A dormant volcano surrounded by seared earth, a poisonous lake, and wafting clouds of sulfur – it’s not difficult to see how Mount Osore conjures a vision of hell. A sacred Buddhist site located on the remote Shimokita Peninsula of Japan, the name “Mount Osore” aptly translates to Mountain of Horror. Sitting near the Sanzu River, which Japanese Buddhist belief says all souls must cross before the afterlife, popular mythology describes Mount Osore itself as the gateway to hell.
While this description may not sound alluring for your next vacation, it is actually a popular tourist destination. During your stay at the cusp of the underworld, you can visit with the Itako: a group of elderly, blind shamans who claim to communicate with the dead. You know, in case you want a want a firsthand review of the other side.
St. Patrick’s Purgatory
In Lough Derg, a lake in County Donegal, Ireland, sits Station Island. It’s a small, green, picturesque spot of land with breathtaking vistas of the Atlantic and the Irish countryside. It’s also a gateway to Hell.
Legend holds that St. Patrick was visited by Jesus on Station Island; the Son of God led Patrick to a pit that was a portal to hell. The visions he saw – those of brutal punishment and torture – were relayed by St. Patrick to reassure his followers that the afterlife was real, and could be very uncomfortable. Today, a monastery sits on the island as a means of shielding the Earth from this portal, and tourism is generally discouraged.
In the southwestern region of Turkey lies the ancient city of Hierapolis, a Greco-Roman pilgrimage site home to Pluto’s Gate – a long-fabled and only recently unearthed entryway to hell.
Discovered by archeologists in 2013 after decades of efforts, Pluto’s Gate differs from other doorways to hell in that it can, in fact, actually kill you. Ancient literature describes travelers bringing animals to the site as a means of sacrifice to the god Pluto. These unfortunate creatures would be subjected to mephitic gasses that leak from the rocks of the gate and in turn die from suffocation. Needless to say, visiting hell from Pluto’s Gate requires a certain degree of commitment.
Located roughly 50 miles north of Prague, Houska Castle is an imposing 13th century gothic Mansion that looms over the Czech countryside. With an undeniably eerie appearance, it’s what’s allegedly beneath it that’s far more sinister – a bottomless pit that leads directly to hell.
Prior to the construction of Houska Castle, local villagers were having issues with demonic creatures exiting the pit at night and harassing anyone who dared to leave their home. Local legend also describes a man being lowered into the pit by rope and, after moving out of eyesight, beginning to shriek in sheer terror. It’s said that when he was raised from the pit he had aged some 30 years.
Around 1253 AD, locals had seen enough of this portal and Houska Castle was built to keep the demons at bay. Little is known of any other practical use for the castle, as it had no water source, fortifications, no known proximity to trade routes, and also no tenants for decades after construction. Here’s hoping that basement is locked.
Fengdu Ghost City
Located in China’s Chongqing region on the northern bank of the Yangtze River, Fengdu Ghost City is a sprawling complex of shrines and temples dedicated to the afterlife. Unlike other gateways to the underworld, the entrance to hell at Fengdu Ghost City requires the completion (and failure) of three tests. The first test is crossing the Nothing-to-Be-Done-Bridge, where pure souls cross with ease and the sinister fall into the square pools below.
Test number two is a bit more daunting and involves going face-to-face with Yama – more precisely known as the King of Hell – at Ghost Torturing Pass, where he takes stock of the merits of your soul.
The third and final test takes place at Tianzi Palace, where a large stone rests at the front of the gate: if you can stand on the stone on one foot for three minutes, your soul is good enough to avoid hell, and if not… you’ll be spending a lot more time with Yama.
Cave of the Sibyl
In the barren and burnt Phlegræan Fields of Naples, Italy – just a stone’s throw from Mount Vesuvius, which laid waste to Pompeii – is the Cave of the Sibyl. Described famously by Virgil in The Aenid as the home of the Sybil – the guide of the underworld – the cave was said to lead directly to the River Styx, the main passage to Hades. Explored extensively by British archeologists in the 1960s.
The Cave of the Sibyl in reality is an inhospitably hot labyrinth of passages clouded with noxious sulfur fumes. That environment, buried beneath a volcanic wasteland, seems a perfectly suitable road to hell.
The Gates of Guinee
New Orleans is America’s cultural epicenter for the Voodoo religion, and a city with unique ties to the afterlife. Practitioners of Voodoo describe an underworld known as Guinee, through which all souls must pass en route to their final destination. Guinee is billed as a more murky plane of purgatory than the traditional fire and brimstone of hell, bit it’s an accessible underworld, nonetheless.
The Big Easy is home to not just one physical gateway to Guinee, but seven, scattered among various cemeteries and portions of the French Quarter. If you’re planning your itinerary, the first gate is said to be at the famous tomb of Marie Laveau and is most active on holidays such as New Year’s and Mardi Gras. Just don’t travel light, as each gate has a guardian that must be appeased with ritual offerings, and they’re said to be prone to anger. That’s understandable; guarding the land of the living from the souls of the dead is likely no easy task.