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Hoia Baciu: Braving the world’s most haunted forest

In honour of my upcoming release, Forest of Ghosts, which is set in Romania, including a pivotal scene in Hoia Baciu, I thought it would be worth sharing my real-life experiences in the world’s most haunted forest.

If I believed in omens, I would have been running for the hills.

The morning I was to visit Hoia Baciu in Cluj-Napoca, everything that could go wrong did. I had a dispute with my hotel’s receptionist. Then I discovered that I’d misplaced my credit cards. While I was searching for them, breaking into a sweat because Alex, my guide, was already waiting, I got sick. Violently sick.

Exploring Hoia Baciu, the world's most haunted forest

Alex from the Hoia Baciu Project

By the time I finally found my cards, we were thirty minutes behind schedule. We rushed out to meet our driver, who was named Vlad, fittingly enough.

Alex, a purported “paranormal” researcher, came armed with a small electro-magnetic field reader and not much else. To my surprise, my guide was a skeptic with a rational explanation for almost everything that happens in the forest.

Almost.

After an epic hike up a steep hill, we plunged into the forest.

The first thing I noticed about Hoia Baciu is that it’s cool–much cooler than I expected. The sun’s rays just don’t seem to penetrate.

The second thing I noticed were the trees.

I’ve never seen so many misshapen, malformed trees, and snapped photos of them to send to my botanist friend.

And then I got sick again.

The whole time I was in Hoia Baciu, I felt a tightness in my chest, like I couldn’t catch my breath. My stomach was still unhappy, and I began to feel stabbing pains in my head. I’d read that many people feel sick while in this forest–that’s the reason for a lot of its mystique. I couldn’t figure out why, so I decided I would probably have felt like this whether I was in the forest or not.

Thinking it might be altitude sickness, I asked Alex if we were far above sea level.

“No, only around 200 feet,” he said.

Exploring Hoia Baciu, the world's most haunted forest

I didn’t feel like anyone was watching me, and I didn’t feel anxious, but I have to say I was never comfortable in Hoia Baciu. It was a beautiful, strange forest, and I tried to think of it that way. I enjoyed seeing all the frogs, the epic snail, the monster mushrooms. But the truth is, I was happy when the tour was over.

My headache vanished as soon as I left the forest. By the time I caught my next flight, all of my other symptoms were gone too, although I did take some heavy doses of Pepto Bismal, so that might explain it.

Is Hoia Baciu haunted? I couldn’t say–I didn’t see balls of light or an apparition, as many people have. What I do know is that this place isn’t good for people. I felt awful there, and I could completely understand people panicking and feeling desperate. In that state, it’s easy for the mind to play tricks and make us believe we’re seeing things that just aren’t there.

did see a strange mist hovering by a few trees. I’d never before seen a fog so confined to one area. Alex thought it might be the humidity in the air.

Perhaps.

All I know is that I was eager to get the hell out of that place.

PS – For scary stories about Hoia Baciu and why it’s believed to be the world’s most haunted forest, check out this post.

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39 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Shudder! It sounds like – at the very least – an uncomfortable place to be.

    Reply
    • JH

      It most definitely was, Madeline. I suppose I’m adding to the mythology of it now, but I was very happy to leave. I think my guide felt bad that I didn’t get a longer visit, but I was thinking, “No, that’s okay.”

      Reply
    • Avatar

      No doubt that’s the ideal setting for a horror story! I wouldn’t mind visiting Romania, especially Transylvania. I also wouldn’t mind hiking through that forest if it weren’t for me getting stomach sickness so easily!

      Reply
      • JH

        Your reaction might be different, Steven–you never know.

        The book is supernatural suspense, not horror, but close enough. 😉

        Reply
  2. Avatar

    I’d say you were picking up some evil vibes from those twisted trees. And once you mentioned Vlad was in the driver’s seat, I knew you were in for trouble.

    Reply
    • JH

      He was a very cute Vlad, though. Nothing ominous about him at all. I should have taken a picture! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    What an awful experience.
    Maybe it’s the growth of mushrooms that sends a toxic fume into the air that makes everyone feel sick.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hmm…interesting theory, Alex. I’m just glad I’m outta there! I was happy to see it, but I have no desire to go back.

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    wow! you braved the forest. i was creeped out when you talked about how it affected you. what an experience.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, I’m glad I saw it, but I won’t be going back. Thanks for commenting! Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply.

      Reply
  5. Avatar

    Like Alex, I believe the soil may be contaminated in some way, hence the misshapen trees and leaves that may give off a toxic effect. The food produced there may also be tainted in some way. There have been comet and asteroid strikes all over Europe. Thousands of years ago a comet or asteroid could have struck and poisoned the soil.

    A good rule of thumb: if a place has a bad reputation, read about the place and leave the visiting for others!

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, I couldn’t NOT go, Roland! What kind of investigative journalist/horror writer would I be? It was okay to visit the forest, but it would be stupid to return. At least for me. I’ve heard from at least one person who suffers no ill effects.

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    What an experience! I almost wonder if you were so upset from before that it carried through. On the other hand this forest does look like something from a gothic/haunted novel. Glad you felt better after leaving. Now off to read about this forest

    Reply
    • JH

      It could be, but the headache came and went so quickly I have my doubts. My stomach trouble? Definitely not blaming that on the forest.

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    What about mammals or birds? How quiet was it? I thought the strange shaped trees might be caused by drought during their early years of growth.

    I love these posts. They give me the creeps. I’m so weird hehe

    Anna from Elements of Writing

    Reply
    • JH

      I was paying close attention to that, Anna, and there were birds singing the entire time. Didn’t see any mammals, but a lot of frogs.

      Can drought cause those deformities?

      Reply
  8. Avatar

    I have heard of that before MANY times…people getting sick in haunted places. It hasn’t happened to me, but my mom has been through it. Some people are more sensitive than others…I’m not sensitive to paranormal stuff at all. Maybe that’s why I can venture straight into haunted places without any problem…I love the fear, but nothing ever happens as a result. If I saw one ghost or felt that spooky feeling, I’d probably stay far away from haunted places forever!

    Stephanie
    http://stephie5741.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • JH

      Yeah, it’s not fun. I’ll keep visiting haunted places because I love it, but I have no desire to go back to that forest, that’s for sure.

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    That is so weird- and awful- about the feeling so sick. It’s never a good experience to be sick so far from home! However, like all the other posts you’ve done on your trip, this is so fascinating! What strange places exist in the world!

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, there’s something weird going on in that forest. I’m not sure what, but I don’t think it’s ghosts. Unless there’s some Phantom of Puke I don’t know about.

      I felt fine after an hour in the airport.

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    How very cool! Can’t believe I didn’t get to read this till now. Now I really wanna go check it out!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re welcome to it, Nik. I definitely won’t be going back.

      Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Tanza. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  11. Avatar

    You are brave. It’s so hard to enjoy any trip if you’re feeling ill. Maybe it started out with a gastro problem, but the forest definitely contributed. And, yes, you have now added to the creepy lore! Great first hand experience, though.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Mary. Nothing was going to keep me from exploring that forest! I’m just glad I didn’t have a really embarrassing accident.

      Reply
  12. Avatar

    I’m impressed you went on the hike despite being sick! You’re a tough babe. The stories make me wonder if something has leached into the soil … toxicity that’s man-made, or spiritual….

    Reply
    • JH

      Apparently, the soil’s been tested and retested. They can’t find anything unusual. It’s the strangest thing.

      Nothing, not even the increasingly unpleasant warnings of a very unhappy stomach, would keep me from the world’s most haunted forest!

      Reply
  13. Avatar

    Can’t wait to read the book! I have two friends that both come from Cluj-Napoca One of them does research into Strigoi! The other is a Musician 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s very cool, Jim. Have you ever been? If not, I highly recommend it. It’s probably a relatively inexpensive journey for you.

      Reply
  14. Avatar

    Whether there are ghosts or not, there is definitely good energy and bad energy. Sounds like this forest is full of the latter, and best to moving along. I have to admit that Vlad as your driver cracked me up. Too perfect, in a diabolical sort of way.

    Reply
    • JH

      I know, right? Apparently, Vlad is a common name in Romania, but it still made me snicker.

      Hoia Baciu feels perfectly pleasant–or at least, it did to me–until I got sick.

      Reply
  15. Avatar

    I wonder if one was just walking through and didn’t know the history or name of the forest, if the same effect would take place? I’d love to see those malformed trees, monster mushrooms and whale of a snail!

    Reply
    • JH

      I think it would, Lisa. As susceptible as I believe people to be, nothing I’d read made me think I’d experience a migraine there, especially one that brutal. Still, everyone is different, with different sensitivities. I’m sure there are some people who visit the forest and don’t feel anything at all.

      Reply
  16. Avatar

    weird – also that various things happened BEFORE you set off. Possible that the mushrooms were toxic to the environment …

    Reply
    • JH

      Beats the heck out of me, Susan. But that place has been tested and retested. It definitely is odd.

      Reply
  17. Avatar

    I really enjoy reading the stories about you visiting the places that inspired your books, JH. How bizarre you were this sick. I’m sure I would be as well, based on the forest’s reputation and me getting sick easily in certain conditions. Still, I would like to set foot in Hoia Baciu to find out whether it would truly affect me. I can imagine that the density of the trees can suck the breath out of anyone, though.

    Reply
    • JH

      I wouldn’t call it an overly dense forest. There’s plenty of space between the trees to walk around. The feeling of the place itself is quite peaceful and comfortable. That’s why it’s so odd that it makes one sick.

      Reply
  18. Avatar

    Eek!!! I’m definitely not brave enough to venture there! What an intriguing experience – not one you’ll want to repeat 🙂

    Reply

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