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Anybody with a basic grasp of geography can tell you that Ireland is the Emerald Isle and there are Green Mountains in Vermont — and no, Greenland isn’t really green. But some travelers take their love of the color green to another level entirely, by pledging allegiance to this fresh, vibrant hue and making a treasure hunt of finding all the greenest destinations in the world. If you’re like them, and can’t get enough of the color green, here are 13 brilliantly verdant places to get you started.
Longji Rice Terraces, Guilin, China
Like a 3-D topographical map, the human-made terraces of China’s Longji region undulate horizontally to echo the contours of the inclined landscape. (Fittingly, Longji translates to “dragon’s backbone.”) Stacked one on top of the other, the curved green steps climb up from the river at the base of the hills to as high as 3,300 feet — over an impressive area of 25 square miles.
This feat of agricultural engineering, conceived and constructed during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), allows farmers to plant on hills considered too steep for plowing. The raised lip of each level of the narrow fields also keeps irrigation water in the rice paddies from spilling downhill. While all that ingenuity is fascinating, it’s the panorama of the rice terraces — sharply curving ribbons, vibrantly green with rice shoots and shimmering with water — that will likely mesmerize visitors to the area.
Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia
One of the last remaining temperate rainforests in the world, this stunning 21 million-acre wilderness runs along the coast of British Columbia and is filled with cedars dripping rainwater, spectacular waterfalls, moss-softened boulders, and rushing streams. But its landscape somehow manages to look even greener when contrasted with the forest’s namesake — the rare white spirit bears that inhabit it. The area’s protected status and inaccessibility (visitors must arrive by boat or float plane) have kept it pristine and allowed other wildlife — coastal grey wolves, sea otters, orca, and cougars — to also thrive.
Northern Lights, Tromsø, Norway
Generally, nighttime isn’t ideal for witnessing nature’s dazzling colors, but an exception to that rule is a winter visit to northern Norway to witness the aurora borealis. The northern lights shimmer and undulate in the night sky like sheer fluorescent green curtains, the result of particles of solar dust entering Earth’s atmosphere. You can witness this fantastic atmospheric show on any clear night between the middle of September and the middle of April.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto, Japan
To walk through this bamboo grove is about as close as you can get to wandering the kind of enchanted forest found in fairy-tales or Miyazaki movies. The paved path through the six-square-mile Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is seldom empty of other visitors, but if you get around a curve and find yourself alone, stop and listen. Not only is this forest known for the dappled green light filtering through the leafy tops of the tall bamboo, but it also holds a place on the list of 100 soundscapes protected by the Japanese government, thanks to the gentle rattling of the stalks in the wind.
Hanging Lake, Glenwood, Colorado
Just about every state in the U.S. has a body of water called Green Lake, but few, if any, share the intense color of Hanging Lake in Glenwood, Colorado. This National Natural Landmark was formed when a geological fault caused the valley floor to collapse. The hole left behind was filled with water from streams that were themselves transformed into waterfalls by the collapse. Adding to its allure, the mountain lake is surrounded by steep rock walls and natural hanging gardens. Travertine makes up much of the rocks along the lake’s shoreline and basin, and additional minerals in the water amplify the gorgeous green of the Hanging Lake. (Pro tip: The trail to the lake may look easy on a map because it’s only a little more than a mile long, but it’s steep, slippery, and rocky. But yes, the breathtaking sight at the end is worth the trek.)
Skellig Michael, County Kerry, Ireland
Ireland’s nickname fits: You’ve probably never seen more hues of green at once than when looking across the fields, hills, and valleys of the Emerald Isle. It’s hard to pick just one Irish destination that seems greenest, but Skellig Michael — discovered by the greater world when it had a star turn in the Star Wars movies The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi — might be the winner. The gray stones of this rocky little outcrop off Ireland’s Atlantic Coast provide a steady foil for the remarkable emerald grass and moss that carpet every livable surface.
Tea Plantations of Kerala, India
India may be second to China when it comes to tea production, but the plantations of Munnar are second to none in sheer beauty. This hilly region in the Kerala state, on India’s tropical southwestern coast, used to be a summer escape for British colonists, so it’s no wonder that their minds turned to the area’s suitability for the cultivation of their favorite beverage. The resulting landscape, almost 150 years after the first plantation opened, is a mesmerizing sight of rolling green hills as far as the eye can see, bristling with tea plants and carved by paths for the pickers to harvest the leaves by hand.
The Greenbrier, White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia
While not a natural site, this resort in the mountains of West Virginia is a wonderful place to experience nature, particularly for someone who wants to bask in the color green (and not just because of its name). Dorothy Draper, an aptly named society decorator, brought the resort back to luxury accommodations for the well-to-do after its stint as a World War II hospital. Draper was not afraid of color, but her favored hue was clearly green, as evident in the mezzanine parlor called Greenbrier Avenue, which features mint-green striped columns and jungle-green banana leaf wallpapered walls. Indeed, green is everywhere you look, both inside and out: The resort is surrounded by manicured gardens, golf greens, and verdant mountains on the resort's 11,000-acre property.
Prasat Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Some people will tell you to avoid visiting Cambodia during the rainy season, but for green enthusiasts, it’s one of the best times to go. Rain revives the country’s green vines and moss — and makes the surrounding jungle overtaking its famous temples look even more lush and mysterious. Ancient ruins are obscured by the encroaching roots of banyan and fig trees, and furred with damp moss. Ta Prohm, which you may recognize as a location from the film Tomb Raider, is part of the complex of temples at Angkor. The grand temple of Angkor Wat — which has been continuously active since it was built in the 12th century — shows visitors what a beautifully maintained temple can be. Ta Prohm, on the other hand, reveals the stones of a ruined temple being enveloped by green almost in front of your eyes.
Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania
The dictionary definition of the color green should be illustrated with a photo of the gorgeous, steamy, and lush jungle forests of Tanzania. This relatively small national park on the north shore of Lake Tanganyika is where Jane Goodall began her groundbreaking study of chimpanzees, and where descendants of her subjects still laugh, shriek, and cavort.
Visitors, who must arrive by boat, are led by rangers into the forest, up steep hills covered with dense vegetation, to observe the chimps. The green here is beyond a simple color — the sunlight filtering through the foliage and the thick humid air almost makes the place feel green. Swim out into the lake after the hike, then close your eyes before you turn back around to face the shore. When you open them back up, the sight of those vivid hills is simply breathtaking.
Wai-O-Tapu, New Zealand
Like the Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, Wai-O-Tapu is a region of incredible geothermal activity, full of spouting columns of steam, blopping mud pots, sulfurous stink, and fantastically colored hot springs. This North Island volcanic area was sacred ground to the local Maori people, who now run the park as a tourist attraction. Boardwalks extend over the thin mantle of Earth’s crust and lead to some noisily green landmarks: the Devil’s Bath, a steaming pool of a milky jade green water, the brilliant bluish green Lake Ngakoro, and the most vivid feature, Champagne Pool — a roiling lake of emerald green with bright orange banks.
Douro Valley, Portugal
Forget just plain green: Wait until you experience a place of wavy green stripes. The terraced vineyards of Portugal’s famed wine country, the Douro Valley, slope down to the Douro River in steep ribs of verdant beauty. The color of the vines moves through a spectrum of color according to the season: a fresh pale hue in spring, a vivid neon in growing season, a deep and lush color in the harvest state, and finally a dormant winter green. Aside from the landscape, the charming region, and particularly its wine, are worth getting to know.
Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga, South Africa
The travelers who only talk about Table Mountain and safaris when they get home from South Africa probably didn’t make it to the glorious Blyde River Canyon — or they’d never stop raving about it.
The third-largest canyon in the world and one of South Africa’s most breathtaking sights, this river-carved chasm traces the edge of the country’s Great Escarpment. Unlike our own arid Grand Canyon, the rock walls and dramatic rock formations of Blyde River Canyon are lavishly draped in the greenest vegetation imaginable and a number of gorgeous waterfalls. You will not ask yourself why the road that runs through the canyon’s reserve is called the Panorama Route — nor will you stop talking about the visual and verdant spectacle of your visit.