Spooky Haunts in Costa Rica: Cool Costa Rica Tours
Costa Rica is an enchanting land indeed…it is a tropical paradise filled with the most beautiful beaches, the greenest jungles, and the most diverse flora and fauna you can find. But Costa Rica is also full of other enchanting encounters you may have previously never heard of.
In the spirit of the nearing Halloween festivities, a modern take the Gael’s Samhain, the early Christian’s Hallow’s Eve, Latin America’s Day of the Dead, and all other festivals celebrating the change of seasons from summer to autumn, here is a list of the spookiest spots in Tico-land should you be in this bewitching country at the end of October.
Playa Grande, Nicoya Peninsula, Guanacaste
Playa Grande is a laid back beach community at the Nicoya Peninsula in the province of Guanacaste. Known for being one of Costa Rica’s best surfing spots, it is also part of the Las Baulas National Park and is a nesting ground of the largest marine reptile, the majestic leatherback turtle.
Playa Grande stretches for miles with lush coastal vegetation just beyond its fine, pale brown sand. The beach is almost always empty and it is rumored to have been an ancient burial site of the native tribes that used to live in the area. On an island nearby, the dead are still laid to rest in the Cabuya cemetery, but these days the only burying happening here is that of the leatherback turtle’s eggs. Be warned that this doesn’t stop the locals and eco-tourists that often visit the area from telling stories of spirits warding off the living during their night-time walks.
San Lucas Island, Gulf of Nicoya, Puntarenas
Once an island prison that housed many of the most violent and dangerous criminals of Costa Rica, San Lucas Island’s dark history stretches back to Spanish conquest, when the colonizers used it as an internment camp for the captured natives they eventually killed on the exact same grounds where they buried their ancestors. As a prison camp, it operated from 1873 well into 1991, and in 2008 it was finally declared as part of a national wildlife preserve, where some of the buildings are considered cultural heritage sites, including the old dock.
Despite being a detention center to punish crime, even more crime was committed as first-hand accounts of life on the island tell of the convicts being tortured and being kept in despicable conditions, and even of attacks and murders of the staff and prisoners. It is no surprise that visitors report hearing voices, whispers, screaming and crying, but even if you don’t hear anything at all, seeing the graffiti in the abandoned buildings alone will send shivers up your spine.
Las Ruinas de la Parroquia, Cartago
Many churches have existed on this site since 1575. Popular legend tells of a love triangle between the parroquia’s priest, his brother, and the brother’s wife. One version says the brother was the mayor, who fell into a jealous rage upon discovering the scandalous love affair between his wife and the priest. Another version tells of the priest killing his brother during New Year’s mass and as penance built a church for the city, where the year after it was damaged by an earthquake.
1630, 1656, 1718 , 1756, 1841 - whether it was because of natural causes or forced demolition to build a new one, each time the locals tried rebuilding, an earthquake would wipe out the church, until they finally gave up in 1910. The locals took it as a sign…Mother Nature itself seemed intent on covering up the tragic events that happened in the parroquia.
These days only the ruins of the outer walls remain, along with tales of a headless spirit that roam the church grounds at night. During the day time however, since it is found in Cartago’s Parque Central, it is a lively hub for outgoing families and dating couples, and is also a stop on this great Half-day Tour to Irazú Volcano.
Sanatorio Duran, Cartago
Probably the creepiest place in all of Costa Rica is also found in Cartago, on the way to Irazú volcano, the highest active volcano in the entire country. Once a sanatorium for patients with tuberculosis, Sanatorio Duran had all the characteristics of a first class hospital during its time. It was founded in 1918 by Dr. Carlos Duran Cartín, a distinguished physician who also briefly served as Costa Rica’s president from 1889-1890.
A sprawling complex that could house 300 patients, the sanatorium was patterned after the Loomis Sanatorium in Liberty, New York, where Dr. Duran took his own daughter to be interned as a patient of TB.
The location was chosen for its altitude, humidity, hours of daylight and the prevailing winds common in the area (oh you mean that creepy fog?). Patients followed strict regimen and were cared for by nuns, so stories abound of religious figures floating through the halls caring for the sick.
With the advancement of the treatment of tuberculosis, the need for isolating patients in the sanatorium decreased, so the facility was said to have later converted to an adult home, orphanage, and even an asylum. It was finally abandoned in 1963, but stories of nuns in the hallways, children laughing, and sightings of a little girl sitting on a flight of stairs, said to be Dr. Duran’s daughter.
We don’t have any activities that will actually take you to the sanatorium, but you can take one of the buses to Irazú and they drop you right off. If driving, pull up the Waze app (THE best way to navigate in Costa Rica) but don’t follow the suggested shortcut, and instead from San José take Highway 2 to Cartago, then Highway 219 east, following the signs to Irazú Volcano. You will then see a white Jesus statue, with a sign pointing left to “Prusia”. The sanatorium is 500 meters down this road. It is open daily from 8am to 4pm, with an entrance fee of 1200 colones, but for more information, call 22240-3016.
Happy Halloween and Pura Vida!