling many once grand houses with sand. The interiors of a few buildings, however, are in good condition.
Planning: The nearby city of Lüderitz is a good base for exploring Kolmanskop and other abandoned mining towns in the area.
For more hidden travel gems, pick up a copy of the National Geographic book, Secret Journeys of a Lifetime.