You don't have to wait until Halloween or the Day of the Dead to search for unique and spooky destinations to visit. When you're traveling to Central America, you can find haunted places from Guatemala to Panama. Famous haunted places where you just might encounter a ghostly presence include the canyon where the La Llorona (the weeping woman) legend began and a mass grave site with a mysterious lady who beckons travelers to take her to the city cemetery.
In Antigua, Guatemala, a tiny park located only a couple of blocks away from Central Park is lined with huge palm trees, has a large water tank on one end, and public laundry basins. Ever since it was built, people have been telling stories about La Union Park during a full moon, only a couple of hours before the sun comes out, when you'll hear weird noises coming from the tank. If you are brave enough to look, you might even be able to see a silhouette of a woman taking a bath.
This is La Siguanaba, a shape-shifting spirit that is after the soul of unfaithful men. Whenever a man approaches trying to seduce her, she slowly walks away. Men hypnotized follow her until they reach the outside of the city, where she turns around, shows her horrendous horse face, and snatches the man’s soul.
There is only one way to survive her attack: You have to bite a silver cross and start praying for help—she will immediately panic and disappear.
Canyon Sayulapa: El Salvador
Locals say that Canyon Sayulapa, in Ilobasco 30 miles northeast of the capital city of San Salvador, is the place of origin of the La Llorona legend that is known all over Central America, up into Mexico, and in some areas of the United States.
The beautiful woman in the La Llorona legend had two children before she fell in love with a rich local rancher and wanted to marry him. He wasn't going to fall for a mother of two, so she decided to take her sons down to the river and drown them. The rancher never married her, and she forever regretted killing her boys.
The woman was condemned to walk the world for eternity searching for her dead boys. Many people visiting the area in El Salvador have reported hearing the terrible cries of a woman calling for her sons, "ay mis hijos" (oh, my sons).
As legend has it, La Llorona usually takes the street that goes from a city's main entrance to the local cemetery, and if you look at her directly, she might take your soul. If you hear her and think she might be nearby, be sure not to turn your back on her, either, or she will jump in front of you. People near Canyon Sayulapa even say that if you go down to the base of the canyon and call for her three times, she will appear.
Xunantunich Ruins: Belize
Xunantunich is one of the many ancient Mayan archaeological sites hidden in the forests of Belize. Easy to get to, about 80 miles west of Belize City, it's one of the prettiest sites of its kind in the country and worth a visit even if you are not a paranormal enthusiast. But it is also said to be haunted by the spirit of a woman, perhaps a young Mayan maiden.
Many people have claimed they saw the apparition of a woman dressed in a flowing white gown walking in front of the larger El Castillo (the castle) temple there. She then ascends the stairs and disappears at the top among the columns.
Some locals have even mentioned that her eyes are a piercing bright red color. However, she has never hurt anyone—perhaps she's just an ancient spirit that never left. No one knows who she is or why she is trapped there. Xunantunich was a ceremonial site so some think that she might have been sacrificed to the gods.
Finca Sanatorio Duran: Costa Rica
Finca Sanatorio Duran (country estate Duran sanitarium), said to be one of the most haunted places in Costa Rica, is 11 miles southwest of the Irazú Volcano National Park near Cartago, Costa Rica. The sanitarium opened in 1918 and housed thousands of tuberculosis patients as well as mentally ill patients over the years.
After a few decades, the site became unnecessary due to advances in medicine. Over time, fewer people were getting tuberculosis in the country and those with mental health issues were receiving modern treatment and services. After the hospital shut down, the building was used as an orphanage and a prison.
Some brave visitors have toured the abandoned buildings and have seen the rooms where patients slept and the special children's areas. Some of those have reported seeing ghosts and hearing strange noises.
San Fernando de Omoa: Honduras
Omoa was the main Caribbean port of Honduras until the mid-19th century and is now a pleasant seaside town to visit. But spooky tales of long-settled battles linger among locals, mostly involving the massive San Fernando de Omoa fortress, which was built in 1777 during the colonial days of Central America, when the whole territory was one large country.
For years the fort was the location of brutal battles with British pirates who wanted to take shipments of silver that were headed from the mines of Tegucigalpa to Spain, but the defenders managed to keep the port safe. People living in the surrounding area tell stories about hearing unusual noises coming from the fort—almost as if one of those battles was still taking place. Some hear cannons, others hear men shouting orders and running around, and some hear screams for help.
For years, a few brave people have ventured to the fort when the noises are being heard, but once they enter, there is nothing but the view out to the sea and the dark night sky, and the noises stop.
The Lady of the Mass Graves: Nicaragua
Horrendous things happened in Granada, in the western part of Nicaragua, during the country's civil war. When the Sandinista revolution was in progress in 1979, thousands of National Guardsmen were herded into the countryside near Puerto Asese and murdered. There were no proper burials and no returning of bodies to family members. They were buried together in a hole in the ground, covered with dirt, and abandoned.
This was also the killing ground for Somoza supporters, whether they were men, women, or children. You can imagine the number of souls that might have remained there.
Many locals have reported seeing an old lady sitting on the monument there asking anyone who passes by to take her to the local cemetery. Those who don’t know about her and actually give her a ride have reported that she gets out of the car and slowly fades as she enters the cemetery.
Isla Coiba Prison: Panama
Isla Coiba is a large island in the Pacific Ocean far from the mainland of Panama, and at some point, the prison built there was considered to be the Panamanian version of San Francisco's Alcatraz. The place is surrounded by dangers like sharks and strong currents that made escape nearly impossible. To make it even more formidable, the island is mountainous and covered by a thick jungle.
The prison opened in 1919 and received the criminals and political prisoners that opposed military regimes. It had the capacity to hold 3,000 prisoners, who were forced to work on the small farms to provide the food they consumed. Torture was commonplace, and those who attempted to escape were killed by prison guards, jungle animals, sharks, or taken away by the currents.
The prison finally closed in 2004, and the jungle has already reclaimed the buildings. The few brave visitors who have gone to the island have said they heard footsteps, noises, whispers, screaming, and even banging on bars.