Where to Find the World's Only Green Sand Beaches

Hawaii Green sand beach (Papakōlea) the must-see beach of Big Island
Damien VERRIER / Getty Images

One of the most defining characteristics of any beach is the color of the sand that is found there. Those sands, which typically derive their color from the minerals found in the area, are usually light brown or golden in color. Some are white, black, red, and even pink. But the rarest colored sand of all is green. It is so rare, in fact, that it is only found in four very diverse places in the world.

Where brown and white sand mainly consists of quart particles and black sands come from volcanic basalt, green sand is made up of crystalline particles called olivine. Like the particles that make up black sand, olivine derives its color from volcanic activity. These tiny green crystals form when magma begins to cool, growing heavier and denser in the process. The higher the density of the olivine particles, the darker the shade of green it takes on. Because this material is heavy, it's difficult for the ocean waves to carry it out to sea. As a result, it clings to the shoreline of the places where it is found, giving it an unusual hue.

Because volcanic activity is required to create olivine, the material is only found in a few places around the globe. If you want to witness this exceedingly rare phenomenon, these are the four places where a green sand beach can be found.

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Papakōlea Beach

Hawaii Green sand beach (Papakōlea) the must-see beach of Big Island
Damien VERRIER / Getty Images
Green Sand Beach Road, Naalehu, HI 96772, USA

In the Kaʻū district of Hawai'i's Big Island, travelers will find the only green sand beach located in the U.S. Located near South Point, Papakōlea Beach sits along a beautiful bay created by a volcanic eruption that took place nearly 50,000 years ago. As the molten magma from that eruption flowed into the sea, it rapidly cooled, creating a solid basalt rock face that contained vast amounts of olivine. Over time, ocean tides eroded the basalt rock, leaving just the green crystal particles behind. The dense material collected along the shoreline has resulted in the emerald-colored sand that is found there today.

Thanks to its unique color, the beach is a popular destination for tourists. But due to the strong currents and turbulent waves, swimming is not recommended. Still, it is not uncommon to find hundreds of visitors along the shore taking in the unusual setting.

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Hornindalsvatnet Lake

Along The Lovely Lake In Hornindal
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Hornindalsvatn Lake, Norway

Norway's Hornindalsvatnet is known for two things—it is the deepest lake in all of Europe, and it is surrounded by green sand. While the beaches here aren't quite as warm and tropical as some others, the olivine particles that cover the shoreline make it a must-see destination for travelers visiting the Norwegian counties of Sogn and Fjordane.

The lake itself was formed by the movement of glaciers that carved up the Nordic landscape over hundreds of millennia. Not only did the expansion and subsequent retreat of those massive sheets of ice create Hornindalsvatnet, but the glacial activity also left large amounts of olivine in the lake, giving it a bluish-green color. As the particles collected along its shores, green sand beaches were formed.

Due to its glacial origins, Hornindalsvatnet's water temperature remains relatively chilly all year round. Because of this, it isn't a popular destination for swimming.

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Punta Cormorant

Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Floreana, Punta Cormorant, six pink flamingos walking in a lagoon
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Isla Floreana, QHFF+VWP, Puerto Flores, Ecuador

Thanks to numerous wildlife species found nowhere else on Earth, Ecuador's Galapagos Islands are one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. They also happen to be home to one of the planet's rare green sand beaches, giving travelers yet another reason to put them on their bucket list.

Visitors to Punta Cormorant (Cormorant Point) on Floreana Island are more likely to spot flamingos rather than the aquatic bird with which the place shares its name. But thanks to several nearby volcanic tuff cones, the beach here is rich in olivine and has sand that's a light greenish-gold color.

The particles that make up the sand are soft and small, with a texture that somewhat resembles flour. But because the beach is a nesting place for sea turtles, access is highly restricted. Visitors must take care when walking on the fine sand, and swimming is not allowed.

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Talofofo Beach

Mother And Son At Beach
Jeong-Ug Bag / EyeEm / Getty Images
Talofofo, Guam

The remote Pacific island of Guam is home to Talofofo Beach, which is another location where olivine can be found in abundance. The greenish color isn't as prevalent as it is at places like Papakōlea or Hornindalsvatnet, but it is still visible under the right lighting conditions. Additionally, at times fine dark sand covers the olivine particles, making it harder to see as well. But look closely and visitors can still catch a glimpse of the green crystals shining through.

Talofofo Beach is a popular place to go for a swim and is one of the best surfing destinations in Guam. With warm, tropical conditions year-round, it is a great place to gather for locals and visitors alike.

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Where to Find the World's Only Green Sand Beaches