Reader Recs: World’s Spookiest Places

The occasional brush with the occult or the unexplained isn’t enough to keep intrepid travelers at bay, and our Nat Geo Travel fans on Facebook were eager to share their most memorable paranormal experiences.

Here are some of their picks—from the underworld of Paris to a chapel of bones in Portugal—for the world’s spookiest destinations:

Andrew W. kicks off our list in La Paz, Bolivia, at the Mercado de las Brujas (Witches Market), where a cobblestone street in the city’s old quarter plays host to folk doctors, fortune tellers, and, as the name suggests, witches. Ingredients for spells, including, as Andrew notes, “the mummified Lama fetuses and other mummified animals,” along with other occult items are on offer.

Next, we go subterranean, to the Catacombs of Paris, where the bones of some six million people find their final resting place. Brett S. writes, “It is a very unique experience to be so deep underground, surrounded by tens of thousands of skulls and bones as you snake your way through the dimly lit tunnels.” Muriel B. agrees, writing, “Underground tunnels all decorated with real human bones and skulls? Enough said.”

Hotels don’t usually evoke spine-tingling fear, but a few in the United States seem to do the trick. Elizabeth R. recalls seeing eerie lights in the windows of the abandoned Hacienda Hotel in New Port Richey, Florida, while Patricia S. experienced paranormal activity at the Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Michelle D. also cites the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, which inspired Stephen King to write his classic novel The Shining, as a place that’s sure to induce a scare. 

The Cappella dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) in Evora, Portugal gets Lunaguava’s vote for the creepiest place to visit. The walls of this 16th-century chapel are covered in hundreds of human skulls and bones and, if that’s not creepy enough, the phrase, “We bones that here are, for yours await,” is inscribed above the entrance. In a similar vein, Facebook users “Travel with Kevin and Ruth” suggest the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, where you can see “thousands of human bones displayed in odd formations.”

Ruth R. and Gabrielle G. agree that El Museo de las Momias (Mummy Museum) in Guanajuato, Mexico, has a strong creep factor. More than a hundred naturally mummified bodies recovered from a cemetery that served as a burial ground for victims of a cholera epidemic that overwhelmed the city in 1833 are on display at the museum. Many of the bodies were buried immediately to control the spread of the disease; in some cases, the dying were buried alive by accident—and exhibit the horrified expressions to prove it.

The  Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield makes the list thanks to Joe B. The historic prison has appeared in several movies and television shows, most notably, perhaps, in the film  The Shawshank Redemption. The enormous, castle-like prison, which many believe to be haunted by the spirit of past prisoners (multiple visitors have reported hearing the sound of cell doors slamming), closed in 1990, but a preservation society is working to restore the imposing structure to its former glory.Wadi Al-Jinn, site of a gravity hill near  Madina, Saudi Arabia, is creepy, if you ask Ayesha K. In the infamous valley, cars that are turned off and placed in neutral gear appear to accelerate uphill. “It’s a really mysterious place, and…believed to be inhabited by ghosts,” writes Ayesha. Theories on what produces the phenomenon range from magnetic qualities of the surrounding mountains to a fierce optical illusion.

Tyler M. suggests a visit to the ancient Maya civilization of Copan, Honduras, on a rainy day for travelers looking for a haunting experience. Between the overgrown ruins, armed guards, and ancient buildings, the ambiance is definitely on the eerie side. “I would go again without thinking twice, but it’s a little creepy,” she says.

The  Hoia Baciu Forest near Cluj,  Romania, was added to our list by Dumitru E. The “creepy forest” is known for having an abundance of paranormal activity. From ghostlike apparitions and curious flashes of light to UFO sightings, the spooky behavior is endless. Though some people claim there’s a scientific basis for the phenomena, the otherwise idyllic woods continue to attract Wiccans and paranormal enthusiasts hoping to experience it for themselves.Malawi’s Sapitwa Peak may be a popular hiking destination, but it  has also long been shrouded in superstition and mystery. Literally translated as “a place where people do not go,” Ronyelei K. describes the highest point of Mount Mulanje as a “no-go zone,” while still others have labeled it “the Bermuda Triangle of Malawi.” Over the years, several people have gone missing without a trace, which local lore purports to be the result of angering ancient ancestral spirits that are thought to haunt the mountain.

And finally, Anna W. adds a night visit to Alcatraz Island to the list. Once a federal penitentiary, Alcatraz has a reputation for being one of the most haunted places in America. The ghostly stories range from unusually chilly temperatures to eerie sounds, making this notorious prison the perfect attraction to satisfy the ghost hunter in us all.

Megan Heltzel is an associate producer on National Geographic Travel’s digital team. Follow her on Twitter @MeganHeltzel.

What’s the creepiest destination you’ve ever visited and why? Tell us in the comments section.

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