Original blog post featured on The Journal by Intrepid Travel, by Rebecca Shapiro.
Intrepid love getting under the skin of a place: finding out what makes it tick, seeing where the locals hang out, and absorbing all the history and culture that they possibly can.
That said, it’s human nature to fall a little bit in love with colorful, pretty places.
We don’t want to attribute it solely to the Instagram age, but there’s just something so exciting about (trying to) capture those pastel shades, bright buildings, vibrant colors and spellbinding vibes. And although there’s a whole host of awe-inspiring destinations out there, we’ve narrowed it down to the 6 most magical ones for your reading (and viewing) pleasure.
You may have seen Chefchaouen on Instagram. Startlingly beautiful and simply unmissable, the Northwestern Moroccan town is painted in varying shades of blue. And, as you might expect, this means the streets are simply crying out to be photographed.
Founded in 1471, the tradition of painting the buildings stems from the Jewish community who settled there in the 15th century after being expelled from Spain. Nowadays, the city is inhabited by the Berber people and Muslims – in addition to descendants of the original Jews – all of whom live in picturesque harmony.
And harmonious it is. Pretty remote (the biggest cities nearby, Tangier and Fez, take two and four hours, respectively, to get to) and filled with an incredibly peaceful vibe, Chefchaouen never disappoints. Shop in the the quaint medina, hike to the nearby Spanish Mosque for sunrise or sunset, and simply breathe deep and take in all the beauty of this surreal mountain city.
Visit this city: Venture to Chefchaouen (+ other stunning spots) on this 9-day North Morocco Adventure.
There’s no country more captivating than Cuba, and of all the gems it boasts, we think Havana simply has to be our favorite. The capital city is filled with glorious Spanish colonial architecture, but more importantly, the most resourceful, kind locals you could ever hope to meet. And it’s these people that add even more color to the ever-dazzling city.
To see some of the most beautiful spots, plus a hefty dose of culture, we recommend a stroll (or three) around Old Havana. There’s a distinctive charm in the crumbling, pastel buildings and you’ll find yourself immersed in salsa as much as you’re immersed in the past, enveloped in street life as much as you are in the beautiful traffic-free plazas.
If you get bored of browsing (you won’t), check out some of Havana’s many attractions. The fortress of La Cabaña hosts a nightly cannon ceremony, the Museum of the Revolution boasts abundant artifacts from the Revolution, and the José Martí Memorial are among the must-sees. After, head on over to equally-beautiful Trinidad to enjoy more colorfully-colonial buildings and perfectly-preserved cobblestone streets.
Visit this city: All of Intrepid’s Cuba trips start in Havana. Try sailing, cycling or trekking in Cuba.
Mexico might be known for its beaches and cuisine, but that doesn’t mean the cities aren’t spectacular. And although we love Mexico City‘s bustle and beauty, there’s just something about Guanajuato that really stays with you for life. Situated in Central Mexico, the Unesco World Heritage city simply has to be one of the country’s finest. After all, it has all the colonial gems, colorful houses and sophisticated theatres and museums you could hope for, and more.
Also a university town, Guanajuato is home to an annual international art festival (Festival Cervantino), Diego Rivera’s home (now a museum) and the magnificent Teatro Juárez. A little grittier and more authentically Mexican than neighbouring San Miguel (an hour away by bus), it’s a destination that has allure by the bucket load.
It also boasts views… All the colorful, panoramic ones you could dream up. Head up the funicular at sundown to avoid the strenuous hike to one of the city’s best viewpoints. Here, watch the night lights slowly come on over the city. Guanajuato is gorgeous, lively and oh so memorable.
Visit this city: See Guanajuato, Mexico and more on this 15-day Mexican Heartlands trip.
Cinque Terre, Italy
So, we’re cheating a tiny bit with this one. The Cinque Terre is not one city, but a string of five fishing villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, each connected by its own scenic trail. But they’re so postcard-pretty that this list simply wouldn’t be complete without them.
Not only do they have their own unique heritage and dialect, but even if you’re only in Italy for a week or so, they’re still super easy to visit! In case you’re not yet sold on this romantic region’s charms, it’s worth adding that it’s been a Unesco World Heritage site since 1997 and that cars are basically banned. Yep, it’s all cliff-side vineyards, colorful houses, and charming seaside eateries.
One of the best ways to appreciate the pastel perfection of Cinque Terre is by visiting Riomaggiore, the largest of the five villages, and watching sunset from the harbour. There are truly few spots as beautiful worldwide. But we also want to give another colorful Italian gem, Burano, an honourable mention. This island in the Venetian lagoon is a blogger’s dream, filled with brightly-colored houses, pastry shops and picturesque canals aplenty.
Visit this city: See all the highlights of the region on this 8-day Active Cinque Terre trip.
Rajasthan’s colorful capital brims with chaos and charm. Jaipur is known as the ‘Pink City’, but it offers so much more than unique architecture. Visit the hilltop Amber Fort, haggle in the enchanting bazaars, and consider taking a hot air balloon over the city to take it all in.
The city is India’s tenth most populous, and one of three stops on the Golden Triangle circuit, a whistle-stop tour of some North Indian highlights (which usually stops at Delhi and Agra before Jaipur). But what really distinguishes it, aside from the Pink Palace and other similarly colorful buildings, is the fact it’s a paradise for shoppers. Seriously. Whether you’re seeking out dresses or jewellery, shoes or bed covers, the Old Town has it all.
For a dose of culture, be sure to also head to Govind Devji Temple, one of the region’s most popular places of worship. This temple has specific times, from morning to evening, where locals come and pray. The atmosphere is unreal and it’s a photographer’s dream. For a sweet treat, treat yourself to a coconut or pistachio flavored Indian ice-lolly from Pandit Kulfi, the best in town.
Tips on visiting Jaipur from Sana, one of Intrepid’s female tour guides in India:
“Jaipur is known around the world for its gemstones. But there are a lot of fake gems and scams out there, so Intrepid recommends places to shop that are audited. Jaipur is also known for hand block printing and so we work with local villagers who practice the art form, so we can support the local economy.
If you buy just one thing, make it lakh bangles. The bangles are made only in Rajasthan so should be bought here, and there are a few lanes in Jaipur solely dedicated to selling them.”
Chances are that you view Reykjavik as a base from which to explore Iceland‘s dazzling, dramatic scenery. But don’t neglect really exploring the world’s most northerly capital just yet. Brimming with colorful buildings, surprisingly cosmopolitan vibes, and heaps of museums and galleries, it might be small (the population’s just 120,000) but there’s no shortage of attractions.
Shop where the locals shop at Kolaportið, Iceland’s only flea market, and a gem of an industrial space located right by the old harbor. Open only on weekends, and cash-only for the most part, this market sells pretty much everything you could dream up. And don’t leave without exploring the city’s street art scene and having the best hot dog of your life at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. (For more things to do in Iceland, check out this guide.)
For the best view of the city, head to Hallgrímskirkja church, the largest church in the country and one of the tallest structures in it. For a small entry fee you can visit the 73-metre-high tower for awe-inspiring 360° views over the city, mountains and ocean that stretches west to Greenland and the Americas.
Visit this city: Discover Reykvjavik and more on this adventure-filled 5-day Iceland Express trip.
(Image credits from top to bottom: iStock/KIKILOMBO, Intrepid Travel, Intrepid Travel, iStock/KIKILOMBO, Intrepid Travel, iStock/benedek, iStock/powerofforever)