There are plenty of places you can visit that are named as portals to Hades for one reason or another. It could be that they are really scary, or have a legend behind them, or someone thought that title would be good for tourism. And they were right! “The Gates of Hell” are found all over the world: Greece, Iceland, China, Italy, the US, Turkey, Ireland, Japan, and in Belize, as pictured above. This location has a truly terrifying history.
There is a cave network located in modern-day Belize, which the Mayans believed was an entrance to their underworld: Xibalba.
The name Actun Tunichil Muknal translates as "Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre." Extensive research has linked the site, located in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, to ancient Mayan legends. These stories described rivers of blood and scorpions, and a vast subterranean labyrinth ruled over by the Mayan death gods, the demonic "Lords of Xibalba."
Since their rediscovery in 1989, the caves of Actun Tunichil Muknal have become a popular destination for explorers. There are numerous landmarks that make this network particularly interesting, including a vast chamber of stalactites known as the "Cathedral."
Amongst scattered fragments of pottery and bone, one of the more notable discoveries is the skeleton of an 18-year-old girl. Believed to have been ritualistically murdered in the cave as a sacrifice to the Death Gods, she has been nicknamed the "Crystal Maiden"; over the 1,000 years since her death, her bones have calcified to create a shimmering, crystal effect.
She’s not the only human sacrifice still visible in Actun Tunichil Muknal. Read more about it, and ten other places known as the gates of hell (not all of them as scary), at Atlas Obscura. This article is part of their 31 Days of Halloween series they do every year.
(Image credit: Peter Andersen)