Though lacking in eerie Victorian homes and sinister-looking castles, the tropical jungles of Costa Rica have seen their fair share of hauntings. Local legends tell of tormented souls trapped in prison, hospital caretakers unable to leave their posts and spirits of murdered adulterers still roaming the land. Here, we have gathered for you our top 5 creepiest places in Costa Rica.
Even Costa Rica’s beautiful beaches are not immune to hauntings, and ghosts seem to have taken a liking to Montezuma’s rocky Pacific shores. The isolated Playa Grande is rumored to have been an ancient burial ground, while nearby Cabuya Island maintains an active cemetery. Visitors have reported seeing unwelcome spirits during nighttime hikes in both locations.
Locally known as “Montefuma” (fumar is the verb to smoke in Spanish), Montezuma is widely recognized as a party hub, and whether the ghost tales are legitimate sightings or just hallucinations of inebriated tourists remains a mystery.
4) San Juan de Dios Hospital
Costa Rica’s oldest hospital, San Juan de Dios, is also home to one of the country’s oldest ghost tales. The story of “La Monja del Vaso,” or “The Nun with the Glass,” has been passed down as a religious cautionary tale for more than a century.
The legend tells of an unmarried young woman forced into a cloister by her family. The unwilling nun showed little interest in her work consoling the dying at the hospital and did not put forth much effort. According to the tale, a dying man asked the nun for a glass of water, but she refused and he died soon after. The nun regretted her actions, but died before she was able to properly repent and was cursed to roam the hospital doling out drops of water to mourners until her debt is paid.
3) San Lucas Prison
The ghost rumors in San Lucas Prison will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the penitentiary’s bloody history. Between 1883 and 1989, the island prison served as the home for some of Costa Rica’s most violent and dangerous criminals. Firsthand accounts and historical records show that prisoners were kept in inhumane conditions and routinely tortured.
Locals have reported hearing voices and seeing ghosts in abandoned buildings near the prison. The reality show “Ghost Hunters International” visited the prison for a 2010 episode and declared that the ghost of a nurse murdered by a prisoner haunts the penitentiary. However, José León Sánchez, a former prisoner who wrote a famous chronicle of his life there, “Isla de los Hombres Solos,” rejects the ghost stories. “I spent 30 years on that island – there are no ghosts there. Those are just things people say,” he told The Tico Times. Ghosts or no ghosts, the cells’ graffiti and other spine-chilling remnants left by former prisoners are surely haunting enough.
2) Cartago Parish Ruins
By day, this old, Catholic parish in the center of Cartago looks like an elaborate community park overrun with picnicking families and cuddling couples. By night, the 16th century ruins are home to the ghost of a headless priest. As the story goes, the priest had an affair with his brother’s wife. Unfortunately for the priest, his brother was the mayor of Cartago at the time. In a rage, the mayor killed the priest and used his influence to cover up the slaying.
Costa Rica’s 1841 earthquake destroyed the parish, which was then rebuilt and destroyed again by a 1910 earthquake. Terrifying unsuspecting bystanders doesn’t seem to be enough for the headless ghost, and according to local legend, the priest apparition foiled all subsequent reconstruction efforts.
1) Durán Sanatorium
Located in the outskirts of Cartago on the way up to the Irazú Volcano crater, this former tuberculosis hospital is the country’s most well known haunted place. In its heyday, the hospital treated around 300 patients, who were cared for by nuns.
The hospital was converted into an orphanage and then a prison before closing for good in 1973, after a volcanic eruption rendered it unsafe for inhabitants. But some reports indicate that a few former residents may have stayed behind. Visitors to the abandoned buildings have reported seeing a nun with white hair wandering the halls. Other sightseers speak of the ghost of a young girl sitting on the roof or steps of one of the buildings. The girl is rumored to be Dr. Carlos Durán’s daughter, who contracted tuberculosis and died while living at the sanatorium with her father.