Beautiful exteriors and even better origin stories, here are some of the most colorful places in the world.
I don’t know about you, but I personally could use a little more cheer in my life. With so much sadness, devastation, and frustration going on, it’s kind of started weighing me down in the day-to-day.
I also may be getting a little case of itchy feet… Either way, I thought I’d look up some of the most colorful places in the world to add to my ongoing wanderlist.
Either way, I thought I’d look up some of the most colorful places in the world to add to my ongoing wanderlist.
One thing that makes a lot of these places so special is that many have a similar origin story. The places in question were in various stages of disarray for one reason or another. Abandoned homes, residents facing eviction, weak infrastructure… However, through efforts of the local community, they’ve been, for a lack of a better phrase, saved with color.
The best is that to this day, tourism to many of these places directly benefits the local community, not external investors.
And, I mean, they make for some pretty beautiful Instagram photos ;)
The Most Colorful Places in the World
Bo Kaap, Cape Town, South Africa
I feel like everyone you know who’s gone to Cape Town has a photo from Bo Kaap! I visited with my friend, Lynsey, and was delightfully charmed by the colors. Bo Kaap’s history starts with the Southeast Asian and African slaves brought by the Dutch to the Western Cape as far back as the 1700s. Their culture soon became known as the Cape Malay culture, and when they were emancipated in the 1800s, many moved to Bo Kaap. It’s said that the bright colors are to celebrate Eid.
Lynsey and I only just strolled through, and if I were to go back I’d like to do some sort of walking tour. If only so I could better understand the history and current culture. I know it’s a big attraction, but it definitely had a different vibe that I haven’t quite figured out how to put into words.
My Airbnb was actually in decent walking distance to Bo Kaap. You can read my full review here.
Burano is an island about 11km from the main island of Venice. It was once primarily a poor fishermen village but during the 1500s rose to prominence for its beautiful lace. Legend has it that the island is so colorful because fishermen wanted to be able to see their homes from far away.
If you’d like, you can book a tour with a local to learn more about Burano’s history. Many people also combine Burano with Murano, known for its glass making, and sometimes Torcello. Check all the different tour options here. Personally, though, I think I’d try to stay at one of the bed and breakfasts on the island for a night or two!
Caminito, La Boca, Buenos Aires
I actually almost didn’t add this to the post when I first started researching it. Of course, it’s not because it isn’t colorful. However, the first post I read was pretty jarring in their contempt for visiting the street. This is their argument. Caminito is just a colorful tourist trap in the middle of one of Buenos Aires’ worst slums. There’s nowhere else in the city that looks like this. No one resides along the walkway. You also definitely shouldn’t leave the designated street into the actual barrio.
Which, of course, is fair. However, I did further digging into the history of Caminito to see how these accusations lined up. It turns out Caminito’s history is still quite similar to many of the colorful villages on this list. You can read about it here, but basically, a famous local artist, Benito Quinquela Martin, created Caminito within La Boca to showcase how the barrio once was. I think the question now is how does and can this little “tourist trap” benefit locals? Is it boosting local economy or does the money made from tourism go to outside pockets?
I’d personally have to do more research, but I do know Get Your Guide, which I’m linking throughout this post, vets and only recommends local tour companies and groups. They have Caminito included in this half-day tour for Buenos Aires.
Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
Cartagena de Indias’ Old Town will make you forget every danger-related Colombian reference made throughout the years. Of course, that isn’t to downplay the very real issues it faced throughout the 1980s and 1990s. However, you’ll see with every passing year that the country is working hard to change its image and welcome tourists back in.
Cartagena is a great place to start. Full of brightly colored colonial architecture, have a tour guide lead you through its interesting history or wander on your own. Compare hotels in Cartagena here.
The famous “blue city” or “blue Pearl” of Morroco dates back to 1471, and you’ve definitely seen photos of it on someone’s Instagram feed or Pinterest account. Jewish refugees painted the walls this pretty blue, and each year the tradition is kept alive with fresh coats of paint. If you’re feeling poetic, the walls were painted blue for the skies and heaven. If you’re feeling more practical, the color acts as a mosquito repellent.
Cinque Terre, Italy
I mean, how was I going to make a list of the most colorful places in the world and not include the beautiful Cinque Terre? The area is called so for its five seaside villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore (photo above). Cinque Terre is probably the most famous on this list, and it’s so popular, in fact, that Italy actually wants to start restricting tourism traffic.
If you’re traveling through Northern Italy, you can easily do some sort of day trip from either Florence or from Milan. Check here for all the different options. If you’re like me and already know one day isn’t going to be enough, then check here to compare the different places to stay.
Favela Santa Marta, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I’ve always vaguely known of Rio’s colorful favelas, but I never did much research into them. After all, visiting them seemed like you either had a death wish or were one of those privileged tourists on a poverty tour. However, Favela Santa Marta is a different case altogether. As one of the most successful favelas under Rio’s pacification program, it’s actually quite safe.
Most blogs and articles I read through recommended using a local tour guide to both help bolster Santa Marta’s economy and just as an added measure of safety. This is the site I saw mentioned and reviewed a few times to book a tour. There’s also this really lovely photo tour.
Really, I don’t think I can explain Jalouzi better than this short film above. Basically, it’s the biggest slum in Haiti, and one man decided he wanted to paint it. His reasonings are about as beautiful as what he’s turning Jalouzi into. Really recommend watching the video!
Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan, Korea
Easily my favorite place in all of Korea (which is saying a lot), Gamcheon is a seaside village in Busan, Korea’s 2nd largest city. Many Koreans started building here after the Korean War, and recently the local residents have helped revitalize the neighborhood into being one of Busan’s biggest tourist attractions. You can read about its full history in this old blog post.
Guanajuato City, Mexico
I think a colorful image of Guanajuato, Mexico was one of the first pins I saved to the TSGA Pinterest account. About five hours by bus from the capital, this is a small, easily walkable city. I could just imagine renting somewhere for a month or more and spending my days wandering around the colorful alleyways or going for hikes in the morning!
I’m pretty sure if I told you why I’ve always wanted to visit the Havana, you’d roll your eyes. You’d’ then mutter, “This has to be the most basic bitch I’ve ever met in my life.”
To be honest, you wouldn’t be wrong. I, as an adolescent whose mother showed her Dirty Dancing at an age too young to understand all of the innuendoes, naturally watched Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights with bated breath.
It’s still one of my favorite movies. While it’s not remotely an accurate depiction of Havana today, it did get me interested in the city and country. I’d still love to visit. Every photo I see makes me want to go more. And while I know I’m not going to go and fall in love with Diego Luna in a Latin nightclub, something tells that with age, more understanding of the culture, and about 10 more years of Spanish language study under my belt, I’ll appreciate the experience a thousand times more as an adult.
Kampung Pelangi, Indonesia
Up until recently, Kampung Pelangi was a struggling slum in southern Indonesia. This year it was awarded 300,000,000 IDR to transform itself into this multicolored wonderland with involvement from the whole community. Kampung Pelangi more than encourages visitors to go photo happy all around the village as the new rise in tourism will directly benefit the local residents. See some more of the murals and before and after photos in this post on Bored Panda.
I haven’t seen any tours that specifically go to Kampung Pelangi or directions on how to visit, but I think you can stay in Semarang, and it’s a 20-minute drive.
Menton is a small seaside town on the French Riviera. It’s actually the middle point between Rome and Paris, and there’s apparently a fountain commemorating the exact spot. It’s a smaller and one of the lesser known cities in the area, which makes it perfect if you want a quieter trip to the Riviera. Roam around the colorful alleyways, relax at the beach, and then enjoy some of their fine seafood cuisine, which often has influence from both France and Italy.
While Lake Bled gets all the Slovenian photog love, I couldn’t help but notice how charming Piran is. It’s a coastal city along Slovenia’s coast full of pastel-colored Venetian Gothic architecture. I read that the dedication to local cuisine is so strong not even a McDonald’s lasted long here.
If you don’t have a lot of time in Slovenia, this full-day tour from Ljubljana includes Piran as its last stop along with other coastal must-visits. Otherwise, compare the different hotels here.
Rainbow Family Village in Taichung, Taiwan
This village in Taichung, Taiwan is such a heartwarming tale. You’d think it was merely a children’s book story, not real life! After developers started paying residents to move, Huang Yung-Fu started painting the homes with vibrant designs and colors. This was a bit out of boredom and loneliness. Local students then noticed and alerted the proper authorities to save the village from further demolition. It’s now a beautiful tourist attraction. Last I checked Huang Yung-Fu, known as “Grandpa Rainbow” is still painting! It’s all in Mandarin, but you can follow along with the village on Facebook.
Rainbow Row, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
This Southern port city has been on my US wanderlist since I first read the sequel to Gone with the Wind back in middle school. I almost went this summer while I was staying in Wilmington, NC. However, it was just too humid and a bit too expensive for me to go on my own. It’s such a romantic town full of historical architecture that I think it’d be more fun with a boyfriend/husband or for a girls’ weekend anyway. The most notable area is Rainbow Row, which with is a street of beautiful pastel-colored homes.
Personally, I like the sound of this walking tour since the guide is a local photographer, so she knows both the history and where to find the best photo spots. There are also quite a few culinary tours to choose from, and honestly, you’re missing out if you don’t fully indulge in Southern cuisine!
Check out the different hotels and availability here. I couldn’t find anything more budget-friendly available when I was searching in June, but you never know!
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
For colorful Spanish colonial architecture, stroll along the cobblestone paths of Old San Juan. Ponce de Leon originally founded the area as a colonial settlement called Caparra. It was almost razed completely in the 1940s after decades of decline. Luckily, a few key figures got the government involved. They helped revitalize the city and keep the integrity of the original designs we see today.
It would be incredibly remiss to include Puerto Rico on this list and not make note of Hurricane Maria. They’re still in desperate need of help, so if you’d like to donate, here’s a post outlining the many trusted organizations trying to help.
I didn’t get a ton of photos that really show off how colorful Valparaiso is! The sun was really harsh on my tour, so my photos came out pretty wonky :/. However, I thought this little scene captured just how intricate some of the murals can get.
Valparaiso is about an hour from Santiago and has such a different vibe from the capital city! If I had planned a bit differently, I would have given myself a few more days in Chile. This way I could stay in Valparaiso for a night or two. I didn’t really look into visiting until I had only a full day left, so I booked a day tour that gave us about an hour walking around combined with a winery visit and lunch.
While I wish we had spent more time in Valparaiso, I did appreciate the tour guide’s input. The art and murals you see are actually an effort to combat the graffiti tagging.
While the history of Willemstad’s colorful buildings is a bit… sketchy, it’s a tradition that has endured until today. Apparently, a Dutch governor claimed to get headaches from the sun’s glare off the white buildings. He then instructed that every building be painted some sort of color. Turns out he also had a financial interest in the town’s only paint store…
Nevertheless, Willemstad continues to have colorful, Dutch-style buildings to this day, and it’s become its own unique island town. Stay in one of the beautiful hotels and wander around!
I’m sure I’ll come back to update this post as I find even more places to add. Let me know if you have one you’d want to add to this list!
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** Images from here are used via Unsplash + Pixabay unless they’re mine or noted
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