If you’re on your Costa Rican holiday and you’re looking for a day trip out of San José, I’ve got just the ticket for you. Kill two birds with one stone, and take the incredibly scenic drive up to Irazu Volcano, and on your way stop at what is considered the most haunted place in Costa Rica, Durán Sanatorium.
Located on the side of a mountain in Cartago Province, and only about a 1 hour drive or bus ride out of San José, sits an abandoned mental hospital, that some say is haunted to this day. Even if you aren’t into haunted or creepy places, this is a very interesting part of Costa Rica’s history, and definitely worth the trip.
Founded by a former president of Costa Rica, Dr. Carlos Durán in 1918, the location high up in the mountains was considered ideal for patients suffering from consumption, or known more commonly as tuberculosis.
Although at that time in Central America, there was no known treatment for TB , it was believed that the patients were most comfortable high up in the mountains with the fresh air and sunshine. It was also a safe distance from major population centers, and since TB was a highly contagious disease, that was an important factor.
It is believed that due to his own daughter suffering from this condition, Dr. Durán researched treatments for TB, and visited many facilities in other countries before returning to Costa Rica to open his new hospital.
Over the years leading up to it’s final abandonment in 1973, the Sanatorium also served as a mental hospital, an orphanage, and a prison. Serious damage from eruptions at nearby Irazu Volcano caused the doors to be closed for the last time.
The untold stories of human suffering at the sprawling complex have led many to believe the place is haunted. There are legends of a former nun who worked with patients roaming the halls, as well as the sprit of a little girl, possibly Dr. Durán’s daughter.
The stories are so well known an episode of Ghost Hunters International was filmed at the Sanatorium, and young people from the surrounding areas are known to test their bravery by spending the night on the grounds, and hoping to live to tell the story.
We visited on a sunny Saturday morning on our way to Irazu, and at the time the cost was only around $2 (1200 colones), and parking was free. Try to get there early in the day, so you can explore the rooms without many people around.
Look for the distinctive light blue signs that say things like morgue, children’s dormitory, isolation ward, and operating room, so you know why that chill is running up your spine.
We roamed around for about 2 hours and it really was an eerie place. Most of the place is dilapidated and run down, but it was difficult to walk through the operating rooms and long creepy corridors without thinking of the suffering and death that occurred within those walls.
The Sanatorio Durán is open daily from 8am – 4pm. The best way to get there is by car, but it is possible to get there by public bus from San José. Once you pay your admission fee you are free to roam the grounds as you wish, so take lots of pictures and be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.