Photograph by JPLDesigns/Getty Images
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It is worth getting up early for a view of the sunrise along the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

Photograph by JPLDesigns/Getty Images

Best Spring Trips 2018

Fourteen destinations that will help you shake those winter blues and embrace the season of new beginnings.

At the end of the day, all spring travel has one goal in common: soaking up some sun after a long, dark winter. This list provides an abundance of venues for the occasion—sailboats in Sri Lanka, Norwegian icebergs, Colombian flower towns, powder blue Moroccan terraces. Pack your sea legs and your sunglasses.

Columbia and Snake River

Cruising between Oregon, Idaho, and Washington along the Snake and Columbia Rivers provides access to the country’s deepest gorge and the continent’s greatest concentration of waterfalls—best visited in spring when winter melt ensures a thunderous show. Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Spring, and Nez Perce tribes have lived along these rivers for centuries and are known for their intricate basket weaving and dip-net salmon fishing. Trace Lewis and Clark’s footsteps at Fort Clatsop, sample the biodynamic wines at Syncline Winery, or visit the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum on the second Saturday of the month, when volunteers can take antique cars and planes out for a spin. Go with Nat Geo: Encounter the stunning landscapes.

Namibia

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Waves of sand dunes meet waves of the ocean to create a surreal image in Namib-Naukluft National Park.

During spring the rainy season of wildflowers and greener pastures winds down. Baby elephants and lion cubs take their first steps onto the savanna. Travel costs are low. Evenings are cool. Admittedly, greater access to food and water can make wildlife viewing a challenge this time of year, but by late May wateringholes begin to dry and the giraffes and black rhinos re-emerge from their hiding spots. If ostriches, zebras, and cheetahs aren’t alluring enough, perhaps sandboarding on Namib desert dunes will do the trick.

Japan

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Rows of fully bloomed cherry blossom trees line both sides of the Meguro River in Tokyo.

Japan’s cherry blossom season begins at the country’s southern tip in mid-January, then blooms northward to a rosy May finale in Hokkaido. There are hundreds of ways to hanami (the Japanese word for celebrating cherry blossom season): strolling Tokyo’s Nakameguro canal after house-made ramen at Kaduya; dipping into sakura (cherry blossom) hot springs in Kawazu; or boating down the kite-strung Kitakami River to Tenshochi Park where 10,000 cherry trees arc into irresistible pale pink allées. At the Takayama Spring Festival in the Hida mountains, cherry blossoms have been celebrated for over 300 years with an exquisite lantern-lit parade of antique golden floats. Go with Nat Geo: How will you hanami in Japan?

Fogo Island Inn

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Epic views surround the contemporary architectural design of Fogo Island Inn, and spring is the perfect time to hike and explore the landscape.

Rooftop hot tubs with a crystal-clear view of the Milky Way. Canadian whiskey negronis chilled with chips of iceberg. Colorful handstitched quilts. Floor to ceiling ocean views. Fresh-caught pan-seared cod. Wildflower chandeliers. Fishing villages. Bike rides. Breaching whales. Iceberg-spotting … these are just a handful of the delights to be enjoyed on a spring trip to Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn. Go with Nat Geo: Claim your spot at the Inn.

Upper Amazon, Peru

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A local woman sits on the front of a wooden boat coasting down the Amazon River.

December through May is high water season for Peru’s Amazon River, but a little extra rain is a small price to pay for improved navigation and cooler temperatures. The higher water level also provides wide, glassy sunsets and closer encounters with monk saki monkeys, sloths, scarlet macaws, and native pink dolphins. Spend the night in a rainforest treehouse or on a river boat. And take time to chat with ribereños, the indigenous people that live along the river. Pro tip: Massive Amazon lily pads may hold storks and baby otters but they probably won’t hold you. Go with Nat Geo: Let the river enchant you.

Israel

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Worshippers fill Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher with the glow of candlelight.

Celebrating Easter with thousands of pilgrims in Jerusalem is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Descend the Mount of Olives in a Palm Sunday procession at the start of Holy Week. Retrace Jesus’ path down the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday, and don’t miss out on the annual miracle of Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Holy Saturday. If the crowds get too overwhelming, take a gondola ride to King Herod’s 2,000-year-old Masada fortress or set off on a quiet morning boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. Spring temperatures in Israel can fluctuate dramatically and many Holy Week activities take place outside; remember to pack water and wear layers. Go with Nat Geo: Let Easter in Israel inspire you.

The Seychelles

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Rich, blue waves crash against La Digue island, one of the many iconic beaches of the Seychelles.

The Seychelles are a lot more than seashells and tropical fish and powdery sand … they’re also granite cliffs and 100-foot-tall Coco de Mer palm trees, wild tortoises, and 275 species of birds. Originally uninhabited, the Seychelles’ 115 islands sit roughly 1,100 miles from coastal Tanzania. Helicopter in to your own private pool villa. Visit Intendance Bay in March to watch newborn sea turtles scuttle into the moonlit Indian Ocean. Or wait and visit in April when the seasonal shift in trade winds promises cool breezes with a high of 85 degrees Fahrenheit—lovely weather for a farm-to-table dinner in the garden. Go with Nat Geo: Enhance your stay at Fregate Island Private.

East Coast Sri Lanka

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Fishermen in traditional boats float along Arugam Bay Lagoon in Pottuvil at sunset.

Sri Lanka’s East Coast is best explored by boat—whether SUP-boarding with dolphins, sailing beach to beach, or ferrying to Pigeon Island for prime-time snorkeling. On canoe tours through Pottuvil Lagoon, paddlers can scan the mangroves for lizards, macaques, water buffalo, crocodiles, and sometimes even an elephant or two. The clean, shallow waters of Pasikuda Beach are ideal for families with small children. In Trincomalee, travelers can watch traditional net fishing and visit ancient Hindu temple sites that date back over two thousand years.

Colombia

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At Pueblito Paisa in Medellín, a colorful courtyard and lovely garden create an inviting atmosphere.

Medellín—Colombia’s beloved “City of Eternal Spring”—boasts palm trees, mild weather, rich hot chocolate, tango clubs, whimsical outdoor sculptures, and an explosive game called tejo, involving gunpowder and metal pucks. The Medellín metro cable directly connects to Santa Elena where travelers can watch local artisans weave silletas, wearable arrangements made of fresh local flowers. The entire country makes for a rejuvenating spring getaway, what with beach-bathing in Tayrona National Park, salsa-dancing in Cartagena, and volcano-climbing outside Popáyan (a city known for its enchanting Holy Week festivities). Roundtrip tickets to Colombia are tantalizingly inexpensive, and the sunset views, cozy haciendas, and crispy arepas are worth it. Just do watch your back around the hippos. Go with Nat Geo: Journey from the National Parks to the big city.

Panama

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Coiba National Park, a popular marine reserve in Panama, was once occupied by an infamous prison for more than 80 years. After a morning snorkel, grab lunch and take a tour of the historic prison, which operated until 2004.

Often overshadowed by Costa Rica and the Caribbean islands, Panama is a cheaper, culturally diverse, and less-crowded paradise of lush jungles, volcanoes, and clear-water beaches. Book a swanky cabana at Hacienda del Mar in the Pearl Islands, or rough it in tiny Santa Catalina on Panama’s Pacific coast. Here, horses are still the primary mode of transportation, the stargazing is exquisite, the Wi-Fi is delightfully shoddy, and local fisherman serve fresh seafood and plantains from their home kitchens for roughly $6 a plate. Boat trips to nearby Coiba National Park offer divers a chance to swim with sea turtles, manta rays, and whale sharks.

Morocco

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This coastal fishing village of Essaouira is a quiet alternative to Marrakech, and has great local beaches.

Plan a cooler spring retreat to the rural Berber villages of the Atlas Mountains where it is not unusual for locals to invite visitors into their homes for a cup of mint tea. Afterward, head to Essaouira, a romantic fishing village cooled by the Azilée trade winds, and Chefchaouen, Morocco’s famous blue city in the hills. Both cities have excellent outdoor markets where shoppers can stock up on Moorish lanterns, colorful rugs, bulk spices, local Argan oil, and stylish babouche slippers. Go with Nat Geo: Experience the beauty of Morocco.

Madagascar

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The incredible endemic species that inhabit Madagascar are certainly the largest tourist draw, but take some time to enjoy places like Marojejy National Park, which is also home to vanilla farms.

Madagascar is renowned for its high diversity of endemic species. The east African island is home to golden bamboo lemurs, carnivorous pitcher plants, neon red tomato frogs, satanic leaf-tailed geckos, jumping rats, giraffe-necked weevils, towering baobab trees, and the rarest ducks in the world. Local craft and culture are equally important so take time to venture out to the 15th-century Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, the vanilla farms of Marojejy, woodcarving workshops in Ambositra, and the Antaimoro handmade paper factory of Ambalavao. Go with Nat Geo: Take on the ultimate wildlife tour or lay back at Tsara Komba Lodge.

Svalbard

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At any moment, large pieces of Svalbard’s 100 mile ice wall can crash into the sea. With some patience and good timing, you can witness this powerful act of nature.

If you love winter activities, but are in some serious need of sunshine, then perhaps a May trip to Svalbard is in order. The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is located about 620 miles south of the North Pole. In late spring, the sun never dips below the horizon—meaning you can sponge up all the Vitamin D you desire. Svalbard’s islands are equal-part tundra and glacier, perfect for hiking, iceberg kayaking, and for spotting local wildlife, including walruses, seals, Arctic tern, reindeer, and, yes—polar bears. Go with Nat Geo: It's the perfect time to see polar bears.

The Netherlands

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Visit Keukenhof gardens, just outside Amsterdam, to see a small sampling of the millions of tulips that will bloom in spring.

Seven million tulips bloom every spring in the Keukenhof gardens just 25 miles from Amsterdam. The park’s riddle-filled treasure hunt and flower parade make for fun family activities. And this year, Keukenhof is celebrating Mother’s Day weekend with a romantic classical musical festival. Imagine daffodil violin solos, tulip field orchestras, and woodwind ensembles in the hyacinths. Go with Nat Geo: Cruise through the tulips.

Cait Etherton is a Virginia-based writer and frequent contributor to National Geographic Travel. Follow her journey on Twitter.