Love to take photos which make people ooh and ah? So do I. If your perfect vacation is with camera in hand, here’s a list of places where the colors are so mind-blowing, you don’t have to do much more than point and shoot to impress your friends and coworkers. Holi Festival in India: an explosion of color — Photo courtesy of Stefan Leijon
India during Holi Festival
I can’t think of a better way to break the routine of a work-week, than by joining join thousands of Hindus and other revelers during the Holi festival, which celebrates the arrival of spring and its abundant colors. Originated in western India’s Gujarat region, the festival is off the charts when it comes to exhilaration and spontaneity. Participants hold a bonfire, but the iconic event image is the colored powders which are thrown during this wild celebration.
Intel: You’ll want to either take a less expensive camera, or protect your good one, before setting out to shoot a powder-throwing bonanza. Visit a camera shop upon your return home to have your camera cleaned. (Then put a photo like this near your desk to remind you to plan another trip)
Northern Latitudes for the Aurora Borealis
Seeing the aurora borealis - typically at its best in winter - requires travel for most of us, and we have our choice of cold-climate viewing spots, from Norway to northern Wisconsin. I have good friends in both spots, and envy their having seen the phenomenon also called “the northern lights.” Pictured here is a shot from Alaska’s Bear Lake area: wow! When I finally get to see this sight, I’ll have to watch where I’m walking, as the sky will definitely be a distraction!
Aurora Borealis as seen from Alaska — Photo courtesy of trodel
What photographer doesn’t long to visit beautiful Havana, where 1950s Chevys cruise past faded elegant buildings as if time has both passed but stopped. Scintillating Afro-Cuban music wafts across the city each evening, and visitors don’t have to look far to find a street scene which brings a smile.
Havana’s architectural beauty can be traced back to its development in the 17th century: Spaniards drew upon a variety of styles from Iberia and the Canary Islands.
Intel: Before you go, listen to ‘Buena Vista Social Club,’ the award-winning CD produced by guitarist/composer Ry Cooder, after he was swept away by the power of Cuban music. I got turned on to this genre after becoming a fan of former Havana resident (and world-class musician) Arturo Sandoval.
The streets of La Habana are awash in tropical hues — Photo courtesy of Space Ritual
Albuquerque, New Mexico, during Balloon Fiesta
Visitors and locals gather in the pre-dawn hours to watch the tightly choreographed inflation and timed ascent of up to seven hundred hot air balloons. Everyone is a big kid at this smile-inducing event, which takes place in a designated park the size of 10 football fields. In addition to the traditional balloon shapes shown here, the festival draws dozens of “special shapes,” and it’s a surreal experience to see the sky filled with things like giant soda cans, storks, stage coaches, fruit and champagne buckets.
Intel: Take advantage of buses which depart from major locations across the city and drop you near the fiesta entrance. Dress for winter, but wear many layers, and take a backpack to stick it all in, as you peel off mid-morning. Arrive pre-dawn and buy a breakfast burrito once you’re in the park.
Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque brings out the kid in everyone — Photo courtesy of Rebecca Chatfield
New Orleans for Mardi Gras
They don’t typically get top billing in Mardi Gras write-ups , but the organized “tribes” of African-American revelers who are called Mardi Gras Indians are some of the most colorful of all the partiers. There are about 38 tribes, split into Uptown Indians and Downtown Indians, each half having its own fashion influence. Indian suits can weigh upwards of 100 pounds and cost thousands of dollars in materials. Sequins, beads and feathers give photographers plenty to shoot.
Mardi Gras Indians are a bright and unique part of Carnival festivities — Photo courtesy of Tulane Public Relations
The least-known town along Colorado’s famed Million Dollar Highway, tiny Ridgway lies between Ouray and Telluride, Rocky Mountain peaks soaring all around it. Ralph Lauren’s 22,000-acre ranch is there, and countless classic westerns were shot there. Take a back road in any direction and be utterly amazed at the beauty.
Intel: Take your time to explore the Ridgway area, particularly in different light. The “million dollar highway” from Durango to Telluride has a lot of small destinations and attractions along it, but this place is the hidden gem you won’t read about.
Ridgway, on Colorado's Million Dollar Highway, is one of America's prettiest spots — Photo courtesy of mline329
The Mission District of San Francisco
South of the city’s Market Street artery, the Mission District has evolved from an unpredictable working-class Latino neighborhood to a trendy hub for hipsters. Defined by great Mexican food, the city’s highest concentration of murals, and Dolores Park, this now-trendy neighborhood offers everything from boutique fashions to Day of the Dead mementos. San Francisco’s oldest structure – Mission Dolores – is fun to shoot on pretty days, which are plentiful here. There’s typically no fog to screw up a photographer’s plan in this colorful neighborhood.
Travora Intel: When I lived near the Mission, I patronized a weirdly wonderful country-western sushi bar. According to my friend Nelson, who still lives in the city, Bi-Rite Creamery “will have a line around the corner at 10pm when its 50 degrees outside . . . and salted Caramel is apparently the number one choice.”
Gracing the Italian Riviera between Genoa and Portofino – its glitzy neighbor to the east - Camogliis a fishing village packed with the Riviera’s trademark trompe l’oeil facades. Any time of year packs a visual punch, but photographers will love the Sagre del Pesce fish festival held each May.
Intel: When you get hungry, take a ferry to the nearby inlet and tiny fishing village of San Fruttuoso. Grab a sunny table on the beach, and order fresh acciuga (served with lemon only, and one of the best meals of my life). You’ll see these delicious anchovies being dried on nearby rocks, after just having been pulled from the sea.
Perhaps the most stunning place in the U.S. of A., Sedona’s red rocks, blue skies and beautiful canyons present one jaw-dropping vista after another. There are several beautiful hiking trails, including along oak creek canyon. Many of these out-of-the-way spots afford the best perspective for photography. Tlaqepaque shopping center – which was built using architectural treasures brought in from Mexico – is also fun to shoot. Be forewarned if traveling to Sedona (especially in fall): you may not want to go home.
Intel: Don’t leave Sedona without taking advantage of a professional Jeep tour guide’s expertise. They can drive you to, up and over Sedona’s amazing rocks, and know how to give you the best views during the best light. Helicopter and airplane tours are also available.
The light is amazing in Sedona Arizona — Photo courtesy of MythicSeabass
Blue Ridge Parkway
It’s slow going at peak leaf season, but this 469-mile-long mountain-top route, which stretches from western North Carolina up through Virginia is fully accessible except in winter. The Blue Ridge Parkway connects two magnificent national parks: the Great Smoky Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley. The entire parkway is magnificent, so don’t worry about choosing “the prettiest part of the drive.” Check flights into Asheville or Greenville-Spartanburg if you want to start your journey at the southern end.
Intel: Try to plan your drive for the week days if going during peak leaf season, and check road advisories before setting out in winter (packing all precautions in your car). The Pisgah Inn sits directly on the Blue Ridge near Asheville and offers amazing views to those who book well in advance, and its restaurant is open to anyone.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America's top scenic drives — Photo courtesy of Libby McMillan