Always messy, often remote, and sometimes scalding hot–what’s not to love about picture perfect black sand beaches?
Black sand that loves to get down and dirty with your unmentionables doesn’t seem outwardly appealing and yet each year thousands of travelers flock to black sand beaches around the world. Thanks to its heat-retaining tendencies, black sand is great when the temperature is down, but under the hot midday sun, it can be sole-blistering. Black sand beaches run the gamut from grainy volcano by-products to super soft grey charcoal. So if you’re intrigued by the idea of getting your hands (and feet) dirty in black sand, here are 20 of the world’s best starting points.
Top Picks for You
WHERE: Vík í Mýrdal, Iceland
Sometimes known as the Vík Black Sand Beach because of its close proximity to the Icelandic fishing village of Vík í Mýrdal, Reynisfjara is one of Iceland’s wettest and warmest destinations. It was also ranked as one of the 10 most beautiful beaches on earth some years ago. This is no surprise given its pebble-dotted, gravel-like black sand appeal, bordered by impressive basalt stacks and army of puffins.
Black Sand Beach
WHERE: Alaska, USA
There’s no need to travel internationally on the hunt for a world class black sand beach, although given that many visitors choose to arrive by kayak you might want to brush up on your paddling skills. Alaska’s inventively named Black Sand Beach rubs shoulders with glaciers (like the receding Coxe glacier) and seeing washed up mini icebergs hanging out on the sand isn’t uncommon.
WHERE: Santorini, Greece
Perissa Beach in Santorini, Greece, is far from the region’s only charcoal shore (in fact, Santorini also has Perivolos and Kamari amongst its black sand repertoire). Fans of ruins and rocks will be in their element on Perissa though, thanks to it close proximity to Ancient Thera, which sits atop the Mesa Vouno rock.
Spiaggia Sabbie Nere
WHERE: Vulcano, Italy
Just off the Sicilian coast lies a volcanic archipelago with a smattering of black sand beaches in its midst. While there are plenty of inky black beaches to choose from over the eight Aeolian Islands–including on Stromboli, which also plays host to an active volcano–the closer-to-the-coast Vulcano is the one visitors want to head for. On the charcoal sands of Spiaggia Sabbie Nere, travelers can indulge their inner beach-going-goth, while looking out over azure oceans.
WHERE: Jeju, South Korea
One of Korea’s more popular beaches thanks to a prime location right outside Jeju City, Samyang has developed a locally-held reputation for curative properties thanks to its black-when-wet shoreline. Samyang Black Sand Beach is worth a couple hours of your time.
WHERE: Big Island, Hawaii
Alaskans aren’t alone in their innovative beach naming, with Black Sand Beach on Big Island, Hawaii getting in on the act too. However, while this may be the most well-known name, it’s far from the official one. In fact, this green turtle hotspot is actually called Punalu’u Beach. While the wildlife is friendly, the waters are less so—swimming is best avoided when the surf is high.
WHERE: Maui, Hawaii
A second Hawaiian entry, this beach cements the volcano-dotted state’s reputation for having some of the world’s most impressive black sand beaches. Pa’iloa Beach (also known by the significantly lengthier Wai’anapanapa, meaning”glistening water”) is set against an almost unbelievable backdrop of onyx lava cliffs and lush vegetation in the Wai’anapanapa State Park. As with Punalu’u, currents are strong so instead of taking a dip, just stick to lounging on the beach.
WHERE: Albay, the Philippines
While the Philippines continues to grow in popularity, with more and more visitors making their way to the beaches of Boracay and El Nido, this South East Asian country still has plenty of hidey holes and secret spots to offer the curious visitor. Take Playa Bacacay and its pitch-black sand, which is practically unrivalled in colour saturation for example.
Playa de San Marcos
WHERE: Tenerife, Spain
Numerous black sand beaches can be found on the tourist hot spot of Tenerife, Spain. Amongst them, there’s Playa Socorro, Playa Jardín and Playa de las Arenas, but the most spectacular and family-friendly is surely Playa de San Marcos. Admittedly, bordering more on a shade of deep grey than black, this petite bay is tranquil and tourist-free.
WHERE: Ogasawara Subprefecture, Japan
Part of Japan’s southern volcanic archipelago made up of the Bonin (or Ogasawara) islands, Iwo Jima is solely occupied by Japanese Self Defence Forces and a US Navy base, so visiting for yourself is out of the question. However, the history behind this island is fascinating It was the site of a World War II conflict in which the black volcanic ash dunes slowed down invading US Marines, which later came to the attention of a moviegoing audience thanks to the rather appropriately titled 1950 film The Sands of Iwo Jima.
WHERE: North Island, New Zealand
Muriwai beach, just 45km outside of Auckland, only serves to confirm the assertion that New Zealand is a nature lover’s dream. Situated at the very southern end of an impressive 50 km beachy expanse, Muriwai is flanked by the Tasman Sea on one side and a famed gannet colony on the other. For the best views, hike the surrounding crags and take in the sliver of inky black sand from afar.
WHERE: Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
The 10 km stretch of Playa Negra—literally, Black Beach—in Costa Rica begins some 40 km from Cahuita and extends up to the National Park of the same name. Peaceful is perhaps the most appropriate word to describe the glinting black shorelines and Caribbean waters of this Costa Rican beach. The added intrigue of a grounded barge on the shore only adds to the charming appeal.
Playa Las Peñitas
WHERE: León, Nicaragua
A softer black sand experience than many of the rockier volcanic offerings is found on Nicaragua’s Playa Las Peñitas. Once distinctly lower on the tourist radar than other seashore options in this underrated Central American country, being ranked as one of the best beaches in the region pushed it into the spotlight and now you’ll find Las Peñitas thronging with both tourists and locals.
WHERE: Vieques, Puerto Rico
While some black sand beaches have a uniformly rich black hue, others feature mere flurries of dark volcanic sand.Playa Negra in Vieques, Puerto Rico falls into the latter category. Lashes of deceptively weighty but pleasantly fine black sand are pegged close to the cliff face, bleeding into the sun-bleached grains of sand which seep into the surf.
WHERE: Papenoo, Tahiti
While locals and surfers have always been in on the open secret that is the black sand shorelines of Papenoo’s Punaauai beach, a beautifully unique stretch of South Pacific coastline, it’s taken travellers a little longer to catch on. However, if you’re keen to visit all the best black sand beaches in the world, you’d be foolish to skip Punaauia.
Miho no Matsubara
WHERE: Shizuoka, Japan
A double-whammy of a destination, not only does Shizuoka Prefecture’s Miho no Matsubara beach offer spectacular views over Japan’s Mount Fiji, it is also made up of soft black sand set against a dense pine tree backdrop that might have you averting your gaze away from the mountain-dominated horizon.
WHERE: Le Precheur, Martinique
When you feel like stopping by the beach, hiking through the jungle to get there probably doesn’t factor into your plans. However, in order to reach the dazzling black beach of Anse Ceron in Martinique, you’ll have to put some effort in. After all, nothing worth having is easy. Plus, that pre-beach hike deters most people from even bothering, so you might get the place to yourself.
Shelter Cove Black Sand Beach
WHERE: California, USA
Speaking of “things worth having don’t come easy,” the same could be said for the Shelter Cove Black Sand Beach on the California coastline. First, you must navigate a treacherously windy road,but after you’ve cleared that hurdle, you’ll be greeted with truly dramatic views over the charcoal and black pebbled beach. The adventurer in you will be happy, even if the pragmatist isn’t.
WHERE: Ureki, Georgia
Ureki ranks highly with both locals and tourists as one of the most pleasant beaches in Georgia, and while the novelty of magnetic black volcanic sand is a pull (pun intended), it is by no means all of the appeal. Rather, the shallow waters are also a major draw, especially for families with small children. It does get crowded at times though, so pick your visit schedule carefully.
WHERE: Bali, Indonesia
Finally, for the beach bums who like to throw some fun activities into the mix while black sand sunbathing, Indonesia’s Lovina Beach is the ideal spot. The popular island of Bali, it still remains somewhat off the radar and so you can go snorkelling—or even dolphin-watching—there in relative tranquillity.