It’s almost Halloween and like other cities layered with centuries of history, Bogotá offers its fair share of ghosts stories and spooky legends; and more than a few paranormal residents reportedly call the colonial downtown home.

La Candelaria, the mysterious and magical birthplace of Bogotá, boasts a long and dramatic history. Some believe that the neighbourhood’s houses, many of which are more than 200 years old may be home to ghosts and paranormal phenomena.

Most people chalk up these stories as myths and urban legends, but residents of the sector assure that many of them are real.

The numerous ghost appearances in the region could have to do with the fact that dedicated cemeteries didn’t exist until relatively recently. For hundreds of years, people buried the dead in their home gardens, as was the case in the San Vitorio Di Torino Hotel, where the discovery of 400 year-old human remains added credence to guests’ claims of paranormal activity.

Trapped in the walls

One of the neighborhood’s creepier ghost stories, according to guide Lynda Pérez, is that of “La Emparedada” (The Walled-in Woman). Legend has it that a beautiful housemaid worked for a married couple near the Presidential Palace until the wife grew so jealous of her husband’s wandering eyes that she sent the young servant girl far away on a mission, hoping she would never return.

When the girl finally came back, the wife was so infuriated that she pulled the maid’s fingernails off and ripped out her hair and eyelashes. Then she cut her mouth, pulled out her teeth and burned her body with a hot iron before finally trapping the poor housemaid inside the walls of the house with just enough room to breath through a small hole.

The spirit of the young girl supposedly remains in the walls of the house, restless and understandably angry.

A ghostly helping hand

Of course not all of the spirits lurking the stone streets of La Candelaria are menacing, as local tour guide Marisol Rodriguez reminds with the story of the Cuervo brothers, sons of a famous Colombian linguist who dedicated everything they had to writing a dictionary.

Though they worked at a brewery to save money to travel to Paris where they could have their dictionary officially approved, the brothers, who lived in the house of a 17th century viceroy, still had a long way to go before they could afford the journey.

One of the brothers was awoken late one night by three knocks at the door. Scared, he nonetheless answered the door and was greeted by a ghost dressed in viceroy’s clothing. The ghost led the brother up the stairs and pointed to a wall before disappearing.

The next day, the brothers tore a hole in the wall where the ghost had indicated and found ingots and golden coins inside – more than enough to pay their trip to Paris.

The staff of the Caro y Cuervo Foundation who maintain the house speak of the presence of the so-called “ghost of the green jacket,” and lights sometimes turn on and off, floorboards creak and doors close on their own.

Dancing lights and creaking floorboards

Some experiences in Bogotá’s heart are even more bizarre and magical, like when Fernando Rojas, a guide at the Museo de Bogotá, found balls of light dancing around one of the museum’s rooms like fireflies. The lights illuminated the whole room and they appeared a few more times, usually right before the guides closed the museum for the night.

An abandoned colonial home on Carrera 2ª Nº 10-39, and known as the “Casa del bandido,” is one of this city’s most haunted homes. There once lived doctor José Raimundo Russi, who was executed by firing squad in 1851 for death of Manuelito Ferro.

At dawn, residents of La Candelaria have heard the stabbing sounds of Russi’s knife and the horrific screams of Ferro. For many generations of inhabitants of this haunted house, Russi, has been seen wandering between rooms and up the central stairwell. Maybe this explains why the house remains always shuttered up.

While we’ll probably never have an explanation for dancing lights, creaking floorboards and mysterious apparitions, one thing remains certain: for the best in Bogotá’s haunted history, La Candelaria is the place to be.