Old Car next to Duran Sanatorium Chapel, Cartago
Old car before Duran Sanatorium Chapel, Cartago
One of Duran Sanatoriums main gates, Cartago
One of Duran Sanatoriums main gates, Cartago

I’m most interested in the amazing landscapes of my home country, but I also can’t deny a side of Costa Rica that is a bit spookier. Those of you that are afraid of heights or open water can find activities here to help you overcome your fears, and there are even activities for those who need to overcome their fear of the paranormal. Or just a fun activity for those that enjoy researching and exploring places that have a haunting...or haunted...history. One of the places that I have found most haunting in my travels is Sanatorium Durán or Sanatorio Durán as the locals call it. I must admit, I’ve been too scared to take a full tour of the structure; I’ve only hopped around the general premises. I have, however, researched the history of the building, and I have spoken to many travelers and locals that have braved a tour. Here’s what I think you should know about Sanatorio Durán, often referred to as one of the most haunted places in Costa Rica, to help you decide if you want to visit or not.

Old recovery room at Sanatorio Duran, Cartago
Old recovery room at Sanatorio Duran, Cartago

History: More than Just a Hospital

The Sanatorio Durán has a sorted and mysterious history, as is typical of a place that is suspected to be haunted, especially one that is suspected to be the most haunted in an entire country. The structure is located in Costa Rica, near Cartago, and also near the Irazú Volcano. There is nothing like a volcano to offer a seriously creepy backdrop for a haunting. Before it was creepy, though, it was a beacon of hope for many that were suffering. The building’s original purpose was to be a Tuberculosis hospital. Built in the early 1900s, by a doctor that bears the hospital’s namesake, the hospital was isolated enough from civilization that it was ideal for treating those suffering from consumption, and the atmosphere of the location was also thought to be beneficial for those that were ill. It has been said that the doctor’s main purpose for opening the hospital was to help treat his own daughter, who herself had contracted consumption. Others say that she contracted the disease after the hospital opened. The hospital also opened its doors to patients that were brought in for a variety of mental health issues. In total, it is said that the hospital’s main showrunners, the Sisters of Charity of St. Anne, treated up to 300 patients at a time. This history alone is enough to induce stories of hauntings: a serious disease, personal tragedy, a remote location, mentally ill patients, and nuns. Most ghost stories that I hear have a least one or two of these elements!

Old gate to Duran Sanatorium hospital, Cartago
Old gate to Duran Sanatorium hospital, Cartago

By the early 1960's, the threat of Tuberculosis had passed, and there was no longer a need for the specialized hospital. The patients that were in the hospital for treatment of mental illness were moved to the bigger hospitals that had sprung up as treatment centers. After the hospital shut down, the building was used as an orphanage, and a prison. I don’t want to point out the obvious, but an orphanage and a prison just add to the haunting history of this place. The building was operational for an additional 10 years after the hospital shut down (which is plenty of time for more tragedies and other things cause hauntings). Eventually, the building sustained structural damage from an eruption of the Irazu Volcano that was beyond repair. After that, the building was abandoned...at least by the living...and still stands in its original location.

Amazing view from street of cloudy Sanatorio Duran, Cartago
Amazing view from street of cloudy Sanatorio Duran, Cartago

Sanatorio Durán Today: Hauntingly Beautiful

Today, the building stands as an abandoned site that brave tourists flock to for some history and some adrenaline. I have met travelers that have said the place scared them out of their wits; that have said that every corner of the place creeps them out. There are also those that say that though the place is in fact scary, it is also awesome. There are those that say they get the good kinds of chills, and those that say they get the not­so­good kinds of chills. Visitors say that even on a sunny day, the place has some darkness to it. Are you brave enough to see which story you might come away with?

Right now, there's a fee entrance of $3, and the public can visit this spot and freely explore the entire campus on foot. There are many empty buildings to explore, and, if the stories are true, many spirits to communicate with or to run from. The overall condition of the campus is enough to make me decide to turn away; guess I’m just not that brave! The once magnificent hospital is now a place that features crumbling walls that are littered with new and old graffiti. When on campus, there are a number of rumored local haunts that you might come across, or you might come across a new type of haunt. Either way, I’d love to hear about your experience!

Internal garden with beautiful flowers at Duran Sanatorium, Cartago
Internal garden with beautiful flowers at Duran Sanatorium, Cartago

Here are a few things to watch out for

Apparitions are commonly reported at Sanatorio Durán. An apparition is when you can see a spirit. Many people say that they have spotted a nun, who would have been a caretaker at the hospital. Whether it is an apparition of a specific nun, or meant to represent the caretakers that worked directly with the patients to signify and acknowledge the tragedy is unknown. The nun was a ghost that even the prisoners and the patients of the asylum reported seeing. Some people that have experienced the apparition of the nun have said that they felt she was not a threat, but that instead she was there to continue her mission to care for and treat people. Others have claimed that they have seen a woman staring out the windows. She has been described as an older women wearing a blue dress. She appears to have white hair, also. No one is sure if she was a hospital or mental illness patient, or a worker at the hospital. Or perhaps she was a staff member of the prison or orphanage.

Highest point at Duran Sanatorium chapel, Cartago
Highest point at Duran Sanatorium chapel, Cartago

The other apparition that is frequently reported in tales and on blogs is that of Dr. Duran’s daughter. While I am not sure if she contracted Tuberculosis before or after the hospital was built, it seems to be commonly agreed that she did die of the disease. The apparition of a young girl is said to be seen on the roof or the steps, as whether or not she was patient zero for the hospital or contracted the disease later, she would have lived...and likely died...at the hospital. Others have claimed to have seen the apparitions of general former patients and prisoners. They are described as people in gowns or jumpsuits, and even as children. In addition, visitors have reported that they feel cold spots or unexplained drafts when they travel through the halls of the buildings. As with any haunted location, there are of course reports of noises that cannot be explained. Some people have also claimed that the batteries or power on their electronics die when they enter the premise. Maybe that is why most people aren’t able to capture any of their hauntings on video or audio recorder. While Costa Rica is used to having scientists, geologist, surfing competitions, and photographers visit for exploration, the Sanatorio Durán recently brought us some unexpected visitors. Two of the popular paranormal investigation television shows that have aired in recent year came to Costa Rica to explore our haunted location. Those shows were Paranormal State and Ghost Hunters International.

One of many graffiti on Duran Sanatoriums wall, Cartago
One of many graffiti on Duran Sanatoriums wall, Cartago

Since the episodes have aired, the interest in this is­it or isn’t­it haunted legend has continued to increase. In recent times, there have been foundations that are trying to rescue the old hospital, which could now be described as ruins. They believe that the location has national importance, and that it can be brought back to life. There is no question that the former hospital has reached legend status, but it is unknown whether it can be rehabilitated into a functional part of the area’s society again. Personally, I would love to see this once­important building rebuilt, and turned into a hotel, museum, or restaurant that could honor all of the hard­working people that passed through its halls.

Beautiful side view of Duran Sanatorium, Cartago
Beautiful side view of Duran Sanatorium, Cartago

What to Bring

The campus is quite large, and if you take a quick tour, you’ll probably still be there for about an hour and a half. If you are stopping to explore, take photos, write notes, or just try to figure out where that mysterious sound came from, you might be there a little longer. Since the location is remote and not commercial, there won’t be places for you to stop and eat. Remember to bring enough water for the trip, and it’s probably a good idea to bring some snacks or a lunch as well. Remember that weather here is cold, so make sure to bring a sweater as well. The drive to Sanatorio Durán is only about 45 minutes from downtown San Jose, so you’ll never be too far from food. If you are brave enough to visit the old hospital for yourself, I wish you the best of luck!

Old hospital exterior building at Duran Sanatorium, Cartago
Old hospital exterior building at Duran Sanatorium, Cartago
Outside view of Sanatorio Duran, Cartago
Outside view of Sanatorio Duran, Cartago
Old & creepy surgery room at Duran Sanatorium, Cartago
Old & creepy surgery room at Duran Sanatorium, Cartago
Old kitchen supply room at Duran Sanatorium, Cartago
Old kitchen supply room at Duran Sanatorium, Cartago
Bakery at old burned building at Duran Sanatorium, Cartago
Bakery at old burned building at Duran Sanatorium, Cartago