A specter is haunting Costa Rica – the specter of Halloween. The holiday, which is based on the Celtic festival Samhain and the Catholic observation of All Saints’ Day, is a long-standing cultural phenomenon in the United States and Canada. Because of Tico’s fascination with all things horrorific, the celebration is rapidly becoming more popular in Costa Rica, creating a profitable opportunity for local business owners.
Costa Rica is home to countless traditional scary stories about wailing ghosts, haunted theaters and spooky abandoned prisons. And with the recent hype surrounding an online video (see ticotimes.net) that supposedly captured on film a poltergeist in San Jose’s Costa Rican Electricity Institute tower earlier this year, local entrepreneur Roger Ramírez believes that Costa Ricans are readier than ever for a Halloween experience, and he is ready to provide it for them – for a price.
Ramírez, originally from Cartago, is the creator, owner and operator of La Mansión de Horror (The Mansion of Horror) on Avenida Central in San Pedro. La Mansión de Horror is the only spook alley in Costa Rica, and, for ₡1,500 ($3) visitors can spend 15 minutes passing through rooms themed after popular horror movies like “The Ring” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” while various monsters, ghosts and chainsaw wielding maniacs jump out and scare them.
“It’s important to know that they aren’t going to touch anybody. It’s very scary, but they keep their distance,” say Ramírez.
La Mansión de Horror has eight employees and cost $40,000 to design and build. Ramírez has no doubt that he will make back his significant investment, however. During the weeks preceding Halloween hundreds of people passed through the attraction every night, and the haunted house will stay open through Halloween weekend. Terror is Ramirez’s business, and business is good.
Ramírez sees it as a simple case of supply and demand. He knows that people like to be scared, and he is capable of giving them exactly what they want. In fact, La Mansión de Horror does such a good job scaring people that many customers haven’t made it all the way through the haunted house, but turned around and come back out the front door. Others have burst out of the emergency exits screaming.
“The first day we were open a girl wet her pants,” says Ramírez. “She went in with her boyfriend and came out with wet jeans.”
Ramirez sees this as a sign of success.
“It just means that people were scared and that they liked it,” he says.
Sure, the haunted house will turn a major profit for a week or two every October, but what about the rest of the year? Ramírez has already been contracted by the Cervecería Costa Rica and the organizers of Costa Rica’s upcoming International Festival of Terror to provide entertainment for the festival’s accompanying carnival during the second week of December.
Ramírez is also already designing next year’s haunted house. He is planning on remodeling the current structure so that every room will be based on a traditional Costa Rican scary story.
But even for those who don’t like to be scared, there is plenty of fun to be had around the end of October. Parties and dances keep event organizers and costume shops busy.
Just a few hundred meters west from La Mansión de Horror is the San Pedro Mall, home to several costume shops, including Erótica, which specializes in selling lingerie the rest of the year. During October, however, its shelves are lined with Halloween costumes.
Store manager Rose Mary Artavia says that two or three years ago Costa Ricans really started going all-out for Halloween, and that this Halloween has seen far more customers than any other year.
“It didn’t used to be as celebrated,” says Artavia, “but now it is, and every year there are more and more parties and and more celebrations.”
These parties exist in part because Erótica is throwing them. On Saturday, Oct. 30 there will be a dance in the Torre Greco in San Antonio de Belén de Heredia at 9 p.m. organized by the costume-lingerie shop. Erótica anticipates so many Halloween partiers that they are giving out $4,000 in prize money to those who show up with the best and sexiest costumes.