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Blue shows up everywhere in nature, in clear skies and rollicking oceans, in the plumage of birds and the wings of butterflies. Blue-lovers are everywhere, too, from toddlers snatching cornflower blue crayons out of the box to CEOs rocking peacock-blue business suits in the boardroom. There are even passionate travelers who create their bucket list around color, seeking places where vivid blues dominates the landscape. Are you one of them? If so, a visit to these destinations will leave you feeling anything but blue.
Chefchaouen, an ancient settlement high in Morocco’s Rif Mountains, is called the Blue City or Blue Pearl for reasons that become clear the instant you arrive. The kasbah — the walled part of town that served as its fortress against invading Portuguese crusaders when it was founded in 1471 — is painted in a knockout spectrum of every blue imaginable. The color cools the steep and narrow streets of the kasbah, showing up on walls that have been washed powder blue, on cobalt-stained wooden doors and window jambs, and even flowerpots and stone steps that have been painted shades of turquoise and lapis.
The original impetus to paint the town blue came from the Jewish refugees who settled here during the Spanish Inquisition, who liberally used the color, which has spiritual significance in Jewish traditions. (European Jews again sought solace here before World War II.) The blue began to attract tourists when the town became part of a popular backpacking circuit in the 1960s. In recent years, visitors have flocked to the Blue City after seeing other travelers’ photos on Instagram, and that tourism spurs the residents to slosh more and more blue paint around the city. An azure circle of life — and commerce.
The Exumas, Bahamas
While the blue waters of the Bahamas are legendary, none are more vividly hued than those surrounding the Exumas, a popular archipelago of 365 islands. The clear, aquamarine seas are breathtaking, whether seen from the window of a plane or at sea level, wading in to paddle around with the local pigs, or snorkeling to the surrounding reefs. (The Exumas also featured prominently in both 2019 documentaries about the Fyre Fest fiasco.)
It doesn’t take a NASA scientist to tell you why it’s blue — even amateurs inspecting their toes while standing chin-deep in the ocean could hazard a guess or two about the several reasons for its beauty. First, the water around the islands is pristine — there are no factories or industries fouling the environment. Second, the waves in the Exumas are more the lapping variety than the crashing variety, so the tranquil ocean floor isn’t constantly agitated, leaving the water unclouded by sediment. Finally, the brilliant tropical sunlight bounces off the Bahama’s powder white sand (bring your sunglasses), and in the shallow depths between the islands, even the underwater sand reflects the sun, creating an ocean the color of liquid sapphire.
Lake Louise, Alberta
If you frequent high altitudes, the phenomenon of brilliantly hued mountain lakes won’t be news to you. But you’ll likely still “oooh” and “ahhh” anyway when you see the vivid and curiously milky turquoise color of Lake Louise in Canada’s Banff National Park. The lake’s famous blue-green waters result from melted ice from the surrounding glaciers. Glaciers grind up the surface of rocks as they slowly move across them, pulverizing the bits of rock down to a silty powder, which is suspended in the glacial ice until it melts and runs downhill into the lake. The rock powder is lightweight and will float in the cold lake. When hit by sunlight, the particles will reflect back, turning normally deep blue water into a brighter, lighter color.
Nature has given Lake Louise a little extra oomph to make it stand out among glacial lakes, though. The 1.2-mile-long body of water is boxed in on three sides by spectacular mountains and by the stunning Fairmont Château Lake Louise hotel on its fourth. The lake’s surface is often a glassy calm, which makes it the perfect serene blue mirror to reflect the rocky peaks, forested hillsides, and blue skies around it.
Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland
It may surprise you to hear that bright blue icebergs are even more pure than their plain white berg brethren. This purity is hard-won, created by water frozen thousands of years ago and then subjected to tremendous pressure by the subsequent layers of water frozen atop it on the ice shelf of the poles, like a jewel being pressed from a piece of coal. The pressure pushes out all the air bubbles from the ice, increasing the clarity of the frozen water. Without these air bubbles, the blue icebergs are able to absorb waves of red and yellow light and only the harder-to-absorb blue light will bounce back, so our eyes see the icebergs as a brilliant blue.
The ends of the earth are the best places to find icebergs: the north and south poles, the waters of Patagonia at the tip of South America, and Greenland in the Arctic Ocean. Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is sometimes called the Iceberg Capital of the World for its waters filled with thousands of year-round icebergs that have calved off the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier. Many of these icebergs have been carved by the summer sun and rough Arctic weather so that you may see blue tunnels and sharply curved fins along their edges. Others are massive, squared-off monoliths, sometimes rising 300 feet above the sea’s surface. (And remember, that’s the proverbial “tip of the iceberg,” — just 10 to 15% of the entire mass that remains unseen beneath the waves.)
Oia, Santorini, Greece
Cascading down the side of a cliff on the island of Santorini, this tiny, romantic town makes the list for the quality of its blue, rather than the quantity. Nearly all the buildings in town are whitewashed until they blind in the Aegean sun, but that trick provides a striking contrast to the nearly unbelievable sapphire of the surrounding sea and the cloudless and deeply blue Greek sky. The contrast is also notable in three domes that belong to the side-by-side churches of Agios Spiridonas and Anasteseos. Painted a brilliant blue, they sit on top of white stucco buildings at the edge of town, on a rocky cliff overlooking the sea.
Strolling the village streets, lingering in shady archways, and watching the sunset are popular in blissful little Oia, as is catching a ride down to the beach and taking a refreshing dip in the Aegean. The tiny pebbles that make up the beach don’t swirl up from the bottom like sand would, resulting in that cool, sapphire sea.