If you saw a photograph of any of these colorful places, you’d think it was heavily edited. Can anywhere really have colors so bright and vibrant? These seven places are naturally vivid—but you may have to visit to believe it.
Rainbow Mountains, China
Formed millions of years ago by layers of sandstone and minerals, the mountains of Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park might just be the most colorful mountains in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is well-preserved, thanks to elevated viewing platforms and paths that keep visitors off of the mountains themselves.
Where to Stay: Zhangye is the closest town to the geological park. Stay at the 5-star Jinyang International Hotel and hire a driver to take you to the Rainbow Mountains.
Lake Natron, Tanzania
Lake Natron looks like a pool of fire due to haloarchaea, microorganisms that turn the lake’s waters red. The more than two million flamingos that breed here add pops of pink color to the scene. Lake Natron may be among the most colorful places in the world, but it’s not an ideal spot to go for a dip: The water here has a pH of around 10.5, which is nearly as high as ammonia.
Where to Stay: Sleep comfortably in the wilderness in one of the luxury tents at Lake Natron Tented Camp.
Painted Desert, Arizona
The undulating landscape of the Painted Desert looks like it’s been carefully brushed with every shade of the rainbow, but the unique shades of this colorful place are actually caused by deposits of clay and sandstone. To see the colors at their most spectacular, time your visit around sunset, when the rocks reflect the setting light in a fiery glow.
Lake Hillier, Australia
Australia is spoiled for colorful places—so much so that its tourism website has an entire section devoted to the country’s pink lakes. Lake Hillier, located on Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago, is the most famous of the bubblegum-colored waters. Scientists still don’t know exactly why the lake has such a unique color (although they believe it may be due to microaglage). Lake Hillier and Middle Island are reserved for research, so the best way to view this spectacle is on a scenic flight.
Where to Stay: Esperance, on the western coast of Australia, is the closest place to stay to Lake Hillier. The Jetty Resort is right on the water and makes a good stopping point before your scenic flight.
Havasupai Falls, Grand Canyon
Havasupai translates to “people of the blue-green waters,” and once you lay eyes upon the brilliantly turquoise Havasu Creek, you’ll understand why. Hidden deep in the heart of the Grand Canyon, the bright blue waters of the creek spill over a cliff as Havasupai Falls, filling up a temptingly colored pool that entices swimmers to cool off in the desert heat.
Where to Stay: Havasupai Falls isn’t easy to get to. It’s a 10-mile hike each way, and day hikers are not permitted. You’ll have to be lucky enough to snag a campground reservation (they sell out within minutes) here. Note that at the time of writing, the falls were closed through the end of August due to flooding.
Rainbow Mountain, Peru
The peaks and slopes of Vinicunca, the Rainbow Mountain, are striped with shades of burgundy, gold, and blue due to the minerals in the soil. According to locals, the mountain’s amazing colors were discovered only about five years ago, due to climate change that caused the snow covering the mountain to melt. Now, approximately 1,000 tourists per day tackle the hike to this attraction.
Where to Stay: Most day trips to Rainbow Mountain leave from Cusco, so book a room at the centrally located Belmond Palacio Nazarenas as your base.
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
The clean, bright turquoise water of Lake Tekapo practically begs travelers to jump in for a dip. Be warned though that the lake is filled by glacier melt, which means that this water is ice-cold. The gorgeous color is caused by the glaciers traveling down the mountain slopes, and grinding up rocks on the way down. The rock dust stays in the lake and causes the unique hue.
Where to Stay: Peppers Bluewater Resort overlooks Lake Tekapo, so you can enjoy the view all day.
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Caroline Morse Teel wants to visit all of these colorful places. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world.