Ghosts of San Juan

As an island with thousands of years of history, countless men lost in war, battle and military justice, it stands to reason that Puerto Rico has a few lingering souls who still haven't left yet. I can sympathize. I also find it hard to leave the island whenever I come there!

So it should come as no surprise that Puerto Rico, and San Juan in particular, has seen its share of ghosts. But where to find them? Here are a few hotspots in the old city that are known for their paranormal activity. Anyone who's interested in discovering the "spiritual" side of San Juan should start here.

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    ••• Photo © Zain Deane

    The imposing Castillo San Cristóbal must be no stranger to dead people. But it's also the setting for one of Puerto Rico's most romantic legends. Cayetano Coll y Toste, the Puerto Rican historian and writer, made famous the tale of the executioner’s daughter in a 1925 collection of stories titled Leyendas y Tradiciones Puertorriqueñas ("Puerto Rican Legends and Traditions").

    The story takes place in the 1700s and concerns one María Dolores, the daughter of the city’s executioner. The unfortunate María fell in love with a young rogue named of Betancourt, a thief and all-around scoundrel who was eventually caught and hung (by María's father, no less). Betancourt's body was left dangling on the gallows for 24 hours at the top of a hill outside the city walls, where it was soon seen by María. The girl was so distraught that she hung herself by his side. In true Shakespearean fashion, her father, who came by to dispose of Betancourt, found his daughter swinging next...MORE to him and promptly died. The ghosts of María Dolores and Betancourt can still be found at the place where they met their end ... where the mighty fortress now stands.

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    ••• Buena Vista Images/Getty Images

    I've heard numerous ghost stories concerning El Morro, the venerable fortress overlooking San Juan Bay. There's the spirit of the White Lady who, it is said, can be spotted gliding along the ramparts. I've heard of apparitions (soldiers and prisoners) strolling around the fortress.

    And then there's the chapel. Check out what Ghost Hunters discovered when they came to visit the chapel on a sunny day.

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    ••• Peter Phipp/Getty Images

    The El Convento Hotel is one of my favorite places to stay in Puerto Rico. Historic, elegant and luxurious, it captures the spirit of Old San Juan. It also has its share of spirits of Old San Juan. There have been numerous sightings in the guest rooms of this one-time Carmelite convent. One popular ghost is Doña Ana de Lansos y Menéndez de Valdez, who was none other than the founder of the convent.

    Doña Ana was its first mother superior, and many say she never left. She and her nuns have been reported to be seen walking the halls of the convent, and the swishing sound of their robes still echoes through this lovely hotel, centuries after Doña Ana's death.

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    Considered the oldest free-standing theater under U.S. jurisdiction, Teatro Tapia has a venerable and centuries-old tradition as Old San Juan's premier venue for the performing arts. The interior of the theater is beautiful, a reminder of a nostalgic and elegant age. But if you choose to visit here to catch a show, don't be completely surprised if you run into something from that age. People have felt something brush against them, have seen apparitions, and have heard footprints... you know, standard paranormal activity.