26 Places So Colorful You Won't Believe They're Real

By Allie Goolrick & Simone M. Scully
Published: September 13, 2014

1. Caño Cristales, Colombia

Sometimes, a little pop of color (or a lot!) is all a place needs to give off an air of cheer. These amazing spots around the globe range from natural wonders so colorful they look surreal to cities and towns who've used vibrant color to stand out from the urban landscape or add a touch of whimsy. The one thing they have in common? No Photoshop here! These 25 color-drenched locals are all one-of-a-kind feasts for the eyes.

First up? The Caño Cristales river in Colombia. 

In Colombia, there is a river that, for just a few weeks every year, bursts into vibrant color. The phenomenon has earned the Caño Cristales river such nicknames as “the river of five colors,”the river than ran away from paradise” and the “liquid rainbow.”

This beautiful flare-up of color occurs between the wet and dry season (usually for a few weeks between September and November), according to Amusing Planet. It is caused by an endemic aquatic plant, called Macarenia clavigera, which, when the sunlight and water levels are just right, turns vibrant colors, reports The BBC. The plant most commonly turns a shade of red (from pale pink to dark red) but it has been seen in blue, yellow, orange and green as well.

Caño Cristales is located in a remote, isolated area of the Serrania de la Macarena national park, just east of the Andes. The site was closed to tourists for years because of guerrilla activity in the region, reports Atlas Obscura, but it was opened to tourists in 2009. Today, visitors can fly into the nearby town of La Macarena and travel to the river on horseback or by foot as part of a guided tour. 

2. Burano Islands, Italy

This cheery fishing village, located on the same lagoon as the famously romantic canal town (about 4 miles to the north of Venice), was likely settled during Roman times. Its four islands are linked by bridges and like Venice, canals wind through the narrow city streets.

(MORE: Pitcairn Island, Population 48)

Legend has it that fishermen started painting their houses in bright colors so that they could differentiate their homes from the water — but now, even houses on inland streets are brightly painted. Residents in the artsy community aren't allowed to give their house a makeover at will: The colors follow a specific system. Residents can only repaint in colors that are permitted for each lot and must request to make the change with the local government.

3. Morning Glory Pool, Yellowstone

This odd natural wonder looks sort of like a strange portal to another dimension, but the vivid rings of color in Morning Glory Pool have a scientific explanation: The different shades are actually created by bacteria in the water. The hot springs, which sometimes erupts as a geyser after earthquakes, was originally named Convolutus, Latin for morning glory, because of its resemblance to the flower.

Unfortunately, because Morning Glory Pool is such a hot spot for tourists, pollution has been a major issue in recent years. As pretty as the colors are, trash buildup in the geyser is responsible for the pool's yellow ring, which is made up of bacteria that is unable to escape.

4. St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

The colorful port city of St. John's is the capital and biggest city in Newfoundland and Labrador and is considered to be one of the oldest settlements in North America. The brightly-hued Victorian row houses that line St. John's narrow streets are known affectionately as "Jellybean Row."

Rumor has it that the houses are painted in vivid colors to brighten up the city's natural foggy landscape, but really, it was a project spearheaded by the St. John’s Heritage Foundation in the 1970s that inspired the way the houses are painted today.

5. Chefchaouen, Morocco

It's hard to tell exactly where the picturesque village of Chefchaouen in northeastern Morocco ends and the sky begins. Nestled at the base of the Rif Mountains, this quintessential Moroccan town has an old-world charm and an ethereal feel. Narrow, cobbled lanes bathed in blue wind through to the village's medina, the walled city center typical in North African cities. Vendors are on hand to sell hand-woven baskets, pottery, bags and Moroccan slippers and aromatic culinary offerings beckon from the many cafes.

Aside from being downright beautiful, there is a religious basis for the blue wash: in the 1930s, Jewish refugees in Chefchaouen painting the buildings blue to symbolize Heaven

6. Martinique, Caribbean

Often called the "Isle of Flowers," this French island in the Caribbean has just about everything in the way of visual pleasures: turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, exotic plants and animals and the jungle landscape of the volcanic Mont Pelée, which towers over the island. Martinique, once known as Madinina (Isle of flowers), is made up of tropical forests and savannas that are home to a wide variety of colorful flora.

Christopher Columbus was the first to stumble upon the island in 1502 but it was claimed by France in 1635. These days, Martinique is part of the European Union but has a lot of Caribbean Creole influences. So if you love both croissants and jungle flowers, this is the place to plan your next vacation.

7. Zhangye Danxia, Southwest China

Some of the most amazingly colorful spots on earth needed got a hefty boost from Mother Nature.

Known commonly as the "Rainbow Mountains," the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park looks something like the ubiquitous bottles of colored sand we all probably created at childhood carnivals. The mountains' dramatically-hued stripes were created by layers of mineral and rock being buckled by shifting tectonic plates over millions of years. The vivid red striations are likely made up of the mineral hematite and red sandstone, the yellows by sand and clay.

Declared a World Heritage Site in 2010, Zhangye has become a popular tourist destination and is considered by many to be the Grand Canyon of China.

8. Tulip Fields, Anna Paulowna, Netherlands

Holland's affinity for tulips has led to the country being affectionately called the "flower shop of the world." Every year, come spring, the country's tulip fields turn into multi-colored rainbows, which are a hugely popular tourist attraction.

The colorful blooms were first introduced to the country in the 16th century and became wildly popular during the Dutch Golden Age. These days, more than three billion tulips are grown each year in several different bulb-growing regions.

To see the tulips in their full glory though you have to get the timing right: Depending on the weather, the tulips only bloom from mid-march until mid-may, but the colors are usually the most vibrant in mid-April.

9. Hani Rice Terraces, China

From above, Hani's rice terraces look like stunning abstract paintings, but they are much more than just pleasing to the eye. The terraces are a remarkable example of people working in harmony with nature.

Located in the mountains above Yuanyang in southwest China, the terraces have been cultivated by the Hani people for at least 1,300 years. A complex system of channels brings water from the mountaintops to the narrow terraces below, according to UNESCO, who designated the area as a World Heritage Site in 2013.

The terrace span four counties and incorporate 82 villages where workers live.

10. Salt Ponds, Newark, Calif.

These bodies of water may look like someone crashed a food-coloring barge, but the colors on the salt flats near San Francisco Bay were caused by a combination of salt, water, algae, shrimp and bacteria.

At the Cargill salt plant site in Newark, Calif., salt evaporation ponds are used to extract salt from sea brine, which eventually ends up on your dinner table. The company pumps a mix of fresh and saltwater from San Francisco Bay through thousands of acres of ponds where the sun evaporates the water and leaves the salt to crystallize.

The green and yellow hues are produced by algae and the red comes from a tannin that comes off of brine shrimp that are native to those waters.

11. Fly Geyser, Gerlach, Nevada

This alien-like structure has a pretty strange origin story: Nevada's Fly Geyser formed when a poorly-capped well continued to spew layers of minerals over a hundred-year span. Those minerals, along with thermophilic algae, have piled up to create the multi-hued, strangely-shaped mound, which is 5 feet tall but will continue to grow and change shape over time. The geyser discharges water into nearly 40 pools over 74 acres.

Unfortunately, Fly Geyser is on private property, but its large enough to be visible from the road.

12. Reed Flute Cave, China

Brilliantly colored lights now illuminate the inside of China's Reed Flute Cave, which has been a popular tourists attraction in Guilin, Guangxi, China for over 1,200 years. The cave gets its name from a type of reed that grows outside that can be carved into melodious flutes.

The cave itself was naturally carved into the limestone and the stalactites, stalagmites, pillars and rock formations are made to look all the more surreal by the lighting. If you look close, you may be able to spot a few of the more than 70 inscriptions written in ink that date back to the Tang Dynasty (729 AD).

13. Lavender Fields, Provence, France

The famed lavender fields of Provence, France are not only stunning in their pastoral beauty, they smell delightfully sweet as well.  Lavender fields bloom from mid June to mid August, depending on the rainfall. The herb is grown for its essential oil, which is used in perfume, aromatherapy, for medicinal purposes and occasionally for cooking.

Many of Provence's lavender distilleries are open year-round and several lavender farms are also open for tourists. Lavender is such a celebrated industry in Provence that there's even a museum dedicated to the herb, the Musée de la Lavande.

14. Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera is a collection of five seaside fishing towns that hug the cliffs that rise above the Ligurian Sea. In the villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, picturesque cafes, shops and dwellings are built seamlessly into the rocky terrain that juts out over the ocean. Behind the cluster buildings, cliffs give way to terraced agricultural hillsides.

Between classic Italian buildings drenched in various shades of corals and pastels, the lush green of the mountains and the bright blue-green of the sea, Cinque Terre hardly seems real. Its no surprise that the region has is a wildly popular tourist destination, but it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site because the region is a cultural landscape of great scenic and cultural value.

15. Red Beach, China

Though it is more of a wetland than a traditional sandy beach, Red Beach in Panjin puts on a spectacular display of fall color. The 1.4 million-acre nature preserve, which is about 300 miles northeast of Beijing, is home to a a unique variety of seaweed that turns from green bright red in September.

Aside from its stunning color, Red Beach is home to more than 260 kinds of birds and nearly 400 animals and is located within the biggest wetland and reed marsh in the world, making it an important nature preserve.

16. La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

La Boca is a small neighborhood in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires with a very distinct personality. The most well-known part of La Boca is the Caminito, a walking district that inspired the music to a popular Argentine tango of the same name in 1926.

The colors came later: In 1960, local La Boca artist Benito Quinquela Martín created a colorful performance space out of an abandoned alley that became an artists' haven. Nowadays, the cobblestone streets, brightly painted houses and artist studios are wildly popular with tourists. Tango is also still king: Open-air dances are a staple of outdoor cafes.

17. Longyearbyen, Norway

Lonyearbyen makes our list because of its creative use of color to spice up an otherwise fairly bleak landscape. In Longyearbyen, which was originally a coal-mining settlement and is the northermost town on the planet, the sun doesn't rise for four months out of the year. Perhaps that's why the town is dotted with cheerily painted houses, which give a much-needed dose of color during the long winter months.

There are lots of strange quirks to living in the edge of the world. Longyearbyen boasts the world’s northernmost restaurant, church, ATM, post office, museum, commercial airport and university. The town has no connecting roads, so most of the 2,000 or so residents use snowmobiles to travel. Most residents carry shotguns at all times for the inevitable polar bear encounter. One of the strangest details? Residents can't be buried in town the permafrost is too frozen to dig up.

There are some perks as well: The area is rich in wildlife. The reindeer are said to be so docile that they routinely wander about town.

18. Santorini, Greece

From its classically whitewashed buildings with "Santorini blue" roofs to its dramatic views of the Aegean Sea, this Greek paradise is undoubtedly one of the most popular islands on Earth. But one of the most colorful? While the fabled isle is populated mostly buildings dressed in a uniform of gleaming white, Santorini makes our list in part because of the stunning colors of the natural landscape.

The island boasts beaches in black, white and red pebbles, the surrounding volcanic cliffs range from red, brown to green, and of course, there's the stunning blue-green of the Mediterranean sea.

19. The Tri-Colored Lakes of Kelimutu, Indonesia

The Kelimutu volcano in Indonesia is home to three crater lakes so stunning in color that they've built up a special lore: locals believe the spirits of their ancestors go to rest in one of the three lakes based on what they have done on Earth.

Tiwu Ata Mbupu, which translates to “Lake of Old People,” looks brown or sometimes red and is said to be the resting place of people who have grown old and led virtuous lives. Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai or the “Lake of Young Men and Maidens,” is a stunning shade of Kelly green and is the eternal home of young spirits. Sharing the same crater wall, Tiwu Ata Polo, or “Bewitched or Enchanted Lake,” is a darker shade of green or teal blue and is the resting place of the wicked.

Despite locals belief that spirits cause the varied colors, scientists think they are likely due to chemical reactions between the minerals in the lakes and volcanic gas from Kelimutu.

20. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

One of the most remarkable natural wonders on earth, Australia's Great Barrier Reef is home to a stunning array of plant and animal life in a rainbow of colors. The world's largest collection of coral reefs has 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc, according to UNESCO, who named it a World Heritage Site in 1981.

The best way to visit the Great Barrier Reef is with flippers and a wetsuit: Scuba diving and snorkeling allow up-close-and-personal encounters with some of the most stunning creatures on Earth.

21. Dubai Miracle Garden, Dubai

Dubai just likes to do everything big. The Miracle Garden is the world's biggest natural flower garden at a whopping 72,000 square feet foot and showcasing more than 45 million flowers in an otherwise arid climate. The gardens' flower beds, along with topiary in the shapes of hearts, stars, igloos and other delights are maintained by a complex irrigation system, the Telegraph reports. We can only imagine how many proposals happen at this romantic attraction.

22. Holi Festival, Worldwide

Holi Festival is the only addition to our list that isn't limited by place. Though the spring festival of colors is most popular in Nepal and and India, it's not hard to believe that a celebration that involves dousing participants with powdered paint, shooting paint-filled water guns and tossing paint-filled water balloons has grown in popularity in Asia.

This ancient festival served as inspiration for our modern-day color runs, but it actually has religious origins: The annual spring festival of colors and love is an ancient Hindu tradition.

23. Keukenhof Park, Lisse, The Netherlands

Keikenhof Park gives tulip-aficianados a slightly different way to enjoy Holland's favorite flower — but also enjoy a large variety of other types of flowers from around the world as well. And when we say "large variety," we mean more than 7 million types of flowers that are planted every year.  

Unlike the long tulip beds that many tourists flock to see in the spring in Holland, the garden is divided into themed sections including a winding English landscape garden, a historical garden featuring heirloom bulbs, a Japanese country garden and a natural garden. If you want to visit, you'll have to plan carefully: The garden is open for only about three weeks from mid-March to mid-May.

24. Kliluk Spotted Lake, British Columbia, Canada

This strange lake looks like something out of a Dr. Suess book, but there's a much more scientific explanation. The lake is teeming with a high concentration of various kinds of minerals, which bubble up at various times and form spots on the lake's surface. Depending on which minerals are present, the spots can appear white, pale yellow, green or blue in color. The water in the lake dries up in the summer, leaving different colored deposits of minerals behind.

25. Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand, India

It's hard to imagine coming upon a lush Alpine forest in the middle of India, but the Valley of Flowers in West Himalaya feels like a scene straight out of the Sound of Music. The National Park is home to gorgeous Alpine flowers and all sorts of native wildlife including bears, deer, sheep ... and snow leopards. Though the valley has been visited by Hindus for over a century, the park was largely inaccessible and unknown to the outside world until the 1930s when two British mountaineers stumbled upon a valley full of flowers and gave it a name. The area has since been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

26. Favela Santa Maria, Rio de Janeiro

This amazing art project in Rio de Janeiro's Favela Santa Maria set out to prove that art can inspire positive change in communities. In 2010, two Dutch artists decided to turn one of the city's most oppressive slums into a rainbow-hued art project that employed local youth and breathed new life into a suffering neighborhood. After making a documentary on Brazilian hip hop for MTV, artists Haas&Hahn (Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn) were inspired to turn 34 houses in Favela Santa Maria into a giant canvas, reports the Obsessive Imagist.

The nonprofit Favela Painting Project is still at work today, "mobilizing people to transform their own communities into social art works of monumental size, to beautify and inspire, combat prejudice and attract positive attention, while offering opportunity and economic stimulus."

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