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Escazú: The Folklore Guardian

I know Halloween is over! But it's hard for me to accept how underestimated this celebration has become. I love monsters and everything related, so I did a quest to find where Ghouls, Ghosts and Witches hide after the trick or treating candy-hangover is over. The best place to start is Escazú; commonly known as the "City of Witches".

The good old times...

My first childhood memories come from a small neighbourhood in Escazú. My first friends, my first kiss, sleepovers, playing street baseball, hide and seek and what not. It was a time, a different time, where socializing was all about sharing with friends. All the neighbours used to organize street parties, BBQ's, fireworks and get-togethers in general; the streets came to life and we kids had an excuse to stay up later at night.

Back in the day, we didn't have any tall walls or razor-wire fencing. On the left my old house and down the street, the house with the parked car on the left used to live the girl I first kissed.

We always had these weird adventures; even with the smallest plan, something always came up. From riding our bikes to buy ice cream, find fruit trees, to looking for abandoned houses. I loved to go inside abandoned houses and find "treasures", worthless junk that previous owners had left behind; I saw those objects with great value, as they might have been useful to someone at some point, or cherished by someone until they got lost.

I was introduced to adrenaline when I was very young; that rush of entering a forbidden place or to not know what you might encounter when entering these crumbling places. I remember getting a good scare twice; the first one, we heard a telephone ringing somewhere in one of the abandoned houses we used to visit frequently... we couldn't find it! And exploring outside the house, we saw some of the tall weeds rustling and moving, like if someone was lurking on us, we obviously ran like crazy out of the place. The second one, we entered the same place with more courage and tried to find out what the sounds in between the tall weeds were. I lie to you not, I saw a human distorted figure moving super fast in between the weeds. That was the last time we entered that "haunted house".

The street that leads to the "Haunted House", which is now a closed small apartment. I also had my first bike accident riding down this small street.

That haunted house became famous between us kids and one night, at one of our parents street-BBQ we were welcoming a new kid on the block, he was at least 3 or 4 years older than the rest of us in the neighbourhood, so we looked up to him. We gave him the tour around "our" street; and took him in front of the haunted house while telling him the scary moments we had witnessed. He replied:

"...Whom you saw, might've been "Zarate the Witch" (the most famous Witch in Escazú); shaped like a woman but with bird legs"

Escazú and its witches

We stood stiff cold, it was our first time listening to stories about old Escazú and its witches, he was older than us, so we had to believe everything.

Escazú or previously know as "Itzkatzu" was the original name given by its indigenous inhabitants. It was a famous resting stop for other pre-Columbian hikers that came from long distances throughout the tallest hills in Escazú. This mountain range was home for one of the oldest populations in Costa Rica, even before San José itself. Hills like "Cerro Pico Blanco", "Cerro San Miguel" and "Cerro Rabo de Mico" are the most famous to have held great mysteries, and they all gather meeting places for magical creatures who guarded medicinal plant crops.

Going up the Escazú mountain range. They still seem to have crops where once they used to grow medicinal herbs. This ancient soil kept its supernatural powers.

Just like my adrenaline-filled adventures hunting for haunted houses when I was a kid, I decided it was time for me to lurk around the hiding dwell of the "Zarate Witch" and maybe find the resting place for some of the banshees and other ghosts that used to (or still?) roam Escazú.

Roaming old lands

I was impressed by how quickly it took me to get from a busy city out to the mountains. There are incredible unimaginable views of infinite colour schemes just a few minutes from San José. The Escazú mountains still have the typical Costa Rican way of life, hard-working farmers and herdsmen, this is obvious when you see old men walking with rubber boots, machete and a large "yute" sack (natural fibre bag). The landscapes revealed where they worked the crops and this was the hint I needed to help me notice I was on the right track to find something.

Halloween was a Celtic celebration, known as Samhain, a very important event as it commemorated the end of summer and thus, the end of harvests, so it was associated with human death. To avoid any superstition that may harm the crops during this period, people will meet to make offers by burning crops and doing animal sacrifices to their deities and usually they will "hide" from evil spirits by dressing on animal skins and heads.

End of harvest

Just like the Druids, the first inhabitants in Escazú, took very seriously their crops and they had women in charge of protecting and elaborating medicinal recipes and until 1960 you could still visit one of these "Medicine ladies", at least 23 of them had inherited their ancient indigenous roots. Some of them were the original "witches", feared by some, as they lived under particular conditions, but many others appreciate them, even the "high class" knocked on their doors to look for potions and natural curative remedies.  

Looks like a giant Witch cauldron. But it's actually used to heat up sugar cane. 

I stopped on my way up to the mountain, as my attention was drawn towards a small garage place that had an old "trapiche" (press mill). This and other old-fashioned objects were there sitting on a dirt floor.


I called to the closed gate when a small, very old lady came to attend my "Costa Rican call" I explained to her what I was doing and asked her permission to enter and take some pictures, maybe she might as well tell me some stories surrounding the myth and legend of the Witch and where she hides.

She welcomed me and opened the gate while standing on her bare feet on the dirt floor, dressed with an old-fashioned white dress and apron. She then proceeded to explain about the sugar cane process on the "trapiche", a very rudimentary, hard work process that requires the muscle of two oxen to grind the raw sugar cane and extract its juice.

This is the "trapiche", without the oxen.

After sharing some stories about her late husband, who used to work with the "trapiche" she told me about a mysterious old man who used to roam near "Cerro San Miguel" (where I was with the old lady at that moment). He was seen every day walking around with a stick, a long grey beard, long hair, all dressed in black with ragged clothes. The neighbours were certain he was the last descendant of the Zarate Witch, but we will never know, as he just disappeared, never to be seen again. So I asked her if she knew a bit more about the Witch and without a clue, she took me outside and pointed a very close mountain range (the same I was driving to) and showed me where she used to be seen. "Cerro Pico Blanco" is supposed to be a hollow mountain, and there are three secret accesses through caves, or "windows" as she described; from there she will keep an eye of Escazú, Aserrí and San Ignacio de Acosta (both used to be part of Escazú). But on specific days she will come out with crows, bats and goblins to protect her enchanted lands, as she strongly believed the old Escazú was Her sacred territory, after all, she had supposedly traded her soul for those lands with The Devil itself. She was seen many times, walking barefoot and smoking. Her hair was very characteristic, two black hair braids and a black hat, dressed in black and a scarlet scarf that accentuated her indigenous ethnicity.

I thanked the nice lady and started going up towards the hazy hills, it wasn't that late, but clouds and thin layers of fog were trying to cover the mystery as if the Witch knew I was looking for her. The road ended and I put my car to the test, driving over boulders and stone paths through dry rivers until I got to a dead end. I got out of the car and noticed there were colourful trees with a sweet aroma; the air was filled with a fresh smell of cut wood and scents of wet dirt, a very soothing, almost sedative smell. I looked back to where I would have to go through again and noticed there were some abandoned structures hiding inside some scrub, so I walked down and saw a wall with symbols that reminded me again of the Druid deities, the Sun and the Moon. I thought I might be in the presence of otherworldly spirits, I could feel it through the seductive fragrance in the air, or maybe I was just hypnotized by the textures on the hills and tainted by the magical fresh breeze of Escazú. All I knew was that I felt reverential respect towards the silent place I had just found and somehow I discerned empathy for Zarate, I now understood why she wanted to protect these amazing natural surroundings.

The view up from the strange wall I saw. The dwelling place of Zarate (The Witch).

Wrong turn

I started driving back down, but I think I took a wrong turn. The sky seemed to open up and some rays of light managed to break through the clouds at moments, when I encountered what I thought was one of the doors into the cave of the mountain, there was a shot to meet the Witch after all. I stopped the car to take a picture when all of the sudden a herder passed me by with two oxen. I couldn't resist and asked him about the Witch. He made a gesture and while smiling he gave me an address...I didn't think about it much and just went for it.

One of the three possible "windows" from Zarate's lookout to Escazú. Or just an entrance to her hiding place.

I was now driving down the hill, following the directions the herder gave me. The view was mesmerizing; down until I found the place I was looking for, it might not have been a cave or a secret entrance in the mountain, as they say, the best hideaway is always at plain sight and there it was in front of me; the resting place for all the creatures and monsters, where all ghouls and the Devil himself were kept away safe from the public and I had the chance to meet their caretaker.


The custodian seemed to be a farmer over his fifties (but looked younger); rubber boots, jeans, open neck shirt with his chest uncovered, chonete (typical Costa Rican hat) and a bold moustache. At the gate of his house I told him I was referred to come here and meet Zarate the Witch, he smiled and opened the gate. With enthusiastic energy, the man rushed me to a shed in his garage and opened a couple of metal doors that revealed all the classic creatures and legends from the Costa Rican folklore. There it was, the monster lair, the resting hideout, inanimate beasts waiting for Halloween eve to be awakened by the magic spells of the high grounds I previously visited. The small leak of light on the roof amplified the creepiness, I was delighted to have finally found them all.

My quest had ended; I had not only found the Witches accomplices but I unveiled the cloak and dagger; the importance to explore where we come from, the roots of our culture and find pride on those who still fight to maintain its essence and spirit alive. Nature holds many secrets, and it bears ancient knowledge. If you know where to look with respect, you will find the alchemy that transforms the legends of the past into the livelihood the people of a city needs to build a strong, solid community, something Escazú found centuries ago by keeping its rich folklore intact, sheltered by Zarate the Witch.

Bruja Zarate on the left and her descendant (El Brujo) on the right.

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  • Janaina & Dieter, Brazil

    The trip was wonderful! Your help was invaluable and without your choices it would not have been so good! I am very very satisfied and very happy with the choices you made!

    Thank you very much for everything!

    Janaina & Dieter, Brazil
  • Kathrin, Ines, Matthias & Ingo, Germany

    Hello dear Aline, many thanks to you for the great compilation and organization of the trip. We were able to spend eventful, interesting and wonderful days in Costa Rica and will keep them in good memory. A thank you also goes to the ARA Tours team, which was available 24/7 for problems and questions, which were solved and answered quickly and reliably. The punctuality of the transfers offered should also be emphasized. In summary, it was a wonderful holiday.

    Kind regards

    Kathrin, Ines, Matthias & Ingo, Germany
  • Carina & Thomas, Germany

    Hello dear Aline,
    Now we have arrived back at San Jose Airport after a great trip. Everything worked out great and the tour was just perfectly planned and organized. Thank you very much. We take a lot of positive memories with us.
    Best regards.

    Carina & Thomas, Germany
  • Yvonne, Switzerland

    The Costa Rica trip together with my family is already behind us - it was wonderful!!! Everything went smoothly from A to Z, we had a wonderful time, no incidents and wonderful experiences.
    We all enjoyed it very much; the nature is enormous, but also the warm-hearted people, the cleanliness, the food - we are very enthusiastic!
    At this point I would like to thank you very much for your support in the preparation, for all the bookings, clarifications and enquiries!!!
    We visited the waterfall in La Fortuna and had a great view of the Arenal. In Monteverde we did a Hanging Bridges and Zipline tour and in Nosara a surf course. In Finca Rosa Bianca we did the coffee tour, it was all great, fun and interesting 😊. All in all, we saw lots of animals, always ate well, enjoyed the beaches....even in rainy weather 😊. Often we were even glad that it was overcast, otherwise it would have been almost toouuu hot for us.
    So THANK YOU again so much for everything!!!!

    Yvonne, Switzerland
  • Christina, Switzerland

    Many thanks for the extensive support (before, during and after the trip) and the professional handling of our concerns. With your support we had a smooth and unforgettable vacation in Costa Rica! Our favorite hotels: Hotel Plaza Yara and the Poas Volcano Lodge - a dream!
    All the best

    Christina, Switzerland
  • Jeanne, Bernd & Bill, USA

    Yay! I´m glad we are back on track. Thank you again for helping us with all these changes.
    I´m glad we choose ARA-you are amazing! Thanks for all your help! It made it a very memorable visit!

    Jeanne, Bernd & Bill, USA
  • Janka, The Netherlands

    Hi Eli & ARA Team,
    We have spoken to the guest and they are super enthusiastic about their Costa Rica roundtrip! Everything was well organized, nice hotels, nice mix of activities & beach and they have big compliments for you guys!!
    Many thanks for all the good work!! The guest highly appreciate it!!
    They had lunch nearby in Ara Ambigua Lodge, and they loved this place. Friendly staff and good food!
    Do you work with this accommodation? If so, we would love hear 😊
    Once again, heads off for this amazing trip!
    With warm regards

    Janka, The Netherlands
  • Thomas, Deborah, Eva & Paula, Switzerland

    Dear Priska
    Happily I write some words to you in English, so you can easily forward them also to Ara Tours, please. Thank you all, we spent a magic time in Costa Rica! Baumeler's and Ara Tours organisation and logistics were perfect, everything worked out even better than we expected. The tours were brilliant, we really enjoyed everything very very much!
    All the accomodation was absolutely wonderful... the setting, the quality, the food, with happy helpful friendly staff everywhere. It was a wonderful way to experience this beautiful country the way we did, on a private tour with personal guide and drivers. We saw and learnt sooo much - it would have been impossible to do so on our own.
    Especially we praise our brilliant guide Fernando Perez, we benefited so much from his truly wide knowledge and deep love for his Country which he passed on in lovely encouraging way. We even became friends and we will meet in Switzerland coming September! Also our driver Carlos Sandi was great, not only as a driver but also as a compagnion, animal spotter and photographer. Thank you!
    So.... now we just enjoy our last day...
    Sunny greetings, pura vida

    Thomas, Deborah, Eva & Paula, Switzerland
  • Yvonne & Andrea, Switzerland

    Hello all
    Unfortunately, our wonderful trip is already over and everyday life has caught up with us again. We would like to thank you very much for everything. The trip was planned exactly according to our wishes and we have seen so many beautiful places.
    Thank you Stefanie!
    We have felt completely comfortable and top cared for by you. Via Whats App we got immediate answers to our questions, with the car everything worked out great. In all locations we were treated very warmly and nicely. It was just so indescribably beautiful, we will dream of the beautiful experiences for a long time. In any case, we will warmly recommend you and hope for a next time. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    Best regards.

    Yvonne & Andrea, Switzerland
  • Anita, Switzerland

    We have arrived safely in Switzerland and have already returned to work.
    It was a wonderful trip you put together for us.
    Your excellent service, as well as the 24 hour support service from ARA Tours, was truly outstanding.
    I have already recommended you several times and would book with you again and again. Thank you very much and keep me informed if there are any interesting offers.
    Best wishes.

    Anita, Switzerland
  • Lukas & Isabelle, Switzerland

    Hello Pedro, our time in CR is coming to an end and we wanted to say "thank you very much for organizing a phenomenal week". Everything has been well organized and we have seen many beauties of nature. Thanks!

    Lukas & Isabelle, Switzerland
  • Reinout & Yvonne, The Netherlands

    Thanks Jenny for the clear answer. We will make an appointment via the link you gave us.
    Today we visited National Parc Cabo Blanco. What an amazing park, so quiet for tourists, so full of animals, really lovely and therefore together with Monte Verde, Cahuita and Corcovado the park today, Cabo Blanco, scores high in our ranking of most beautiful parks of CR.These parks give us reason, together with the Pura Vida in CR, to come back soon. We'll keep in contact.

    Reinout & Yvonne, The Netherlands
  • Dominik, Germany

    Good day Jennifer
    As we have already told Simone, the stay at Lapa Rios is extremely enriching, thanks to the well planned planting and the untouched environment we see a lot of animals. Contrary to the plans before the stay, we do not want to visit more animals in captivity at the end. We will have a look at the few hours before we leave.
    We thank you and your team very much for the excellent advice and the permanent support! We can only recommend Ara Tours.
    Best regards.

    Dominik, Germany
  • Daniel, Jana & Theo, Germany

    A big thank to you, you saved our vacation!
    Communication already worked very well in Germany. The help from you, especially through Aline, should be mentioned here. This was fantastic from the first WhatsApp message to the last. We already know Costa Rica, so we knew what we wanted and what not. Ara Tours was an important point of contact for us. We are very grateful to Aline precisely because our actual travel agent cancelled our trip 36 hours before departure. She immediately organized everything for us. Whether the hotel in beautiful Punta Leona, the tours to the national parks, even the shuttle service with the great driver Guillerno Ortega has to be mentioned here. We are very grateful to you, dear Aline, but also to the entire Ara Tours team. You too made our almost 3-week trip to Costa Rica unforgettable again. We would love to come back and of course we will book through Ara Tours again.

    Daniel, Jana & Theo, Germany
  • Alexander & family, Switzerland

    Thank you, everything really worked out great. Super organization and at any time quick info / help / support from you!
    We liked it very much. The conclusion in Quepos was crowning. We liked the beach in the National Park Manuel Antonio very much. We would have liked to stay longer, but we take home many wonderful, unforgettable impressions. PURA VIDA!
    Many thanks to you Aline! We will gladly recommend you to others.

    Alexander & family, Switzerland
  • Neumann Family, Germany

    - The route was super planned, first on the beach time to arrive and then only from Monteverde with excursions inland etc. and at the end again beach - perfect!
    - Support from Ara Tours was VERY good!!! Through Whatsapp reachability the service was great, very quick answers / very flexible, good suggestions etc. Also with the doctor Ara Tours helped with translations by phone - that was really very, very good!
    - The home stay day was an absolute highlight - very authentic - so we got to know the locals REAL, the family was super friendly and very open and have talked about everything. Not at all touristy perceived.

    Neumann Family, Germany
  • Marine & Bruno, France

    We would like to thank you personally for this beautiful trip that you organised for us and for the follow-up that you did throughout the stay. A big thank you also to Jennifer d'Ara tours! Thank you again and have a great week!

    Marine & Bruno, France
  • Walter, Switzerland

    We really appreciated your (almost) daily updates from Costa Rica on Covid and related issues. That was a highlight compared to other incoming agents worldwide! We thank you for your effort and wish you that you manage the coming time well and stay healthy.

    Walter, Switzerland
  • Ronald, Germany

    Our great compliments for keeping us informed every day on the developments. We wish you all the best and keep yourself and families in good health and mood during this unprecedented period!

    Ronald, Germany
  • Kathrin, Germany

    You are really super! It is impressive how you manage the crisis with your super flow of information and the great reversal. Hats off!

    Kathrin, Germany
  • Michael, Germany

    Hello, we were on a round trip in Costa Rica from 27.11., which was booked through BigXtra and organised by them. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you very much. The tour was simply amazing! The support by Carlos was just great. We have done many trips before, but this one was an unforgettable experience thanks to Carlos. Carlos speaks very good German and was able to sensitively introduce us to Costa Rica, its incomparable nature and its great, friendly inhabitants. Pura Vida became for us a term for the attitude towards life in Costa Rica. Please say hello to Carlos from us and once again a huge thank you to him in the name of the whole group of 8. We wish him only the best for his future.

    Michael, Germany
  • Evelyne, Switzerland

    Wie just did a 4 week trip in Costa Rica which was organised from ARA tours and we really liked it - well done Ara Tours! We also had a guide - his name is Enrique. His German is really good and he knows a lot about Costa Rica and he showed us a lot of animals. We had a wonderful time with hime - thank you so much Enrique!

    Evelyne, Switzerland
  • Tanja, Germany

    perfect tour perfect tour guide pablo, everything very well organised 👍👍👍👍🇨🇷🇨🇨🇷 were thrilled

    Tanja, Germany
  • Ines, Germany

    Many thanks and great praise to our tour guide Mauricio and our bus driver Adrian! We felt very comfortable during the 2 weeks in Costa Rica. The wide-ranging knowledge of Mauricio and the super driving skills of Adrian were particularly admirable. Thanks to the eagle eyes of both of them, we had the opportunity to observe a variety of animals in Costa Rica. Thank you for everything!

    Ines, Germany
  • Sabine, Germany

    I can only recommend ARA Tours. Thanks again to Nicole for the great planning of the tour and the support. Our tour guide Peter Käser was simply incredible (a walking encyclopaedia) and always had an answer to all my questions about the flora and fauna and the history of CR. Our driver Julio carried my father on his hands, for which I am very grateful. CR is also worth a trip for wheelchair users at any time (with ARA Tours, of course).

    Sabine, Germany
  • Thieme Family, Germany

    We would like to thank you once again for organizing our trip [...] through the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Our special thanks go to our tour guide Enrique, who with his extensive knowledge of flora and fauna about his country brought it very close to us and made us want to come even a second time. We were very glad and happy to travel with him, as he was also very committed to our problems on site, in addition to his competent function as a tour guide.

    Thieme Family, Germany
  • Antonia-Maria & Boris, Austria

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your sensational effort! I do not know such a competent tour guide as with you really from nowhere else... and we have already traveled a lot... 🙏🏻🍀

    Antonia-Maria & Boris, Austria
  • Katja, Germany

    I wanted to thank you again for the great Costa Rica trip. We flew back home very happy and with many great impressions. A compliment for the super organisation. Everything worked out perfectly (except for the handover of the rental car, which was force majeure...). So thank you again and I have already recommended you to friends:-)!

    Katja, Germany
  • Denise & Alain, Switzerland

    Thank you very much for your email and the tickets. We really appreciate how quickly and efficiently you deal with our requests each time!

    Denise & Alain, Switzerland
  • Philippe, Switzerland

    Hello Christine Thank you very much for this information. The support is super👍 many thanks Gruss

    Philippe, Switzerland
  • Marianne & Stefan Gräub, Switzerland

    Otherwise, the planned trip was a complete success. Everything went well and the visits you organised were all very interesting. The visits you organised were all very interesting and gave us a great insight into the respective topics. The fact that the Ticos are very friendly and always ready to help was fully confirmed.

    Marianne & Stefan Gräub, Switzerland

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