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

Costa Rica is most widely known as a tropical paradise that holds its own as one of the most beautiful and diverse locations on the planet. I love to hop around from place to place, exploring the local legends and historical landmarks. Sometimes though, just sometimes, I feel a chill that I can’t quite explain. There are places in Costa Rica that have haunting stories that would satisfy any visiting ghost-hunter. In fact, several ghost hunters have visited spots where legend tells of paranormal activity, including investigators from Ghost Hunters International. Though I prefer to be haunted by the beauty of Costa Rica, here are a few stories that are haunting for different reasons.

Duran Sanatorium

Is this the most haunted place in Costa Rica? I’ll let you decide. The Duran Sanatorium in Cartago was originally a Tuberculosis hospital, established in the early 1900's. During operation as a hospital, nuns cared for the up to 300 patients. The abandoned hospital is located near Irazu Volcano in Prusia, and before its doors closed forever (to the living) in the early 1970's due to damage from the nearby volcano, the building was a hospital, asylum, prison and orphanage. The reported hauntings are pretty typical – patients from the past, as well as a nun that wanders the halls. Some reports include whispers and laughter from children. Helping with the haunted mood is the chill and fog that is known to be normal in the area. I personally wouldn’t want to hop through the old hospital, but if you have time in your itinerary after surfing, hiking and spotting animals you won’t see anywhere else in the world, go ahead!

 

Outside view of Sanatorio Duran, Cartago
Outside view of Sanatorio Duran, Cartago

Las Ruinas de la Parroquia

Can you build a holy building on unholy ground? Not in the mind of the priest associated with the Catholic parish in this story, a parish that is now – and maybe forever more – in a state of ruin in Cartago. I’m not one for gossip, but the story goes that the priest for this parish in the1800's was also the Mayor’s brother. Unfortunately, the Mayor had a temper and the priest had eyes for his brother’s wife. When the Mayor discovered the betrayal, he killed his brother. An earthquake ruined the parish shortly after. An attempt to rebuild the parish was destroyed by another earthquake, leaving behind only the ruins that are there today. Today, the spot is a popular place for daytime picnics; nighttime at the ruins is a different story though. The grounds are said to be cursed, and haunted by a spirit that is headless – believed to be the murdered priest – that foiled all attempts to rebuild the parish. I guess only time will tell if a parish will ever be rebuilt here, but if you’re visiting San Jose and want to visit the ruins, it makes for a great day trip. Just get back before the sun goes down.



Full front of Cartago's ruins
Full front of Cartago's ruins



Cartago Old Spanish Cemetery
Cartago Old Spanish Cemetery

San Lucas Prison

The San Lucas Prison is surely a haunting spot – ghosts or not. Within this beautiful country, there is a little ugly history with the island prison that housed the country’s most dangerous criminals. In its time, it was similar to Alcatraz, and has a reputation for being just as violent and disturbing as the American prison. Before it was a prison site, the island was a burial ground for indigenous people, and was the location that the Spanish used as a camp for natives that they captured and eventually killed. Today, San Lucas Island is a national park. Visitors can take a tour of the prison, but read on to hear the legends before you add this tour to your itinerary. Stories and accounts all tell of the prisoners being tortured and kept in questionable conditions. Also, there are stories of prison staff being attacked and murdered by the prisoners. The cell walls are littered with graffiti, and the halls are supposedly haunted by a nun that is said to speak to visitors. Others have reported seeing ghosts and hearings voices. A former prisoner from San Lucas disputes the ghostly claims as stories, but I’m not really interested in finding out for myself!

 

San Lucas Prison Chapel
San Lucas Prison Chapel - Photo Credit : Historia de Campo



San Lucas old Cells
San Lucas old Cells - Photo Credit : Historia de Campo



Creepy bed at San Lucas old Prison
Creepy bed at San Lucas old Prison - Photo Credit : Historia de Campo




Playa Grande, Montezuma

Montezuma is known to be one of Costa Rica’s most laid-back areas, but you might not want to get too comfortable here. Off the rocky shores of the Pacific on the Nicoya Peninsula, Playa Grande beach is beautiful and mysterious. Legend has it that the isolated beach is actually an old burial ground. It is also near the cemetery located on Cabuya Island. While you cannot book overnight camping on the beach, that doesn’t stop locals and tourists from reporting strange happenings at night. Nighttime visitors and hikers alike have claimed to see spirits on the beaches, patrolling and scaring them away. I love visiting Montezuma, because it has a reputation of being a great time. Along with that, of course, comes some drinking. So, do you believe that these reports are hauntings…or hallucinations? Either way, I’m going to stay in town and party with the crowd that is living.

Cabuya near Montezuma Cemetery
Cabuya near Montezuma Cemetery