The 40 Most Colorful Places in the World


The Bich Dong Pagoda in Tam Coc. The surrounding area is rich in birdlife, but development is a threat.
Slide 1 of 41: How often do you think about color on a daily basis? Do you pay attention to it at work? On your commute? In your kid's room? It can be easy to overlook, but according to science, we may be more attentive to color when we visit somewhere new. It gives us a sharper eye on safari, or leaves us feeling calmer by those Santorini blues. All the more reason to travel, we say. Here, some of the most colorful places in the world, all guaranteed to brighten up a dreary winter day.
Slide 2 of 41: When charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in the earth’s atmosphere, countless bursts of light occur, creating the aurora borealis. In layman’s terms? Colorful lights dance across the sky, creating nature’s best show. This phenomenon can be seen in high-latitude regions nearest the Arctic and Antarctica,  in an array of colors from soft yellow to vibrant green to deep purple. Alaska, Greenland, Finland, Norway, and Canada are some of the best places to catch the aurora.
Get the shot: Though the phenomenon happens year round, the best time to see the Northern Lights is during winter or spring—specifically, December through April—when skies are darker and clearer. Head to areas with the least light pollution for the best photos, and be sure to turn your flash off.
Slide 3 of 41: The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest forest, with a massive footprint of more than two million square miles across nine countries in South America: Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana, and French Guiana. Its estimated 390 billion trees are credited with producing 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, earning the rainforest the nickname of “The Lungs of the World."
Get the shot: Hop on the flight from Lima to Iquitos, Peru and grab a window seat: the last hour of the flight delivers awe-inspiring views of the Amazon River from above. Once you’re there, head for an eco-lodge deeper in the jungle.
Slide 4 of 41: Situated on the banks of the Almendares River, the lush 700-hectare urban forest of Havana’s Metropolitan Park is a rare natural escape in the concrete-laden city. Colossal jaguey trees hold up curtains of rich green moss, and it’s not uncommon to spot Santería rituals taking place by the water’s edge.
Get the shot: Though there are ongoing revitalization efforts, the park lacks facilities—you can appreciate the view, without any of the downsides, by making a pit stop on a leisurely drive through. You’ll see other travelers in classic cars doing the same.
Slide 5 of 41: Some 175 miles northwest of Hanoi, these rice paddies in Vietnam’s isolated northern reaches have gained Instagram fame for their impressive angles in a topographically challenging region. Each year, the colors change from green (in late spring and summer) to yellow (in October) as the rice ripens.
Get the shot: Visit in the beginning of October, when the rice harvest begins, and stop by twice: once early in the morning before the crowds arrive, and a second time at sunset.
Slide 6 of 41: A mountainous region in northwest Scotland, the Highlands are known for their windswept beauty. Add in Outlander fandom (the Starz show was filmed across the country) and whisky distilleries, and it’s easy to see why the region has begun to feel the strain of tourists.
Get the shot: Drive the North Coast 500 road trip, which traverses the northern reaches of the Highlands and includes fairy-tale castles, beaches, and ruins. You'll get some of the best weather in May and June (as well as the most daylight).
Slide 7 of 41: This lush bamboo grove on the outskirts of Kyoto is not only a dizzying, peaceful respite from Japan’s often busy energy: In 1996, the Ministry of the Environment included the audio from here—wood creaking, leaves rustling—as one of the top 100 Soundscapes of Japan.
Get the shot: Arrive after 10 a.m. and you’ll run into the hordes. Go earlier, around 7:45 (thanks, jet lag!) and walk toward the sections in the back, which are the densest.
Slide 8 of 41: As we previously reported, the astronomical ceiling depicting a 2,500-star Mediterranean sky above Grand Central's Main Concourse draws admiration from most that pass under it, but it has some technical flaws that go unnoticed to the untrained eye: some constellations appear as they would from earth, for example, but most are backwards.
Get the shot: Grand Central, the world’s largest train terminal, is rarely empty, thanks to commuters that rush to and fro during the morning and evening. Best to go during late morning (around 10-11 a.m.) to take advantage of sunlight filtering through the large, arched windows.
Slide 9 of 41: The colorful city of Old San Juan is an Instagram darling, thanks to a harmonious blend of cobblestone streets, Spanish colonial architecture dating back to the 1500s, and vivid, Caribbean-inspired paint jobs. Despite Hurricane Maria’s destruction of much of the island in September 2017, this historic district was one of the first areas to bounce back. Now, less than two years later, you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of the hurricane, and Old San Juan remains Puerto Rico’s most popular destination.
Get the shot: The historic district is small and walkable, so explore on foot to get the best views of ornate, colorful buildings like these. Keep an eye out for Fortaleza Street, where an installation of hundreds of colorful umbrellas are strung overheard.
Slide 10 of 41: A chain of 26 atolls and more than 1,000 islands in the Indian Ocean, the Republic of Maldives is one of the most sought-after tropical destinations in the world. With world-renowned diving sites and resorts that are the definition of luxury, the country offers the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure. Add to that a true left-the-real-world-behind feeling, and you have yourself the vacation dreams are made of.
Get the shot: No image defines the Maldives quite as distinctly as a row of bungalows sitting over almost impossibly blue water. Do yourself (and your Instagram followers) a favor, and book an overwater suite at Niyama Private Islands Maldives or COMO Cocoa Island, where paradise waits literally right outside your front door.
Slide 11 of 41: The Blue Lagoon is otherworldly in appearance—black lava rock punctuated with milky blue waters, and steam billowing like clouds. The visual appeal is only part of the experience, however. A soak in the 100-degree water (which comes from the output of a nearby geothermal plant) is like a spa experience, with silica mud masks and mineral salts ensuring your skin will look—and feel—better than it did when you got there.
Get the shot: It's hard to get that perfect Instagram shot without a bunch of other tourists appearing somewhere in the background. To trick the world into thinking you had the entire pool to yourself, check into the Retreat at the Blue Lagoon: The 62-suite luxury hotel has a private swimming hole that's an extension of the Blue Lagoon, letting you enjoy those glowingly blue waters (mostly) free of other people.
Slide 12 of 41: Located about 60 miles off the coast of Belize, the Lighthouse Reef has beautiful coral and shallow turquoise waters—and a vertical drop that's more than 400 feet deep. Meet the Great Blue Hole, a 1,000-foot-wide, perfectly circular sinkhole in the middle of the atoll. Ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau helped make the spot famous in 1971, when he declared it one of the best diving sites on the planet.
Get the shot: While an aerial shot is enough to convince anyone of its beauty, scuba divers are the ones who get to experience the wonders that lie beneath—massive, 40-foot limestone stalactites and stalagmites that formed during the last glacial period. Go between January and March to avoid the rainy season, and beat the crowds by hiring a boat early in the morning, which you can take from nearby Ambergris Caye.
Slide 13 of 41: This tiny Andalusian town, about two hours south of Seville, hasn’t always been blue. In fact, the entirety of Júzcar was painted blue as part of a publicity stunt for The Smurfs movie in 2011, creating a real-life Smurf village in the Ronda mountains. Originally, the movie’s production studio said they would return the town to its original white, but the town voted to keep the blue. But as of 2017, after tens of thousands of tourists visited to see the blue town, it is no longer allowed to call itself home of the Smurfs, after a dispute with the tiny cartoon characters’ creator, The Telegraph reports.
Get the shot: Wander the cobblestone streets past blue churches, homes, and offices, or stop by the tiny mushroom building to pretend to be a Smurf yourself.
Slide 14 of 41: Want to see something crazy? Look no further than the massive ‘bergs in Antarctica, where these sharp-edged behemoths practically glow with iciness. And fortunately—at least according to one climate scientist—it’s still okay to make a pilgrimage to see them.
Get the shot: One of the best ways to see Antarctica (and its icebergs) is by boat, so a cruise may be the best way to go. Quark Expeditions, which readers voted one of the best small ship cruise lines during this year’s Readers’ Choice Awards, offers three cruises around the Antarctic Peninsula.
Slide 15 of 41: There’s a reason it’s called the Dead Sea; until at least 2010, scientists weren’t even sure whether the most miserly forms of life could exist in this body of water straddling Israel and Jordan. But it’s worth checking out anyway: its salinity is ten times that of most sea water—note the hunks of bright white salt clinging to its banks that you’d figure for ice, if it weren’t 90 degrees outside—meaning you can bounce above the electric blue waters.
Get the shot: This is a tourist hot spot, so you can expect to see droves of other bathers inching toward the shoreline, all belly-up. Regardless of the crowds, you’ll want to go during the day—otherwise, the water’s complexion, like a bottle of Cool Blue Gatorade, will be lost on you. (Another option is to head up to the fortification of Masada, which sits on a plateau above the sea and offers sweeping views.)
Slide 16 of 41: Humans have been soaking in the naturally formed travertine limestone pools since Roman times, and it’s now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The warm water trickles down the terraced stone pools, which draw their blue color from the sky’s reflection. (While not part of the salt pools, the Antique Pool in town is a must-see, filled with crystal clear water and downed Roman columns from centuries ago.)
Get the shot: A lot of visitors to Pamukkale are day-trippers coming from the coast and cruise ports, who don’t arrive until the afternoon, so come early to avoid the crowds and get a nearly empty photo. Try visiting in the spring, when the temperatures are still tolerable, the sun is out, and crowds aren’t at their full summer capacity.
Slide 17 of 41: While not easy to get to, this 15th-century fortress town in the Rif Mountains, about two hours south of Tangier, remains a popular draw for tourists. All of the buildings in and out of its medina are painted a dreamy sky blue—and sometimes, even the streets and the steps of the winding old town are as blue as the walls around them. Why blue? When Jewish refugees from Spain moved here in the 1930s, they brought with them their custom of coloring things blue to reflect the divine.
Get the shot: Turn any corner of Chefchaouen’s medina and you’re bound to find a jaw-dropping view of its blue buildings or the surrounding mountains. But for a view over the whole town, make the 20-minute hike up to the Grande Mosquée.
Slide 18 of 41: Structures like the Azadi Tower and Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge in Tehran have put Iran on every design lover's radar. But it's the ancient mosques of Isfahan that keep us coming back, with elaborate mosaics and hidden Persian gardens.
Get the shot: Shah Mosque (also known as Imam Mosque) is one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the city. Built in the 17th century, the sacred building is known for its Persian domes, marble columns, and, above all, intricate mosaics. The mosque's entrances and prayer halls are covered with hundred of thousands of blue tiles, punctuated with yellows and greens.
Slide 19 of 41: When you think of the Netherlands, you tend to think of tulips—vast fields filled with neat rows of the bulbs, in shades of blush, magenta, coral, and more. But if you want to take a different tack, look out for the grape hyacinths, instead. These bulbous, densely packed blooms resemble bunches of grapes, and they’re a fun, unexpected reprieve from the standard Holland to-do list.
Get the shot: You’ll get one of the best sightings of the perky, bluish-purple flowers at Lisse’s Keukenhof Park, in southern Holland. But, as one of the largest flower gardens in the world, the park heaves with tourists in the spring—especially since it’s only open between late March and late May. If you can, try to head to Keukenhof in the early evening, when the daytime crowds have tapered off. (And, hey—if you still want to see tulips, this place has a gobsmacking 800 varieties).
Slide 20 of 41: Out at California’s Mono Lake, the tufa towers are plentiful—and no, that’s not a line from Dr. Seuss. The lake has no outlet, which means that salt accumulates at high levels; and these calcium-carbonate structures, formed by the mingling of freshwater springs and the lake’s saline, alkaline waters, are the gnarly result. Perhaps better still, the area's distance from civilization and lack of plentiful trees makes it an excellent spot for stargazing—as you can see here.
Get the shot: It’s by no means a bad idea to head here during the day—that’s when you’ll see the clearest reflections of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range in the water. But swing by at sunset, and you’ll be treated to a spectacular show, when the sky swings from blue to fiery reds and pinks, landing at an inky, star-studded black.
Slide 21 of 41: The seemingly endless stretches of lavender make Provence one of the prettiest (and best-smelling) places in France. Distilleries—where the essential oil from the flowers are bottled or used to make soaps, lotions, and creams—dot the area, but the multitude of fields featuring unreal violet views are the real pride of Provence.
Get the shot: One of the most scenic spots to enjoy the flower fields is Sénanque Abbey, a twelfth-century church near the village of Gordes. The gentle heather-gray color of the abbey looks custom-made for its surroundings, particularly in the summer, when the acres around it bloom into a sea of purple.
Slide 22 of 41: Japan might be known for its pink cherry blossoms, but its purple wisteria trees bloom just as brilliantly for a few weeks every spring, turning parks and gardens around the country into a vision of pastel hues.
Get the shot: Located in the Kawachi Fuji Gardens in Kitakyushu (six hours outside of Tokyo), Japan's Insta-famous "wisteria tunnel" is straight out of a fairy tale. The best time to visit is in late April or early May, during the Fuji Matsuri, or “Wisteria Festival,” when the magical tunnel is in full bloom. (At any other time of year, you'll find bare branches instead of lush, purple flowers.)
Slide 23 of 41: Valley of Fire State Park is one of our recommended day trips from Las Vegas, and for good reason: The drive to the 40,000 acres of bright red sandstone, petrified trees, and petroglyphs from ancient civilizations takes just over an hour from Sin City.
Get the shot: Go early in the morning to beat the heat, and shell out for a guide to help you explore the inner-workings of the canyon.
Slide 24 of 41: The world is full of otherworldly bodies of water, from the green lakes of New Zealand to the technicolor hot springs of Yellowstone National Park. But the saltwater lake in Torrevieja, Spain is easily one of the most delightful, with a mixture of bacteria and algae giving the water a bubble-gum pink hue. And the lake isn't just for admiring from a distance—in fact, the water's high concentration of salt makes it a perfect place to float (you can even use the underlying mud as a makeshift spa treatment).
Get the shot: If the millennial pink lake is a little too trendy for you, try to sneak a flamingo or two into your photo. The birds frequent the lake to eat the algae-filled shrimp in the waters, giving their feathers a shade equally rosy to their surroundings.
Slide 25 of 41: It's not exactly easy to reach the Lofoten Islands, just off Norway's northwestern coast. But once you're there, you'll find beauty that is truly unparalleled: think colorful fishing villages, majestic fjords, and frozen beaches dotted with surfers.
Get the shot: One of Lofoten's biggest attractions are the painted fishing villages found all over the islands. The red and white wooden fishermen's huts (known as rerbuers) line the towns' waterfronts, and look particularly lovely with the sun setting in the distance.
Slide 26 of 41: On the northern border of Tanzania and Kenya, the deep-red Lake Natron is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. It’s high in salt content, is about 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and is extremely alkaline, so much so that its pH is about that of ammonia. The only beings that live within the lake are the red algae that thrive in the harsh conditions.
Get the shot: The other draw to Lake Natron is the world’s largest population of pink flamingos that lay eggs during the dry season—September to December—on the lake’s safer shores.
Slide 27 of 41: About a three-hour drive north from Chile’s San Pedro de Atacama, this salt lake in the shadow of the Andes has a similar story to Tanzania’s Lake Natron. Spanning 14,000 acres and just three feet deep, its waters are blood red due to its extreme alkalinity and the algae that thrive in its otherworldly heat. Like Lake Natron, too, Laguna Colorada is a hotbed for flamingos—specifically the rare, light pink James’s flamingos.
Get the shot: Flamingos (and the lake) look their best from December to April: the lake is full of water, making it more reflective for photos, and the birds are breeding. Be sure to try and catch the lake at sunset, when it’s at its reddest.
Slide 28 of 41: Named for its lunar landscape, the otherworldly Valle de la Luna in Chile’s Atacama Desert is known for a jagged range of wind-carved rocks. As the sun sets each evening, the change in light makes the rocks appear to change from pink to a deep red, just before the sky fills with some of the world’s best stargazing.
Get the shot: Most travelers go to Valle de la Luna for its spectacular sunsets. Go at sunrise to get a similar experience—without the crowds.
Slide 29 of 41: There’s a reason we picked Chengdu as one of our places to go in 2019: The Sichuanese capital is known for its contemporary culture and devotion to the Szechuan pepper, which writer Tom Parker Bowles called both “high art and base pleasure.” Its ancient red-themed streets—like the one pictured here—don’t hurt, either.
Get the shot: Head to Jinli Street in the evening to catch the sunset and see the red from the lanterns, which are most typically strung up during Chinese New Year (February).
Slide 30 of 41: The path to the inner shrine of Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari complex is lined with more than 10,000 red-orange gates, or toriis. Built close together, and engraved with the name of who donated them, the toriis form a story of colorful canopy for those walking to pay their respects to the inami, divine Shinto fox spirits. They are also a hugely popular background for social media posts, so the climb is often very crowded.
Get the shot: The shrine is open 24 hours and is just a few minutes walk from the Fushimi-Inari Station and Inari Stations. Incredibly popular with tourists, it’s best to come early in the morning, before 10 a.m., to get a semblance of quiet. The entire walk up to the main shrine is about two miles long.
Slide 31 of 41: This slot canyon, embedded deep in eastern Page, Arizona, by Lake Powell, actually comprises two parts: Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon (the former is also known as ‘The Crack,’ and the latter, as ‘The Corkscrew’). Shaped by erosion of the sandstone, the canyons exhibit swirling striations in the rock that’ll make you feel like you’re on the inside of a giant creamsicle.
Get the shot: Regardless of when you visit during the day, you’ll need to head out with a Navajo guide (the canyon sits on Navajo lands). But for optimal views of this nature-made marvel, check out Upper Antelope Canyon at midday: Like a cathedral, light pours into the slot canyon from above, illuminating the twisted, rust-red stone. The Upper portion is the only one to experience this phenomenon; it’s also more accessible, especially for those with mobility issues.
Slide 32 of 41: Jaipur may be nicknamed the “Pink City” for its painted buildings, but we’d place this is strictly terracotta territory on the color wheel. The city’s maharaja, Sawai Ram Singh II, ordered the buildings be painted an orangey-pink color in 1876 for a royal visit from Prince Albert and Queen Victoria; many buildings in the city’s old town remain painted this color today.
Get the shot: Head to the grand Hawa Mahal (attached to Jaipur’s also pink City Palace), the Patrika Gate at the Jawahar Circle Garden, and the entry to the Ganesh Pol at the Amber Fort for ultra-colorful photos.
Slide 33 of 41: Once a year on the twelfth full moon of the lunar calendar, the skies above Thailand fill with thousands of glowing orange paper lanterns for the Yi Peng festival. The moment of the lantern release is a way of letting go of the negative from the past year and inviting in the positive moving forward; look closely, and you’ll see many of the lanterns are scribbled with names and hand-written wishes.
Get the shot: Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand, is where the largest celebrations take place. The most spectacular view is usually at Mae Jo University’s release a few days earlier, though the roads along the Ping River on the full moon are a close second.
Slide 34 of 41: Talk about otherworldly: Aside from their, ahem, hot Cheeto coloring, these peaks in the Namib Desert are some of the highest dunes on earth, with the tallest, Dune 7, topping a staggering 1,256 feet.
Get the shot: Get started early in the morning, as this is when the dunes are their most photogenic, with one side glowing red and the other in the shadows. For a study in contrasts, head to Sossusvlei in Namib-Naukluft National Park, a dusty white salt and clay pan surrounded by towering rust-red dunes. In the neighboring clay pan of Deadvlei, dead, darkened camel thorn stumps—sometimes called ‘tree skeletons’—sit parched in the sun, lending the whole place a kind of post-apocalyptic feel.
Slide 35 of 41: One of the hottest places on earth thanks to volcanoes and geysers, Dallol, which sits on Ethiopia’s northern border with Eritrea, is best viewed from afar. The average annual temperature is 94 degrees Fahrenheit, and it routinely hits highs of 116 in the summer. The brilliant yellow, pictured here, is the result of sulphur and salt reacting.
Get the shot: Dallol’s “coolest” temps are between October and February; visit early in the morning to avoid peak heat. Go with a guide, and stay away from the water, which can reach up to 212 degrees.
Slide 36 of 41: Historically speaking, St. Petersburg is a colorful city—it was the country’s capital for more than 200 years, after all—and even its buildings follow suit. Until the October Revolution of 1917, the highly ornamented, uber-Baroque Winter Palace, with its multi-story colonnade and aqueous teal facade served as an official residence of the imperial family (though, the Romanovs moved out in 1905).
Get the shot: By day, the Winter Palace is decidedly not yellow—but if you want to see it in all its golden splendor, head there at night, when the entire complex is lit up with the help of three-bulb street lamps, and the light bounces off the stones of the surrounding square. (If you want to see a building that’s truly lemon-like during the day, head right across the square to the General Staff Building.)
Slide 37 of 41: There's no such thing as an unattractive season in Colorado, but we think autumn might just be the most spectacular. Starting in August, a gold rush takes over the aspen trees in Rocky Mountain National Park, working down to lower elevations in October (September is peak leaf-changing season). The tundra transitions from summer flowers to shades of russet, brown, and gold as the seasons change.
Get the shot: Kebler Pass connects Paonia (near Somerset) with Crested Butte to the east. Sitting at an altitude of about 10,000 feet, the 33-mile drive is an excellent way to take in those famously golden aspen leaves.
Slide 38 of 41: Located about an hour east of Mérida, Izamal is known  for its sunny, mustard yellow buildings. Nearly every building along the town’s cobblestone streets is a varying shade of yellow, from homes to the central market. There are also plenty of Mayan ruins, including the climbable Kinich Kakmó Pyramid, smack in the middle of town (these have fortunately not been painted yellow).
Get the shot: The Convento de San Antonio de Padua (pictured) is the most iconic yellow building in town. Built in 1561 by Spaniards, who used stones from the Mayan pyramid they destroyed on-site, the monastery is open every day of the week and has a small museum dedicated to Pope John Paul II’s visit in the ‘90s.
Slide 39 of 41: Also known as Dar al-Makhzen, the 17th-century palace is not open to visitors, but that doesn’t stop its seven golden gates from being heavily photographed. Each brass door is covered with an intricate pattern, which is then surrounded by colorful tilework and carved cedar wood.
Get the shot: Go early in the morning to avoid the heat, and to beat everyone else to the palace doors (though, if you go at peak times you’ll never wait very long).
Slide 40 of 41: It isn’t easy to get to China’s Luoping County, where the fields of canola (the plants that make the cooking oil of the same name) transform into a seemingly endless sea of yellow flowers. During the blooming season, the fields are also dotted with beekeepers, who set up apiaries for their bees to create honey from the canola flowers’ nectar.
Get the shot: The flowers bloom between February and March, but it’s a bit of a hike to see them: you’ll need to drive about 10 hours south of Chengdu. Buses also travel to Luoping from nearby Kunming.
Slide 41 of 41: The quaint Guatemalan city of Antigua is known for three iconic images: its colorful colonial architecture, the towering ring of volcanoes surrounding it, and that one, canary-yellow archway—right in its town center. Antigua’s most popular site, the Arco de Santa Catalina, sits on 5th Avenue North, where it once functioned as a secret passageway for cloistered nuns to walk unseen between two churches on opposite sides of the street.
Get the shot: On clear days, stand on the north side of the arch to see the towering Volcano de Agua peeking through it. Line your trip up with Semana Santa to see the city’s famous alfombras—intricate designs made of fresh flowers, fruit, and sand—laid out on the street in front of it.

How often do you think about color on a daily basis? Do you pay attention to it at work? On your commute? In your kid’s room? It can be easy to overlook, but according to science, we may be more attentive to color when we visit somewhere new. It gives us a sharper eye on safari, or leaves us feeling calmer by those Santorini blues. All the more reason to travel, we say. Here, some of the most colorful places in the world, all guaranteed to brighten up a dreary winter day.

Northern Lights, Manitoba

When charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in the earth’s atmosphere, countless bursts of light occur, creating the aurora borealis. In layman’s terms? Colorful lights dance across the sky, creating nature’s best show. This phenomenon can be seen in high-latitude regions nearest the Arctic and Antarctica, in an array of colors from soft yellow to vibrant green to deep purple. Alaska, Greenland, Finland, Norway, and Canada are some of the best places to catch the aurora.

Get the shot: Though the phenomenon happens year round, the best time to see the Northern Lights is during winter or spring—specifically, December through April—when skies are darker and clearer. Head to areas with the least light pollution for the best photos, and be sure to turn your flash off.

The Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest forest, with a massive footprint of more than two million square miles across nine countries in South America: Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana, and French Guiana. Its estimated 390 billion trees are credited with producing 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, earning the rainforest the nickname of “The Lungs of the World.”

Get the shot: Hop on the flight from Lima to Iquitos, Peru and grab a window seat: the last hour of the flight delivers awe-inspiring views of the Amazon River from above. Once you’re there, head for an eco-lodge deeper in the jungle.

Havana Metropolitan Park, Cuba

Situated on the banks of the Almendares River, the lush 700-hectare urban forest of Havana’s Metropolitan Park is a rare natural escape in the concrete-laden city. Colossal jaguey trees hold up curtains of rich green moss, and it’s not uncommon to spot Santería rituals taking place by the water’s edge.

Get the shot: Though there are ongoing revitalization efforts, the park lacks facilities—you can appreciate the view, without any of the downsides, by making a pit stop on a leisurely drive through. You’ll see other travelers in classic cars doing the same.

Mu Cang Chai Rice Terrace Fields, Vietnam

Some 175 miles northwest of Hanoi, these rice paddies in Vietnam’s isolated northern reaches have gained Instagram fame for their impressive angles in a topographically challenging region. Each year, the colors change from green (in late spring and summer) to yellow (in October) as the rice ripens.

Get the shot: Visit in the beginning of October, when the rice harvest begins, and stop by twice: once early in the morning before the crowds arrive, and a second time at sunset.

The Highlands, Scotland

A mountainous region in northwest Scotland, the Highlands are known for their windswept beauty. Add in Outlander fandom (the Starz show was filmed across the country) and whisky distilleries, and it’s easy to see why the region has begun to feel the strain of tourists.

Get the shot: Drive the North Coast 500 road trip, which traverses the northern reaches of the Highlands and includes fairy-tale castles, beaches, and ruins. You’ll get some of the best weather in May and June (as well as the most daylight).

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Japan

This lush bamboo grove on the outskirts of Kyoto is not only a dizzying, peaceful respite from Japan’s often busy energy: In 1996, the Ministry of the Environment included the audio from here—wood creaking, leaves rustling—as one of the top 100 Soundscapes of Japan.

Get the shot: Arrive after 10 a.m. and you’ll run into the hordes. Go earlier, around 7:45 (thanks, jet lag!) and walk toward the sections in the back, which are the densest.

Grand Central Terminal, New York

As we previously reported, the astronomical ceiling depicting a 2,500-star Mediterranean sky above Grand Central’s Main Concourse draws admiration from most that pass under it, but it has some technical flaws that go unnoticed to the untrained eye: some constellations appear as they would from earth, for example, but most are backwards.

Get the shot: Grand Central, the world’s largest train terminal, is rarely empty, thanks to commuters that rush to and fro during the morning and evening. Best to go during late morning (around 10-11 a.m.) to take advantage of sunlight filtering through the large, arched windows.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

The colorful city of Old San Juan is an Instagram darling, thanks to a harmonious blend of cobblestone streets, Spanish colonial architecture dating back to the 1500s, and vivid, Caribbean-inspired paint jobs. Despite Hurricane Maria’s destruction of much of the island in September 2017, this historic district was one of the first areas to bounce back. Now, less than two years later, you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of the hurricane, and Old San Juan remains Puerto Rico’s most popular destination.

Get the shot: The historic district is small and walkable, so explore on foot to get the best views of ornate, colorful buildings like these. Keep an eye out for Fortaleza Street, where an installation of hundreds of colorful umbrellas are strung overheard.

The Maldives

A chain of 26 atolls and more than 1,000 islands in the Indian Ocean, the Republic of Maldives is one of the most sought-after tropical destinations in the world. With world-renowned diving sites and resorts that are the definition of luxury, the country offers the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure. Add to that a true left-the-real-world-behind feeling, and you have yourself the vacation dreams are made of.

Get the shot: No image defines the Maldives quite as distinctly as a row of bungalows sitting over almost impossibly blue water. Do yourself (and your Instagram followers) a favor, and book an overwater suite at Niyama Private Islands Maldives or COMO Cocoa Island, where paradise waits literally right outside your front door.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

The Blue Lagoon is otherworldly in appearance—black lava rock punctuated with milky blue waters, and steam billowing like clouds. The visual appeal is only part of the experience, however. A soak in the 100-degree water (which comes from the output of a nearby geothermal plant) is like a spa experience, with silica mud masks and mineral salts ensuring your skin will look—and feel—better than it did when you got there.

Get the shot: It’s hard to get that perfect Instagram shot without a bunch of other tourists appearing somewhere in the background. To trick the world into thinking you had the entire pool to yourself, check into the Retreat at the Blue Lagoon: The 62-suite luxury hotel has a private swimming hole that’s an extension of the Blue Lagoon, letting you enjoy those glowingly blue waters (mostly) free of other people.

Great Blue Hole, Belize

Located about 60 miles off the coast of Belize, the Lighthouse Reef has beautiful coral and shallow turquoise waters—and a vertical drop that’s more than 400 feet deep. Meet the Great Blue Hole, a 1,000-foot-wide, perfectly circular sinkhole in the middle of the atoll. Ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau helped make the spot famous in 1971, when he declared it one of the best diving sites on the planet.

Get the shot: While an aerial shot is enough to convince anyone of its beauty, scuba divers are the ones who get to experience the wonders that lie beneath—massive, 40-foot limestone stalactites and stalagmites that formed during the last glacial period. Go between January and March to avoid the rainy season, and beat the crowds by hiring a boat early in the morning, which you can take from nearby Ambergris Caye.

Júzcar, Spain

This tiny Andalusian town, about two hours south of Seville, hasn’t always been blue. In fact, the entirety of Júzcar was painted blue as part of a publicity stunt for The Smurfs movie in 2011, creating a real-life Smurf village in the Ronda mountains. Originally, the movie’s production studio said they would return the town to its original white, but the town voted to keep the blue. But as of 2017, after tens of thousands of tourists visited to see the blue town, it is no longer allowed to call itself home of the Smurfs, after a dispute with the tiny cartoon characters’ creator, The Telegraph reports.

Get the shot: Wander the cobblestone streets past blue churches, homes, and offices, or stop by the tiny mushroom building to pretend to be a Smurf yourself.

Scotia Sea, Antarctica

Want to see something crazy? Look no further than the massive ‘bergs in Antarctica, where these sharp-edged behemoths practically glow with iciness. And fortunately—at least according to one climate scientist—it’s still okay to make a pilgrimage to see them.

Get the shot: One of the best ways to see Antarctica (and its icebergs) is by boat, so a cruise may be the best way to go. Quark Expeditions, which readers voted one of the best small ship cruise lines during this year’s Readers’ Choice Awards, offers three cruises around the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Dead Sea

There’s a reason it’s called the Dead Sea; until at least 2010, scientists weren’t even sure whether the most miserly forms of life could exist in this body of water straddling Israel and Jordan. But it’s worth checking out anyway: its salinity is ten times that of most sea water—note the hunks of bright white salt clinging to its banks that you’d figure for ice, if it weren’t 90 degrees outside—meaning you can bounce above the electric blue waters.

Get the shot: This is a tourist hot spot, so you can expect to see droves of other bathers inching toward the shoreline, all belly-up. Regardless of the crowds, you’ll want to go during the day—otherwise, the water’s complexion, like a bottle of Cool Blue Gatorade, will be lost on you. (Another option is to head up to the fortification of Masada, which sits on a plateau above the sea and offers sweeping views.)

Pamukkale, Turkey

Humans have been soaking in the naturally formed travertine limestone pools since Roman times, and it’s now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The warm water trickles down the terraced stone pools, which draw their blue color from the sky’s reflection. (While not part of the salt pools, the Antique Pool in town is a must-see, filled with crystal clear water and downed Roman columns from centuries ago.)

Get the shot: A lot of visitors to Pamukkale are day-trippers coming from the coast and cruise ports, who don’t arrive until the afternoon, so come early to avoid the crowds and get a nearly empty photo. Try visiting in the spring, when the temperatures are still tolerable, the sun is out, and crowds aren’t at their full summer capacity.

Chefchaouen, Morocco

While not easy to get to, this 15th-century fortress town in the Rif Mountains, about two hours south of Tangier, remains a popular draw for tourists. All of the buildings in and out of its medina are painted a dreamy sky blue—and sometimes, even the streets and the steps of the winding old town are as blue as the walls around them. Why blue? When Jewish refugees from Spain moved here in the 1930s, they brought with them their custom of coloring things blue to reflect the divine.

Get the shot: Turn any corner of Chefchaouen’s medina and you’re bound to find a jaw-dropping view of its blue buildings or the surrounding mountains. But for a view over the whole town, make the 20-minute hike up to the Grande Mosquée.

Shah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran

Structures like the Azadi Tower and Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge in Tehran have put Iran on every design lover’s radar. But it’s the ancient mosques of Isfahan that keep us coming back, with elaborate mosaics and hidden Persian gardens.

Get the shot: Shah Mosque (also known as Imam Mosque) is one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the city. Built in the 17th century, the sacred building is known for its Persian domes, marble columns, and, above all, intricate mosaics. The mosque’s entrances and prayer halls are covered with hundred of thousands of blue tiles, punctuated with yellows and greens.

Grape Hyacinths, the Netherlands

When you think of the Netherlands, you tend to think of tulips—vast fields filled with neat rows of the bulbs, in shades of blush, magenta, coral, and more. But if you want to take a different tack, look out for the grape hyacinths, instead. These bulbous, densely packed blooms resemble bunches of grapes, and they’re a fun, unexpected reprieve from the standard Holland to-do list.

Get the shot: You’ll get one of the best sightings of the perky, bluish-purple flowers at Lisse’s Keukenhof Park, in southern Holland. But, as one of the largest flower gardens in the world, the park heaves with tourists in the spring—especially since it’s only open between late March and late May. If you can, try to head to Keukenhof in the early evening, when the daytime crowds have tapered off. (And, hey—if you still want to see tulips, this place has a gobsmacking 800 varieties).

Mono Lake, California

Out at California’s Mono Lake, the tufa towers are plentiful—and no, that’s not a line from Dr. Seuss. The lake has no outlet, which means that salt accumulates at high levels; and these calcium-carbonate structures, formed by the mingling of freshwater springs and the lake’s saline, alkaline waters, are the gnarly result. Perhaps better still, the area’s distance from civilization and lack of plentiful trees makes it an excellent spot for stargazing—as you can see here.

Get the shot: It’s by no means a bad idea to head here during the day—that’s when you’ll see the clearest reflections of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range in the water. But swing by at sunset, and you’ll be treated to a spectacular show, when the sky swings from blue to fiery reds and pinks, landing at an inky, star-studded black.

Provence, France

The seemingly endless stretches of lavender make Provence one of the prettiest (and best-smelling) places in France. Distilleries—where the essential oil from the flowers are bottled or used to make soaps, lotions, and creams—dot the area, but the multitude of fields featuring unreal violet views are the real pride of Provence.

Get the shot: One of the most scenic spots to enjoy the flower fields is Sénanque Abbey, a twelfth-century church near the village of Gordes. The gentle heather-gray color of the abbey looks custom-made for its surroundings, particularly in the summer, when the acres around it bloom into a sea of purple.

Kawachi Fuji Gardens, Kitakyushu, Japan

Japan might be known for its pink cherry blossoms, but its purple wisteria trees bloom just as brilliantly for a few weeks every spring, turning parks and gardens around the country into a vision of pastel hues.

Get the shot: Located in the Kawachi Fuji Gardens in Kitakyushu (six hours outside of Tokyo), Japan’s Insta-famous “wisteria tunnel” is straight out of a fairy tale. The best time to visit is in late April or early May, during the Fuji Matsuri, or “Wisteria Festival,” when the magical tunnel is in full bloom. (At any other time of year, you’ll find bare branches instead of lush, purple flowers.)

Valley of Fire, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park is one of our recommended day trips from Las Vegas, and for good reason: The drive to the 40,000 acres of bright red sandstone, petrified trees, and petroglyphs from ancient civilizations takes just over an hour from Sin City.

Get the shot: Go early in the morning to beat the heat, and shell out for a guide to help you explore the inner-workings of the canyon.

Las Salinas de Torrevieja, Spain

The world is full of otherworldly bodies of water, from the green lakes of New Zealand to the technicolor hot springs of Yellowstone National Park. But the saltwater lake in Torrevieja, Spain is easily one of the most delightful, with a mixture of bacteria and algae giving the water a bubble-gum pink hue. And the lake isn’t just for admiring from a distance—in fact, the water’s high concentration of salt makes it a perfect place to float (you can even use the underlying mud as a makeshift spa treatment).

Get the shot: If the millennial pink lake is a little too trendy for you, try to sneak a flamingo or two into your photo. The birds frequent the lake to eat the algae-filled shrimp in the waters, giving their feathers a shade equally rosy to their surroundings.

Lofoten Islands, Norway

It’s not exactly easy to reach the Lofoten Islands, just off Norway’s northwestern coast. But once you’re there, you’ll find beauty that is truly unparalleled: think colorful fishing villages, majestic fjords, and frozen beaches dotted with surfers.

Get the shot: One of Lofoten’s biggest attractions are the painted fishing villages found all over the islands. The red and white wooden fishermen’s huts (known as rerbuers) line the towns’ waterfronts, and look particularly lovely with the sun setting in the distance.

Lake Natron, Tanzania

On the northern border of Tanzania and Kenya, the deep-red Lake Natron is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. It’s high in salt content, is about 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and is extremely alkaline, so much so that its pH is about that of ammonia. The only beings that live within the lake are the red algae that thrive in the harsh conditions.

Get the shot: The other draw to Lake Natron is the world’s largest population of pink flamingos that lay eggs during the dry season—September to December—on the lake’s safer shores.

Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

About a three-hour drive north from Chile’s San Pedro de Atacama, this salt lake in the shadow of the Andes has a similar story to Tanzania’s Lake Natron. Spanning 14,000 acres and just three feet deep, its waters are blood red due to its extreme alkalinity and the algae that thrive in its otherworldly heat. Like Lake Natron, too, Laguna Colorada is a hotbed for flamingos—specifically the rare, light pink James’s flamingos.

Get the shot: Flamingos (and the lake) look their best from December to April: the lake is full of water, making it more reflective for photos, and the birds are breeding. Be sure to try and catch the lake at sunset, when it’s at its reddest.

Valley of the Moon, Chile

Named for its lunar landscape, the otherworldly Valle de la Luna in Chile’s Atacama Desert is known for a jagged range of wind-carved rocks. As the sun sets each evening, the change in light makes the rocks appear to change from pink to a deep red, just before the sky fills with some of the world’s best stargazing.

Get the shot: Most travelers go to Valle de la Luna for its spectacular sunsets. Go at sunrise to get a similar experience—without the crowds.

Chengdu, China

There’s a reason we picked Chengdu as one of our places to go in 2019: The Sichuanese capital is known for its contemporary culture and devotion to the Szechuan pepper, which writer Tom Parker Bowles called both “high art and base pleasure.” Its ancient red-themed streets—like the one pictured here—don’t hurt, either.

Get the shot: Head to Jinli Street in the evening to catch the sunset and see the red from the lanterns, which are most typically strung up during Chinese New Year (February).

Fushimi Inari Taisha, Japan

The path to the inner shrine of Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari complex is lined with more than 10,000 red-orange gates, or toriis. Built close together, and engraved with the name of who donated them, the toriis form a story of colorful canopy for those walking to pay their respects to the inami, divine Shinto fox spirits. They are also a hugely popular background for social media posts, so the climb is often very crowded.

Get the shot: The shrine is open 24 hours and is just a few minutes walk from the Fushimi-Inari Station and Inari Stations. Incredibly popular with tourists, it’s best to come early in the morning, before 10 a.m., to get a semblance of quiet. The entire walk up to the main shrine is about two miles long.

Antelope Canyon, Utah

This slot canyon, embedded deep in eastern Page, Arizona, by Lake Powell, actually comprises two parts: Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon (the former is also known as ‘The Crack,’ and the latter, as ‘The Corkscrew’). Shaped by erosion of the sandstone, the canyons exhibit swirling striations in the rock that’ll make you feel like you’re on the inside of a giant creamsicle.

Get the shot: Regardless of when you visit during the day, you’ll need to head out with a Navajo guide (the canyon sits on Navajo lands). But for optimal views of this nature-made marvel, check out Upper Antelope Canyon at midday: Like a cathedral, light pours into the slot canyon from above, illuminating the twisted, rust-red stone. The Upper portion is the only one to experience this phenomenon; it’s also more accessible, especially for those with mobility issues.

Jaipur, India

Jaipur may be nicknamed the “Pink City” for its painted buildings, but we’d place this is strictly terracotta territory on the color wheel. The city’s maharaja, Sawai Ram Singh II, ordered the buildings be painted an orangey-pink color in 1876 for a royal visit from Prince Albert and Queen Victoria; many buildings in the city’s old town remain painted this color today.

Get the shot: Head to the grand Hawa Mahal (attached to Jaipur’s also pink City Palace), the Patrika Gate at the Jawahar Circle Garden, and the entry to the Ganesh Pol at the Amber Fort for ultra-colorful photos.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Once a year on the twelfth full moon of the lunar calendar, the skies above Thailand fill with thousands of glowing orange paper lanterns for the Yi Peng festival. The moment of the lantern release is a way of letting go of the negative from the past year and inviting in the positive moving forward; look closely, and you’ll see many of the lanterns are scribbled with names and hand-written wishes.

Get the shot: Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand, is where the largest celebrations take place. The most spectacular view is usually at Mae Jo University’s release a few days earlier, though the roads along the Ping River on the full moon are a close second.

Namib Sand Dunes, Namibia

Talk about otherworldly: Aside from their, ahem, hot Cheeto coloring, these peaks in the Namib Desert are some of the highest dunes on earth, with the tallest, Dune 7, topping a staggering 1,256 feet.

Get the shot: Get started early in the morning, as this is when the dunes are their most photogenic, with one side glowing red and the other in the shadows. For a study in contrasts, head to Sossusvlei in Namib-Naukluft National Park, a dusty white salt and clay pan surrounded by towering rust-red dunes. In the neighboring clay pan of Deadvlei, dead, darkened camel thorn stumps—sometimes called ‘tree skeletons’—sit parched in the sun, lending the whole place a kind of post-apocalyptic feel.

Dallol, Ethiopia

One of the hottest places on earth thanks to volcanoes and geysers, Dallol, which sits on Ethiopia’s northern border with Eritrea, is best viewed from afar. The average annual temperature is 94 degrees Fahrenheit, and it routinely hits highs of 116 in the summer. The brilliant yellow, pictured here, is the result of sulphur and salt reacting.

Get the shot: Dallol’s “coolest” temps are between October and February; visit early in the morning to avoid peak heat. Go with a guide, and stay away from the water, which can reach up to 212 degrees.

Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

Historically speaking, St. Petersburg is a colorful city—it was the country’s capital for more than 200 years, after all—and even its buildings follow suit. Until the October Revolution of 1917, the highly ornamented, uber-Baroque Winter Palace, with its multi-story colonnade and aqueous teal facade served as an official residence of the imperial family (though, the Romanovs moved out in 1905).

Get the shot: By day, the Winter Palace is decidedly not yellow—but if you want to see it in all its golden splendor, head there at night, when the entire complex is lit up with the help of three-bulb street lamps, and the light bounces off the stones of the surrounding square. (If you want to see a building that’s truly lemon-like during the day, head right across the square to the General Staff Building.)

Kebler Pass, Colorado

There’s no such thing as an unattractive season in Colorado, but we think autumn might just be the most spectacular. Starting in August, a gold rush takes over the aspen trees in Rocky Mountain National Park, working down to lower elevations in October (September is peak leaf-changing season). The tundra transitions from summer flowers to shades of russet, brown, and gold as the seasons change.

Get the shot: Kebler Pass connects Paonia (near Somerset) with Crested Butte to the east. Sitting at an altitude of about 10,000 feet, the 33-mile drive is an excellent way to take in those famously golden aspen leaves.

Izamal, Mexico

Located about an hour east of Mérida, Izamal is known for its sunny, mustard yellow buildings. Nearly every building along the town’s cobblestone streets is a varying shade of yellow, from homes to the central market. There are also plenty of Mayan ruins, including the climbable Kinich Kakmó Pyramid, smack in the middle of town (these have fortunately not been painted yellow).

Get the shot: The Convento de San Antonio de Padua (pictured) is the most iconic yellow building in town. Built in 1561 by Spaniards, who used stones from the Mayan pyramid they destroyed on-site, the monastery is open every day of the week and has a small museum dedicated to Pope John Paul II’s visit in the ‘90s.

Royal Palace, Fez, Morocco

Also known as Dar al-Makhzen, the 17th-century palace is not open to visitors, but that doesn’t stop its seven golden gates from being heavily photographed. Each brass door is covered with an intricate pattern, which is then surrounded by colorful tilework and carved cedar wood.

Get the shot: Go early in the morning to avoid the heat, and to beat everyone else to the palace doors (though, if you go at peak times you’ll never wait very long).

Luosi Field, Luoping, China

It isn’t easy to get to China’s Luoping County, where the fields of canola (the plants that make the cooking oil of the same name) transform into a seemingly endless sea of yellow flowers. During the blooming season, the fields are also dotted with beekeepers, who set up apiaries for their bees to create honey from the canola flowers’ nectar.

Get the shot: The flowers bloom between February and March, but it’s a bit of a hike to see them: you’ll need to drive about 10 hours south of Chengdu. Buses also travel to Luoping from nearby Kunming.

Arco de Santa Catalina, Antigua, Guatemala

The quaint Guatemalan city of Antigua is known for three iconic images: its colorful colonial architecture, the towering ring of volcanoes surrounding it, and that one, canary-yellow archway—right in its town center. Antigua’s most popular site, the Arco de Santa Catalina, sits on 5th Avenue North, where it once functioned as a secret passageway for cloistered nuns to walk unseen between two churches on opposite sides of the street.

Get the shot: On clear days, stand on the north side of the arch to see the towering Volcano de Agua peeking through it. Line your trip up with Semana Santa to see the city’s famous alfombras—intricate designs made of fresh flowers, fruit, and sand—laid out on the street in front of it.

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