Whether scattered with shards of crystal-like icebergs or fringed with bottle-green palm trees billowing in the breeze, black sand beaches are magical and draw crowds from far and wide. They are created when age old lava, basalt and minerals are broken down by rolling waves, until all that is left is glistening sand as dark as the midnight sky. A visit to some of Earth’s most amazing black sand beaches is a must for travellers wanting to explore otherworldly landscapes and astonishing geography, in combination with exciting culture and wacky wildlife. Here are our top picks of the best black sand beaches around the world…
Vik’s expanse of coal-coloured sand is one of the most iconic black sand beaches in the world, situated on Iceland’s wild south coast. Vast basalt columns line the beach, pouring out either side of a dark, imposing cave, hinting at the island’s extraordinary volcanic past. Spot puffins hopping around on the emerald-green hilltops, their bright beaks a welcome contrast to the dark, volcanically scarred scenery. Make the most of the breathtaking beach with a ride on a short-legged Icelandic horse with a private guide, followed by a refreshing beer as you watch the waves crash onto the inky shore.
Perissa Beach is the epitome of Santorini charm, with palm leaf umbrellas and pagodas, and glassy electric-blue waters that lap gently on the black lava beach. Kick back and relax on a sun lounger with a cool drink in hand or venture out into the crystal-clear sea, where you can try out snorkeling in the black sandy shallows. If you are feeling adventurous, sign up for a diving lesson with an expert guide and explore the reef that is constantly buzzing with colourful creatures and magical marine life.
Black Sand Beach, California
‘Wild’ is the best word to describe California’s aptly-named Black Sand Beach. With its coarse, blackened sand and misty, rolling hills, this unspoiled stretch of Californian wilderness is a hidden gem. It is one of the best black sand beaches for an example of truly untamed natural charm. Be sure not to let the warm waters of the North Pacific Ocean tempt you in, as the waves that crash onto the beach will take with them anything and everything that comes near, a constant reminder of how danger and wild beauty can exist together. Take in the choppy, coal-coloured coast while embarking on a leisurely hike along the Julian Trail.
Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Indonesia
The wonderfully wild black sand beaches of Tangkoko Nature Reserve in Indonesia are like nowhere else. Rich green tropical trees overhang the dark sand where the warm waves reach the shore, leaving a mystical mist in their wake. Keep your eyes peeled for butterflies in pastel shades and tropical hues as they bask on the beach, absorbing the black sand’s all-important minerals, otherwise known as ‘marine puddling’. As the sun sets, share the black beach with the local wildlife, as macaques wander around finding evening nibbles, and bright-beaked hornbills reside in the trees overhead.
Karekare Beach, New Zealand
A contrast to tropical black sand beaches, Karekare Beach is stark and expansive. Amber-coloured cliffs frame this wildly beautiful beach, whose monochrome sands make the landscape seem like a black-and-white photograph. On a calm day the miles of damp black sand act as a mirror, reflecting lone clouds drifting through the cornflower blue sky. As well as being one of the best black sand beaches in New Zealand, Karekare beach was also the setting for the 1993 film The Piano, making it the perfect place for both period drama aficionados and geography enthusiasts, as well as those just wanting a wander along a breathtaking beach.
Punalu’u Beach, Hawaii
When you think of Hawaii, your mind is likely be filled with images of caster-sugar beaches bordered by emerald-green palm trees and aquamarine water, but there are hidden gems along the shoreline of this volcanic haven that make for striking, otherworldly and unexpected photo opportunities. The dark colour of the black sand on Punalu’u beach contrasts with the vivid undergrowth and the cloudless blue sky that Hawaii is famous for. Grab a surfboard and say aloha to your instructor as you launch yourself into the crystal waters on one of the best black sand beaches in Hawaii.
Ibusuki Beach, Japan
Sunbathing on a warm beach is a given, but have you ever tried sandbathing? Alongside its iconic black sand, Ibusuki Beach in Japan is well known for its mineral rich sand and ancient suna-mushi (sandbathing) rituals. Pop on a light kimono and venture onto the beach where expert assistants will help you submerge yourself into the geothermally warmed, silky sand on one of the most unique black sand beaches in the world.
Black Point Beach, St Vincent
Venture through the Black Point Tunnel, an old sugar export route, until you see daylight streaming in and are faced with white waves crashing onto onyx-coloured sand as it glistens under the sun-lit sky. Make sure you pack your snorkel as, despite the sand’s midnight tones, there are plenty of fish and sea creatures to be found darting about the this coastline's colourful coral reef. With sand as dark as St Vincent's past, this is one of the most interesting black sand beaches.