Many biological events, such as the propagation of nerve impulses, the synchronized cell cycles of early embryogenesis, and collective cell migration, must be coordinated with remarkable speed across very large distances. Such rapid coordination cannot be achieved by simple diffusion of molecules alone and requires specialized mechanisms. Although active transport can provide a directed and efficient way to travel across subcellular structures, it cannot account for the most rapid examples of coordination found in biology. Rather, these appear to be driven by mechanisms involving traveling waves of chemical activities that are able to propagate information rapidly across biological or physical systems. Indeed, recent advances in our ability to probe the dynamics of signaling pathways are revealing many examples of coordination of cellular and developmental processes through traveling chemical waves. Here, we will review the theoretical principles underlying such waves; highlight recent literature on their role in different contexts, ranging from chemotaxis to development; and discuss open questions and future perspectives on the study of chemical waves as an essential feature of cell and tissue physiology.