The Grande Hotel; I finally got in!

I can’t  count how many times I have driven past the Grande Hotel, staring up at this magnificent, yet derelict building and wondering how to get in!

I can hear some of my smart ars readers saying, ‘Well just use the door,’ but of course it’s not that simple. I’ve taken many photos of this building from the outside. I’ve tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible, not wanting to draw any attention to myself. I’ve shot the hotel using the speed setting, I’ve whizzed past her at close range, I’ve pretended to take photos of something else altogether then turned around at pace for a quick snap at the hotel. I’ve taken every exterior shot possible – yet have never known how to get in even though her doors are wide open.

The reason is simple. No-one enters a house where they are not welcome! The Grande Hotel residents do not like their hotel being photographed! Point a camera at the hotel and you will be told off in no uncertain terms, to stop and go away. Needless to say, most people don’t get that warm and fuzzy feeling to come on right in!

The Grande Hotel                 The Grande Hotel Back

This weekend, I got lucky. I met a couple of Americans who had arranged to do a video interview on the top floor of the Grande Hotel. I jumped at the opportunity, recognizing immediately that it’s not what you know but who you know! In the case of entering the Grande Hotel, you need two things. One, you need someone who knows their way around. And two, you need permission from the resident building secretary to take photos,interview residents and to enter.

Entrance Grande Hotel             Steps

For those of you who do not know the history of the Grande Hotel in Beira, it was once a 5 star luxury hotel that was erected when Mozambique was still a Portuguese colony.  When the civil war started and the Portuguese were evicted almost overnight from Mozambique, the hotel would never be the same again. During the war, it became the residence for the military and for war refugees.  These days, it’s a massive slum – housing over 3000 people. There is no running water, no electricity, no ablution facilities or rubbish disposal.

Rubbish Dump              Hotel Rooms

The Grand Staircases            1st floor

One of the reasons you need to go with someone who knows their way around is because like with every large residence – there are house rules, prohibited areas and designated areas for particular actions. And as a visitor to the Grande Hotel, you really want to know about them!   I’ve heard that the sewage system was destroyed when the Portuguese left. There are no toilets, water pipes or drain pipes working. This is the No.1 reason for going with someone who knows their way around the hotel; to avoid the staircases designated for pee and poop! Another reason is because the elevator shafts have been left wide open. If you do not know your way around the dark and dank passages, there is no barrier preventing someone from falling down one of them, a regular occurrence for the residents – especially for the children and crawling babies during a power shortage.

Elevator Death Trap              The Red Door

Staircase ii             Grand Scale

The Grande Hotel is a sensory experience. The sounds of children chattering and playing in the corridors echoing from one end to another.  Dirty dish water being hauled over the balconies, splashing on the ground floors. Mothers scolding their children, warning them not to go near the edge. Shady looking characters slinking into the dark corridors. Inquisitive children all wishing to see themselves on the camera screen and competing for attention. Spectacular architecture, crumbling away, stripped and rotting.  Spiders weaving their webs furiously as resident flies find themselves trapped in a maze of dark and dingy hotel walls.

Hotel Kids                 Kids Play

Spider Paradise           Locked Out i

Inside is no more welcoming than the outside! All the doors to the resident rooms are firmly shut. To  photograph a premises, I firstly need to meet a resident (obvious!) and ask him/her if they would allow me in to take photos and I also need a permit from the secretary.

I’d love to hear from people who had the opportunity to stay in the Grande Hotel during it’s years as a tourist facility.  I’d love to hear their memories so that when I revisit this mysterious and derelict building, usually off limits to the tourist – I think of those days that the guests meandered their way down the grand staircases, dressed to the nines and who dined and danced the night away in a place that was once known as a luxury paradise.

Staircase i         The Pool View

Slum life           400

I spent most of my visit on the top level of the Grande Hotel.  It boasts spectacular views of the port, the city and the beach. I also got close to the famous wild fig tree growing in the cracks of the hotel walls.

Beirascape            Wild Fig tree

Olympic Wash fascility         Hotel Laundry

“It’s not what you look at, it’s what you see.”


Hotel Passages

32 replies »

  1. Hey There I read your article and I got touched . I am a Mozambican who lives close to grande hotel. I am currently 18 years of age and when I was younger I once visited the hotel with my friends and as a child I never knew the history behind the huge building .
    Now as I know the whole story I sit around and thank the Portuguese for building such an amazing hotel but unfortunately history happened and we no longer have the same hotel but yet a huge community .

    • Thank you for getting in touch Ana. I wish I had spent more time there before leaving Mozambique. I have no doubt there are so many stories that that old hotel could tell! It’s an intriguing place. Crazy to the think that when my mother was just a young girl, her and her family made the trip down from Zimbabwe and stayed there! 2 different worlds!

  2. People the world over manage to hold on to dignity and joy in the face of great hardship. You have opened a window on part of that world.
    Excellent compositions. Thought provoking images.

  3. A great piece of article.

    I always wished to tread inside this hotel but always backed off due to safety concerns. Look forward to see your interview with the old man of Grande

  4. Wow. It is hard to believe people can live in such circumstances. I know none of this is new to you, but to many Americans, the reality of such “decades of decay,” as Peter put it so well above, it would be astonishing. It is tragic when governments are so corrupt and inept that situations like this can go on and on and on and on… Thank you for sharing, Lianne. As always, thought-provoking and meaningful — not to mention your photos are stunning!

    • Thanks Alessandro – yes, I cant wait to get back in there and to explore! It’s not such an intimidating place anymore now that I’ve broken the ice and made a few contacts in the building.

  5. Honestly when I lived in Beira, we went to visit, and all we had to do was go through the side door. Obviously it would have been idiotic to try to try and pass the crowds of people in the front, but so long as we avoided any large group of people, we didn’t have a problem. We did get to told off by this one guy whose home we were trespassing on the southern wing, but that was the only trouble we had. Your pics came out a lot better than mine though.

  6. Although i read all your blog but i am one lazy ass who don’t write couple of words of appreciation. Thank you for your blog on grande hotel. i felt the same for all those years “to enter and see how it look from inside”. will look forward to more. great pictures and amazing write up.

  7. I caught chicken pox as a child while staying at the Grande and my parents used to sneak me off to the beach where we ate sardine sandwiches and then they would ferret me back into the hotel until the rash had gone and I appeared no threat to other residents.

    • That is brilliant Bart! I can just imagine your folks trying to smuggle you in and out of the grand entrance – or was there a back door? – without the guests noticing the suspiciously spotty child!

  8. I saw this building and the people who live there on a BBC documentary a little while ago! The desolate beauty of the building creates a powerful statement. The divisions in the world created by endless war are just devastating. The resilience of the people who live in the Grande Hotel is quite extraordinary and as long as journalists and photographers like yourself, visit and document their story and habitat the can never be truly forgotten. Thank you!