On December 31, 2017 I had the pleasure of visiting the Duran Sanatorium (El Sanatorio Durán) located about 7 kilometers north of the city of Cartago, Costa Rica. Lucky for me, my partner is a Tico (native Costa Rican) and we have a home near his family in Cartago. The drive to the sanatorium is quite beautiful as you ascend up winding roads scattered with sprawling farms along the side of the Irazu Volcano. Cartago is in the Central Valley of Costa Rica which is east of the Capital city San Jose. It is about a 30 to 45-minute ride from the capital city (depending on traffic).
The city of Cartago is the former capital of Costa Rica and I highly recommend a day trip to visit it. It sits a little over 4,700 feet above sea level surrounded by mountains and the Irazu & Turrialba Volcanoes. Irazu last erupted in 1994 and Turrialba in December 2016, which I was able to witness from the balcony of our home. Costa Rica has several active Volcanos which have been known to disrupt air travel whenever they erupt. In general, the eruptions create heavy ash clouds, but do not pose much of a threat to life.
The Duran Sanatorium has been declared the most haunted location in Costa Rica. So, of course I was very excited to check it out and see 1st hand what everyone has been talking about. It was even featured on an episode of Ghost Hunters International. The Sanatorium was founded in 1918 by the eminent Dr. Carlos Durán. He also briefly served as the president of Costa Rica from 1889-90. While treating patients and living at the facility, Durán's own daughter contracted tuberculosis and later died on site. There was no known cure for TB in Costa Rica during this time. It is rumored that one of the ghosts that inhabits Durán's former residence is a young girl, wearing a blue dress, whom may be his daughter.
The sprawling facility had space for 300 patients. It was believed that the altitude, temperature and humidity were ideal for the treatment of this highly contagious disease, also known as consumption, or the white plague. The elevation is a little over 7,700 ft. above Sea Level. If you are like me and have lived at about 10 feet above sea level the majority of your life, you might find yourself getting short of breath walking around and climbing the stairs inside. However, your body adjusts pretty quickly and thankfully I survived. Unfortunately, the majority of the patients treated there did not survive and they succumbed to the disease in the many buildings throughout the grounds.
It operated as a hospital for tuberculosis patients for many years, as well as an asylum for the mentally ill. After 1963, the Sanatorium ceased to be operational, since tuberculosis was no longer an issue and the mentally ill could be treated in bigger, more humane hospitals. For a while, the place operated as an orphanage, and then later it was turned into both a maximum and a minimum security prison. It was permanently shut down in 1973 when it sustained significant damage from an eruption of the Irazu volcano.
For me, I was very impressed with the beauty of the decaying buildings. When you enter the grounds, you are giving free rein to explore all the buildings on your own. As I walked throughout the various buildings, I couldn't help but be struck by the eerie feeling each room, hallway, staircase or broken window gave me. Although there is graffiti throughout the buildings, some of it is quite artistic. We visited in the early afternoon on our way down from the Irazu Volcano, which has an elevation of 11,260 ft. above sea level. For me, it was the way the natural light reflected on the floors and walls of the various buildings that I found most intriguing. Something truly beautiful happens when natural light shines through and illuminates a room. In the case of the Duran Sanatorium, that shadows and light enhanced the overall eerie feeling you get walking around inside the buildings during the day. Did I see any ghosts? No, I did not. But, I will admit that when I entered the room where they conducted operations, I got a cold chill come across my body and goose bumps on my arms. Was it the cool winds blowing from the mountains or a spirit making itself known to me? For an admission price of about $2.00 USA, I highly recommend this be included in your trip to Costa Rica. You can spend 1 to 2 hours exploring the Sanatorium either on your way up to the Irazu Volcano and National Park or on your way back down.