Thinking about an exotic place to hang out on your next vacation? Well, it doesn’t get much more exotic than a black sand beach! But what is a black sand beach, and why are they black?
Black sand beaches are something of a rarity, existing only in certain parts of the world that have historically seen mass volcanic activity. The black sand comes from eroded volcanic materials such as obsidian, basalt, andesite, and iron. It’s this iron that gives black sand beaches their characteristically inky color.
Part of what makes these beautiful beaches so incredibly special is that they are extremely rare. Depending on who you ask, there are only about 25 worldwide, compared to your dime-a-dozen pebble, coarse gold, or soft white sand beach.
Show Table of Contents
- TL;DR: Editor’s Picks for Black Sand Beaches
- Best Black Sand Beaches in the World
- 1. Black Sands Beach, California
- 2. The Albay Islands, Philippines
- 3. Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Indonesia
- 4. Karekare Beach, New Zealand
- 5. Papenoo Beach, Tahiti
- 6. Playa Negra, Puerto Rico
- 7. Kamari Beach, Perissa Beach, & Perivolos Beach, Greece
- 8. Soufriere, St. Lucia
- 9. Black Bay, Grenada
- 10. Punalu’u Beach, Hawaii
- 11. Miho-no-Matsubara, Japan
- 12. Playa Jardin, Spain
- 13. Prince William Sound, Alaska
- 14. Playa Negra, Costa Rica
- 15. Lovina Beach, Bali, Indonesia
- 16. Stokksnes, Iceland
- 17. Waianapanapa State Park, Hawaii
- 18. Kaimu & Kahena Black Sand Beaches, Hawaii
- 19. Diamond Beach, Iceland
- 20. Reynisfjara, Iceland
- 21. Piha Beach, New Zealand
- 22. Saint Pierre Beach, Martinique
- What causes the sand to be black on these beaches?
- Where can I find the best black sand beaches in the world?
- Are black sand beaches safe for swimming?
TL;DR: Editor’s Picks for Black Sand Beaches
|Best Black Sand Beach in the U.S.||Black Sands Beach, CA|
|Best Black Sand Beach in Europe||Playa Jardin, Spain|
|Best Country for Black Sand Beaches||New Zealand|
|Most Romantic Black Sand Beach||Punalu’u Beach, Hawaii|
|Most Remote Black Sand Beach||Black Bay, Grenada|
|Most Unusual Black Sand Beach||Diamond Beach, Iceland|
|Best Black Sand Beach for Surfers||Papenoo Beach, Tahiti|
Best Black Sand Beaches in the World
One of the cool things about these stunning stretches of sand is that they are dotted worldwide in different environments. That makes it fun for travelers to choose where to go to see a black sand beach. – some are easy to access yet overlooked in the United States, while others are tucked away in some of the most popular tropical destinations.
There are black sand beaches in Europe, North American, French Polynesia, New Zealand, and the Caribbean. Wherever you set off, check to see if you can stroll any black sand beaches nearby.
1. Black Sands Beach, California
Hidden within San Francisco’s Golden Gate Recreation Area, part of the “Lost Coast,” this black sand beach is one of a kind in America for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, it’s the only black sand beach in the continental U.S., making it a unique attraction.
Secondly, it’s different from most black sand beaches across the globe because the black sand isn’t the result of purely volcanic activity. The sand isn’t even from this beach – it’s been washed up here.
The sand’s color is from a dark sandstone called greywacke and compressed shale produced by grinding one continental and two oceanic tectonic plates against each other offshore. Bits of these dark, iron-rich rocks, grinding together over millennia, have been washed up on this beach ever since, resulting in this remarkable beach.
Black Sands Beach is easily the most striking spot along the Lost Coast. You can’t swim there due to choppy waves, and signs everywhere warn people not to dive in the water.
Nonetheless, it is an excellent place to chill with friends or family and take some amazing holiday snaps. And since you’re in the San Francisco area, there are tons of things to do and places to stay. Explore the area by taking one of these fantastic San Francisco walking tours.
See Related: San Francisco CityPASS Review: Is It Worth It?
2. The Albay Islands, Philippines
You can get to the Albay Islands from Manila by direct flight or around 10 hours by bus or car. The best part about the Albay Islands is you have three areas with black sand beaches to choose from: Santo Domingo, Tiwi, and Bacacay. Millenia’s worth of broken-down volcanic rock gives the beaches a distinctive dark hue.
Santo Domingo Beach is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (including non-black sand beaches), and the verdant coastline, juxtaposed against crystal blue waters and jet-black sand, is simply mesmerizing.
Tiwi’s Joroan shore beaches are remarkably similar to some of the black sand beaches you might find in Hawaii, which makes sense considering its proximity to the volcano Mayon. The sand here is remarkably soft, and these beaches are great for paddling and swimming.
Bacacay’s Sogod Beach is the best to visit if you’re searching for a top beach resort or beachside hotel to complement your black sand beach experience. I enjoyed my stay at the affordable but exceedingly nice Casa Simeon.
See Related: Best Ways to Zipline in the Phillippines
3. Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Indonesia
Deep into the Tangkoko Nature Reserve’s woods lies one of Earth’s most beautiful black sand beaches. It’s a bit of a trek to reach, but it’s well worth it!
Located on Sulawesi Island, this beach combines a unique dark-sand color with excellent opportunities to explore the rainforests of the nature reserve, rich with exotic wildlife. This makes Tangkoko a genuine bucket list destination.
Furthermore, it is simple to reach. Before reaching the black sand beach, you can fly into Manado and then travel by car or bus to Tangkoko. Once you’re there, you can set up camp at the one-and-only Tangkoko Ranger Homestay.
See Related: Visiting Borobudur Temple in Indonesia
4. Karekare Beach, New Zealand
New Zealand is also on this list, and Waiatarua, north of Auckland, offers one seriously magical black sand beach. Karekare looks like a landscape out of Lord of the Rings (not least because some of the movies’ scenes were shot there), and you’ll need to get there by hiking through steep ridges surrounding the area – think of it as your quest to Mordor.
This is one of the best black sand beaches in the world for lovers of extreme watersports, particularly surfers. Some fierce waves and currents here are ideal for surfing but not so much for swimming and paddling. Young kids best stay away.
That said, the area is beyond stunning and well worth visiting for sightseers. There are also a number of great, reasonably priced accommodations nearby, such as this modern hilltop retreat or the Waitakere Resort & Spa.
See Related: Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand
5. Papenoo Beach, Tahiti
French Polynesia is no stranger to gorgeous beaches, and Papenoo is in this ranking for a reason, and not just because it’s one of the most excellent black sand beaches on Earth. It’s just one of the most excellent beaches in general!
This is not your typical soft sand beach, as it’s covered in volcanic rocks and black pebbles. What makes it so popular are its relatively gentle and incredible regular wave and tidal patterns, which draws surfers from across the globe. This is a great place for novices and experts to catch some waves.
Local legends say this beach must be the first step before venturing through the Papenoo Valley, a jungle on the island of Tahiti that offers incredible mountainous landscapes. It’s also a great place to enjoy coastal boat tours to explore more of Tahiti.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Bora Bora & Places to Visit
6. Playa Negra, Puerto Rico
This black sand beach on the island of Vieques results from volcanic materials being ground beneath the waves, creating this black beach. As it is in the Caribbean, the sea is nearly crystal clear and perfect for swimming with friends and family.
It’s also right next door to the beautiful Blue Horizon Boutique Resort, which I cannot say enough nice things about. You’re also just a short hop from Mosquito Bay, one of the three bioluminescent bays I mentioned earlier!
See Related: When is the Best Time to Travel to Puerto Rico?
7. Kamari Beach, Perissa Beach, & Perivolos Beach, Greece
Greece is the home of modern Western civilization; it offers a rich cultural history, wonderful heritage, incredible food, spellbinding scenery, and it’s always pretty cheap to visit. If that weren’t enough, Greece has awe-inspiring beaches, including the black sand beaches on Santorini.
While white sand beaches are common enough to be the norm in Greece, Santorini is home to Mesa Volcano, giving Perivolos Beach, Perissa Beach, and Kamari Beach glistening black sand.
Santorini is a dream destination and is getting increasingly popular as the years go by, so if you’re searching for a quiet jet-black beach, you might have to visit in the off-season or search elsewhere. Check out these quiet Greek islands to avoid sweaty partiers messing up your trip. That said, if you do like sweaty partying, check out these top Greek party islands.
See Related: Greece vs Italy
8. Soufriere, St. Lucia
The Caribbean Sea brings up another treasure, a real hidden gem, no less! While not as well known to tourists as other famous beaches with dark sand, St. Lucia’s Anse Chastanet Beach is well-loved by the locals. Here, dark sand seems to fade into light, creating a beautiful scene.
The nearby town of Soufriere is a great place for a quiet getaway, and the secluded beach, with its gentle waves lapping the fine sand, is perfect for families with young kids. It’s also an exceptionally beautiful part of St. Lucia, ripe for guided tours around the area’s points of interest or even sunset sailing charters.
Considering it’s not the most touristy part of St. Lucia, there aren’t many accommodations in town, but what is there is truly excellent. Look no further than Jade Mountain for a once-in-a-lifetime stay.
See Related: Best Overwater Bungalows in the Caribbean
9. Black Bay, Grenada
The last black sand beaches from the Caribbean on this list is one of the more difficult to get to, but well worth it. You’ll find Black Bay Beach just north of Concord. Reaching the beach via land requires a short hike through some jungle path.
Once you’re through the rainforest, you will arrive at one of the planet’s most pristine, quiet beaches. With no noise, save the waves and seagulls, and potentially no other humans around other than you and your crew, you will feel that you’re on a deserted black sand island.
Admittedly, hiking through jungles isn’t for everyone. Luckily, tour operators and water taxis will take you to this black beach by boat! There isn’t much in the way of hotels in this neck of Grenada, but you’ll find a number of great vacation rentals, such as Megan’s Bay Cottages.
See Related: Best Travel Sandals for Beach Destinations
10. Punalu’u Beach, Hawaii
Here’s the first of a few Hawaiian black sand beaches on this list! Punalu’u Beach, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, has dark sand that comes from basalt and lava. When you see this beauty on the southeastern Kau coast, you will see why it’s one of the world’s most famous black sand beaches.
The beach is pretty rocky and, when the sea gets rougher in some seasons, swimming can be dangerous. This natural beauty is also home to endangered marine life species, such as green sea turtles, hawksbill turtles, and the Hawaiian monk seal. Locals are making a titanic effort to preserve these animals, and you must respect the area.
See Related: Best Snorkeling Spots in Hawaii
11. Miho-no-Matsubara, Japan
In 2013, Miho-no-Matsubara was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will find this natural treasure in the Miho Peninsula of Shizuoka City. When you arrive here, you won’t believe how otherworldly this place is.
The black sand beach is surrounded by over 30,000 pine trees and is complemented by views of Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, in the background. While it’s not the best beach in the world for paddling or sunbathing, this is easily one of the most stunning black sand beaches and a photographer’s dream destination.
Make your visit even more memorable by taking in the beach as part of a private tour of the Miho Peninsula and then spending the night somewhere nearby, like Hotel Hagoromo. Alternatively, if you’re up for the journey, head 90 minutes east to the city of Hakone and start relaxing at a traditional Japanese ryokan!
See Related: Kyoto vs Tokyo
12. Playa Jardin, Spain
Spain‘s Canary Islands have a lot to offer summer vacationers. Playa Jardin is one such offering. Located in Puerto de la Cruz, on the island of Tenerife, Playa Jardin (Garden Beach) is ideal for a relaxing beach vacation with a black sand twist.
When you see the beautiful landscape with palm trees and black volcanic sand alongside a botanical garden, you’ll see how the beach got its name. This beach is also very safe for swimming and snorkeling. It is a great place to go on a family trip or chill out with friends.
Tenerife has a lot going for it, and you’d do well to make the most of your stay. Consider taking a private tour of Puerto de la Cruz and the surrounding countryside.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Costa del Sol, Spain
13. Prince William Sound, Alaska
A wonderful black sand beach need not be a tropical paradise! Prince William Sound near Anchorage in Alaska has a stunning black sand beach (Black Sand Beach). Unfortunately, and for obvious reasons, you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) swim here. It’s damned cold.
While it’s not for swimmers, you will be delighted with the landscape surrounded by glaciers and mountains. Perhaps the most intriguing part about this place is hiking around the shore, admiring the colossal glaciers and towering rocks against a deep-blue background.
Furthermore, this is a fantastic camping location, and better yet, Alaska has one of Earth’s greatest sunsets. The dark, volcanic sand only complements this mesmerizing daily event.
There aren’t many nearby accommodations, but you’ll find some vacation rentals and lodges. Anchorage has more to offer, including old reliables like the Courtyard by Marriott Anchorage Airport. Plus, if you’re basing yourself in Anchorage, that’ll give you opportunities to tour Prince William Sound via bus, cruise ship, or even on an awesome flightseeing tour!
See Related: Best Day Trips From Anchorage, Alaska
14. Playa Negra, Costa Rica
Here’s another Playa Negra, but this time it’s in Costa Rica. Located in the northwestern region of Guanacaste, Playa Negra is what every surfer might call paradise. In fact, this beach was a filming location for Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer II.
Like most of the Guanacaste region, Playa Negra amazes visitors with the sheer beauty of the place and the area’s resorts, hotels, and cafes that make this place even more desirable for tourists. You’ll definitely want to stay here (and Hotel Playa Negra is among the best options) because Guanacaste is one of our favorite destinations at VT.
15. Lovina Beach, Bali, Indonesia
When you think about Bali, tranquillity might be the first thing that comes to mind. When you visit Lovina Beach, you’ll see that words like “tranquility” don’t really do it justice. This stretch of coastline is about as serene as it gets.
Situated just 2 hours away by plane from Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, Lovina Beach will delight you with its dark grey and black sand, where you can bask on a beach towel and soak in the sun in peace. Want more action? Here you can dive, snorkel, or go on a boat trip at sunrise to see the dolphins.
Best of all (apart from the amazing vegan and seafood available here), you’ll find that most accommodations around Lovina Beach are extremely cheap without sacrificing quality. The Ju’Blu Hotel borders on a luxury experience for a far better price than expected, and the beachfront Lovina Beach Hotel is even cheaper.
See Related: Best Organic Restaurants in Bali
16. Stokksnes, Iceland
As we approach the tail end of this list, you’re about to see a decent amount of Iceland, “the Land of Fire and Ice.” Stokksnes is a great place to start. This region, known for its black sand beaches in southeast Iceland, almost resembles another planet.
The surrounding mountains and cliffs, the beautiful lagoon, and the unique, rolling dunes of the black sand beaches make for a breathtaking landscape.
This is, without a doubt, one of the best places to enjoy the black sand beaches in Iceland, and it’s a highlight on the Iceland Ring Road. I highly recommend touring Iceland’s Ring Road, as it’s the best way to see Iceland.
See Related: Best Hotels in Iceland for Northern Lights
17. Waianapanapa State Park, Hawaii
Located minutes away from the Hana Highway, Waianapanata State Park in Maui is everything you’ve dreamed of regarding black sand beaches. This park not only features an incredible black sand beach but is also a cultural heritage site. There are numerous Hawaiian legends about this magical place.
Once you see the marvelous beach yourself, you’ll immediately realize why this natural park is a source of myths and legends. With lava caves, stone arches, blowholes, and the glimmering black sands, every nook and cranny is as photogenic as the last. You won’t know where to point your camera; it’s simply amazing.
This part of Maui is one of the most beautiful corners of Hawaii (and that’s saying something). Consider booking a private jeep tour or an all-day luxury SUV tour with meals included. And at the end of the day, you could do far worse than checking into Hyatt’s Hana-Maui Resort.
See Related: Things to Do in Maui, Hawaii
18. Kaimu & Kahena Black Sand Beaches, Hawaii
Our last Hawaiian beaches are some of Earth’s newest black sand beaches. They were formed after a lava river flowed onto the original beach, destroying it and much of the surrounding community in 1990. The remaining rocky beaches on Hawaii’s Big Island look like an alien world, popular with travel photographers and paddlers alike.
It’s a breathtaking landscape, and while you’ll find a few beach umbrellas, you can’t swim there due to strong waves and currents. However, what makes this beach special is its unique geography, surrounded by coconut palms.
If swimming is your game, nearby Kehena Black Sand Beach is safer. There are a few charming rentals and B&Bs in the Kehena neighborhood, and the unique adults-only Kehena Mauka Nui Club – where clothing is optional!
See Related: Things to Do in Waikiki, Hawaii
19. Diamond Beach, Iceland
With so much volcanic activity, it’s no surprise that Iceland has a few black sand beaches. But what’s unique about Diamond Beach isn’t the black sand but the shimmering iceberg fragments that wash ashore.
These ice fragments, broken and molded by the waves, resemble giant diamonds and can be found scattered all over the beach. These ice “diamonds” melt over time, replaced by new ones washed ashore.
You will want to bring a camera when visiting Diamond Beach because the images you take will be unique. Thanks to this natural phenomenon, this beach never looks the same, even daily.
See Related: Do You Need a Car in Iceland?
20. Reynisfjara, Iceland
Many consider this place on the South Coast of Iceland the best non-tropical beach on Earth. Reynisfjara takes you to another dimension, with only you and the powerful waves combined with the volcanic sand creating an almost supernatural landscape.
There are tons of tours and day trips that visit Reynisfjara, many of which depart from Reykjavik to make life easier. Tours may be the best choice, as there aren’t many hotels in the area. The best you can do is nearby Vík, with Puffin Hotel Vík being a solid choice.
See Related: Best Day Trips from Reykjavik, Iceland
21. Piha Beach, New Zealand
Piha Beach is another black sand beauty worth visiting, located next door to Karekare Beach on New Zealand’s north island. It’s much smaller than its neighbor and more secluded and sheltered. Being a little secluded than its neighbor means that Piha is pretty safe for swimming, although there is a fairly powerful surf here, so you’ll see a lot of surfers here too.
The main draw for me at Piha Beach is the outstanding natural beauty surrounding it. While Karekare Beach possesses a stern, stark, alien beauty, Piha Beach feels a lot more like a tropical island paradise, surrounded by crumbling cliffs, dense rainforest, and the charming village of Piha itself.
It’s just an exceptionally lovely place to relax or explore, and I suggest taking a tour of the area to lose yourself in it. There are several fantastic tours to Piha Beach that also explore the surrounding area.
22. Saint Pierre Beach, Martinique
Last on our list is Saint Pierre Beach (aka Saint Peter’s Beach) in Martinique. This small black beach owes its existence to the volcanic activity from nearby Mount Pelée, an active volcano on this French Caribbean island.
Sitting in a relatively sheltered cove at the base of the town of Saint Pierre, this is one of the best black sand beaches in the Caribbean for swimming and snorkeling. You’ll find that many visitors eschew this lovely little beach in favor of larger golden or white sand beaches found all over the islands, making it a little quieter than most.
This is actually great because it means you get more of the beach to yourself. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to explore more of the town and the surrounding area, either on a boat trip or a guided tour of old Saint Pierre, which was destroyed by the volcano.
I’d also recommend staying in Saint Pierre because it’s a charming little town and incredibly cheap compared to other towns in Martinique. There are countless rental homes and apartments to choose from, and even a couple of hotels, such as The Kapokier.
What causes the sand to be black on these beaches?
The black color of the sand is mainly due to the massive amount of volcanic minerals it has that are broken down over the ages. The minerals are also high in iron content, creating black sand.
Where can I find the best black sand beaches in the world?
Black sand beaches are uncommon and popular for various reasons, attracting thousands of tourists yearly. The good news is they are all over the world. Black sand beaches exist in Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania.
The most well-known beaches with black sand are Reynisfjara in Iceland, Playa Jardín in the Canary Islands, Punalu’u Beach in Hawaii, and Kamari Beach in Greece.
Are black sand beaches safe for swimming?
It depends on the beach, but most are safe for swimming. There is nothing hazardous about black sands, but each beach is different. Depending on factors like tides, currents, season, weather, maritime traffic, pollution, and more, certain black sand beaches may not be safe for swimming.
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James is a British-American writer and editor for Via Travelers who has been writing since he was wee. As someone who has spent much time trotting around the globe, James appreciates traveling smart and comfortably, and has every intention of helping VT’s readers do the same!