There is something fundamentally Latine about acknowledging your mere mortality. Now, that may seem a bit abstract at first, but fearing the unknown definitely brings back fond childhood memories. Whether it was your mother telling you a freaky leyenda to scare you into behaving or your older cousin making you lose sleep after a bone-chilling ghost story, Latine kids are constantly told that there are bigger forces at play.
What did that mean, exactly? We were never quite sure, but we were certainly afraid of whatever was lurking in the shadows. Monsters in the night, mysterious supernatural occurrences, and dark forces coming to punish those who’ve committed wrongdoings all felt very, very real. So in other words, we’ve been pre-conditioned as a people to embrace all things spooky—but with some reasonable caution, of course.
For many of us, the closest we’ve come to a haunted site is our abuelita’s house that feels a tad creepy at night, while others grew up fearing the local spot shrouded in mystery, tragedy, and, in some cases, even death. Latin America is full of these supposedly haunted sites that span centuries of complex history. Some have plagued communities for generations, while others involve tragedies that feel fresh in people’s memory. Many are associated with tales of forbidden love, religious persecution, and brutal murders. Others have legends so bizarre, inexplicably weird, and outright creepy that we get escalofríos—goosebumps—just reading about them in bed.
With Halloween around the corner, the supernatural world currently feels at arm’s reach, which means it’s the perfect time to dive into some tales of paranormal activity. And if you happen to be a so-called “dark tourist” who’s interested in conjuring some spirits on your next travels, we’ve got just the list for you. Here are seven of the scariest sites across Latin America.
La Casa Matusita, Peru
Few haunted residences evoke fear in people like Lima’s Casa Matusita, and for good reason too. Dating back to Peru’s colonial period, the home’s first notable resident was a woman of Persian descent named Parvaneh Dervaspa. Legend has it that Dervaspa arrived in Lima alone with no apparent connection to the Spanish colony, making her an easy target for suspicion. Her time in the Viceroyalty of Peru also coincided with the Spanish Inquisition, who would torture and commit gruesome killings in the name of the Catholic Church. It wasn’t too long until Dervaspa was accused of practicing witchcraft and was sentenced to death. As she burned at the stake, Dervaspa cursed the land where she was killed and anyone who ever dared to inhabit it.
Like all good ghost stories, this was only the beginning of Casa Matusita’s troubled history. Years after Dervaspa’s trial, a wealthy and mean-spirited man built a large home on the ill-fated plot where he later employed a staff. The landlord was said to have been abusive to the workers, so much so that they eventually decided to seek revenge. On the evening of a high-profile dinner party, the staff laced the guests’ drinks with a hallucinogenic drug in the hopes of causing mischief. As they listened in excitement for the ruckus to ensue, the staff heard screams of terror and agony instead. Much to their horror, the guests had all brutally massacred each other, leaving severed limbs scattered across the dining room floor.
A century later, a Japanese family called the Matusitas moved into the same home where they set up a business on the first floor. One day, Mr. Matusita came home to find his wife in bed with another man, which led him to suddenly be overtaken by intense rage. The husband proceeded to stab his wife, her lover, and his own two children to death before turning the knife on himself. Other stories surrounding the home include a priest who mysteriously died while performing an exorcism and an Argentinian TV personality who only lasted four hours in the house before becoming deranged. He then required two years of psychological care after his experience in La Casa Matusita.
La Noria, Chile
Chile’s Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, making it a nearly inhabitable place for anyone. However, it’s here, in this vast region of heat and rock, that you’ll find La Noria—a mining town that was founded in 1826 for the export of saltpeter. The town flourished for over a century, and at one point included a school, church, various local businesses, and nearly 3000 people who had arrived to work in the mines. Over time, La Noria’s economy was impacted by growing competition from other towns and a devastating fire that destroyed much of the town’s infrastructure in 1901. But once synthetic saltpeter was invented in World War II, the town completely collapsed and was left abandoned in the blistering desert. Or at least that’s what most people believe.
Working conditions in the mines were extremely tough and often claimed the lives of men and children whose souls are said to still reside in the ghost town. Today, La Noria’s cemetery is a tourist attraction for being a sea of decrepit wooden crosses, now withered away by the desert sun and wind, and tombs that creepily sit open. Visitors can see the bones of the deceased as they walk around the cemetery, leaving people to wonder whether it was the weather, grave robbers, or restless zombies that broke open the underground tombs.
People who live nearby have claimed to see dark figures and full-body apparitions roaming into the ghost town at night, leaving them to believe that the dead are not fully at rest. Other accounts claim screams, footsteps, and voices echoing through the desert.
Joelma Building, Brazil
The Joelma Building still stands 25-stories tall today in São Paulo, but it hasn’t been able to shake off its reputation following the tragic events of February 1, 1974. On the morning of that fateful day, an air-conditioning unit short-circuited on the 12th floor, and within 20 minutes, the entire building was engulfed in flames. The primary cause of the fire’s rapid spread was the interior’s flammable furniture and building materials that quickly ignited. By the time the fire department arrived, they had realized their ladders could only reach up to the 15th floor, trapping everyone above in the inferno.
A total of 179 people perished that day, many of them jumping to their deaths out of desperation. The fire department also found 13 bodies inside one of the building’s elevators, all of which were so horrifically burned that they remain unidentified today. The 13 are now buried in the nearby São Pedro cemetery, where people regularly hear screams, voices, and moans of agony coming from the unidentified graves.
Although investigations into the tragedy were deemed conclusive, mystery still surrounds the building’s history. According to legend, the Joelma Building was constructed on the same land as the 1948 home of Paulo Ferreira de Camargo. A young chemistry professor, Camargo owned a modest home in the city center and frequently took his mother and two sisters to the nearby hospital. His mother, Benedita, had cancer, while his sisters Maria Antonieta and Cordélia suffered from epilepsy and schizophrenia respectively. Throughout the family’s regular visits to the hospital, Paulo met and eventually fell in love with a nurse named Isaltina dos Amaros, but his family was quick to disapprove. Isaltina’s reputation wasn’t great in São Paulo’s social circles, mainly for having lost her virginity before marriage. The mother and sisters did everything in their power to keep the two apart, eventually driving Paulo into a dark place.
One day, the chemist snapped, shot his family to death in his home, and buried them in a well he had recently dug in the backyard. The police eventually came to investigate the women’s disappearances, and Paulo took his own life before confessing to his crimes. It’s believed that the Joelma Building is haunted by the spirits of those lost in the fire, but also the troubled chemist and his murdered family.
Las Ruinas de la Parroquia, Costa Rica
In the small Costa Rican town of Cartago, you’ll find the beautiful ruins of a Romanesque church that have now been converted into a public garden. However, the land where the ruins sit has a tumultuous history of multiple construction failures. The first church was built in 1573 before it was severely damaged in a 1630 earthquake and eventually demolished in 1656. A new church was eventually built and consecrated in 1662, before being heavily damaged in two more earthquakes in 1718 and 1756, and later destroyed in an 1841 quake. This was when the current structure saw its construction begin in 1870, before being halted for 30 years, restarted in 1903, and then once again canceled after a 1910 earthquake. Eventually, the plot was deemed cursed, and the locals swore off any more efforts. But there still exists a legend behind the ruins’ past.
The garden has a different energy once the sun sets, transforming from a peaceful park to an eerie and decrepit place where spirits are said to roam. A popular local legend states that two brothers lived in Cartago during Costa Rica’s colonial period—one was a popular man, and the other was a Catholic priest. But the brothers’ relationship became strained when they both fell in love with the same woman, who chose the brother who wasn’t an ordained priest. Still, the priest was outraged and tried to ruin his brother’s reputation as an act of revenge.
On the night of the New Year’s mass, the priest murdered his brother in the church with a knife, therefore committing a grave mortal sin. To make up for his crime against God, he vows to build a new church in Cartago—but the construction is destroyed in an earthquake. It’s believed that this is why the church stands in ruins today, and why natural forces brought down every building on the site. Locals claim that the burdened priest still haunts the ruins at night, with several accounts of seeing him walking around the site with his head decapitated—although we’re not quite sure how or when he became the so-called headless priest.
Pasco & Alberti Stations, Argentina
Having been completed in 1913, the A-Line on Buenos Aires’s metro is the oldest subway in Latin America, which also means it has seen its fair share of history. For starters, building the line was an enormous task that claimed the lives of several workers. Two of the most prominent casualties were Italian immigrants Salvador Vaca and Antonio Salas, whose deaths were initially covered up as accidents before being revealed as the result of negligence. It’s believed that Vaca and Salas’s spirits, as well as those of other ill-fated construction workers, roam the tracks at night, with several people reporting the sound of footsteps during after hours and the reflections of tired faces flashing past windows as trains zoom down the A-Line.
Everyone who rides on the haunted subway line is also familiar with Pasco and Alberti Stations, which now are partial “half stations” because they only operate in one direction rather than their intended two (aka “phantom lines”). It’s rumored that white translucent figures appear in the dark tunnels of these phantom lines, many of which do not appreciate being disturbed. Workers have claimed that something turns off security cameras at night, only to see these white figures menacingly staring back at them when they switch the cameras back on. A phantom bride also roams the tunnels of Pasco and Alberti Stations in her white gown, leaving people to believe she was left at the altar or threw herself onto the tracks on the day of her wedding.
Castillo San Cristobal, Puerto Rico
Forbidden love is a common theme in ghost stories, including the one that haunts Castillo San Cristobal in San Juan. The military fortress was built by the Spanish in 1793 to defend the city from foreign invaders and was used as a military base until after World War II. The fort’s tragic legend involves the story of a young woman named Maria Dolores, who also happened to be the executioner’s daughter. Maria eventually falls in love with a man named Bentancourt, a thief who is eventually arrested for his crimes. Betancourt is sentenced to death and killed by Maria’s father, but the woman is unaware of her lover’s fate until she comes across his body in the gallows herself. Devastated, Maria hangs herself beside her lover, where her father finds them both when returning to dispose of Betancourt’s body.
The cursed lovers are now two of the several ghosts who haunt the fortresses’ walls. San Cristobal was known as a place where soldiers mysteriously went missing. On several occasions, soldiers on guard would call out to each other in the night and not receive a response. The clothes and weapons of the missing soldiers would be left behind, but they were never to be seen again. It’s said that the devil devoured them, and they now wander the grounds for eternity.
La Bailarina del Agua Caliente, Mexico
Also commonly known as the legend of “La Faraona,” this tale takes place in 1930s Tijuana at the famous Agua Caliente Resort & Casino. In its golden age, the resort was a bustling destination for international guests looking to gamble, watch live music, and vacation in the ground’s luxurious bungalows. Its most famous guest was La Faraona, a beautiful Spanish flamenco dancer who met her future husband, Mr. Patrick, at the resort. The British gentleman—unbeknownst to his wife—was part of Al Capone’s mafia, and was mesmerized by La Faraona’s beauty. He also was an avid gambler who believed La Faraona was his good luck charm, and enjoyed having her by his side when he played.
Once their time at Agua Caliente came to an end, the dancer discovered that Mr. Patrick had no intentions of taking her back to England with him. La Faraona was devastated, and, in an act of passion, poisoned both her and Mr. Patrick’s wine before their usual encounter in her bungalow. Since their deaths, the resort has been demolished, and various schools have been built on its grounds. Over the years, many students and professors have claimed to see La Faraona wandering the halls at night. Others believe she stashed a treasure before taking her life, and that following her spirit will lead you to the hidden trove. However, we have a hard time imagining anyone being brave enough to follow a ghost—but to each their own!