Black sand beaches are formed when eroded volcanic minerals and lava fragments break down from the ocean's tide or as water flows down the side of a volcano (or occasionally when hot lava hits the cold ocean water very quickly).
These rare beaches present incredible photogenic opportunities thanks to the contrast of charcoal-colored sand to turquoise seawater. At times, the beaches are even formed near tropical green foliage or even icy glacial landscape in the background as well. So, take a break from typical tan-colored sandy beaches and explore the best black sand beaches in the world.
Honokalani Beach, Hawaii, United States
This small black sands beach can be found inside of Waiʻānapanapa State Park along the Hana Highway on Maui. As the gateway to the 120-acre state park, it is an undeniable must-see stop along the famous Road to Hana road trip, offering killer photo opportunities. Keep in mind that swimming here can get tricky, as the currents can be unpredictable and intense. Your best bet is to hang by the shore, take in the beauty from the beach, and maybe even discover some volcanic sea caves or tunnels carved out nearby.
Located on the South Coast of Iceland, Vik Beach (otherwise known as Reynisfjara Beach) is probably the most famous black sand beach in the entire country. You may recognize the epic shoreline and distant Reynisdrangar sea stacks from Game of Thrones and Star Wars, as well as many other films and television shows. The combination of inky black sand with the roaring, powerful waves makes this beach one of the most beautiful places in Iceland.
El Bollullo Beach, Tenerife, Spanish Canary Islands
It might take a bit of a trek to reach this secluded beach in the La Orotava Valley of northern Tenerife, but the journey will be more than worth it. The steep steps that separate visitors from the sand at El Bollullo Beach have kept it a hidden gem, with the large strips of sand and towering sea cliffs surrounding the bay only adding to its mysterious vistas. The waves can get rough here due to the lack of protective reef, but you can always view the beach from afar from the local cafe overlooking the water.
Punaluʻu Beach, Hawaii, United States
The dramatic volcanic activity in nearby Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is responsible for the creation of this beautiful black sand beach on Hawaii Island The beach is accessible by foot, and one of its best features comes in the form of Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles and endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals who love to sunbathe on the warm sand. Be sure to spend some time exploring the numerous tide pools when the surf is low, the black sand is a stunning backdrop for the island’s ocean wildlife.
Playa Jardín, Tenerife, Spanish Canary Islands
As the name suggests, Playa Jardín in the Spanish Canary Islands is also known as the “Garden Beach” because of its landscaped gardens and palm trees along the shore. However, the accessibility of this place is what makes it truly special, since it has everything visitors need to enjoy a day at the beach. There are plenty of lifeguards and even beach chairs and umbrellas available to rent. When the tide is low, Playa Jardín is great for swimming, as well.
Miho no Matsubara, Shizuoka, Japan
Part of Mount Fuji's world heritage site in Japan, the black sand beach at Miho no Matsubara has incredible views of the famous Mount Fuji from the shore. The beach, spanning more than 4 miles, also features a grove of more than 30,000 pine trees. If you don’t want to walk along the beach, there is a nicely-paved pathway through the forest that offers a spectacular and unique way to spend the day. Nearby, pay a visit to the visitor’s center and the Miho shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lovina Beach, Bali, Indonesia
Find Lovina Beach on the northwestern side of Bali, known for calm water and a laid back, tranquil vibe. While the beach itself doesn’t contain many attractions or features, it makes up for it with the pods of dolphins who frequent the waters. For this reason, dolphin watching tours are very popular at this beach. After spending some time on the sand, check out Bali’s largest Buddhist monastery, Brahmavihara Arama in the Banjar district, about 6 miles away.
Shelter Cove Black Sands Beach, California, United States
We often associate black sand beaches with exotic, faraway locations, but the beach at Shelter Cove in California proves that American can experience one in the continental U.S. Known simply as “Black Sands Beach,” this beach can be found on the south end of a 20-mile-long walkable coastline on the way to Mattole River Campground. The rugged shoreline isn’t ideal for swimming, as the water can get very deep very quickly and the unpredictable tides make it even more dangerous.
Playa Negra, Vieques, Puerto Rico
This little black sand beach is one of the most unique beaches in Puerto Rico. Volcanic material runs down the more volcanic parts of the island before washing up on shore at Playa Negra. That means the sand particles are particularly fine, but also blend with the usual tan-colored sand also present in the area. When the two colors combine, it produces a true spectacle of contrasts, made especially impressive by the tropical trees in the background.
Karekare Beach, Karekare, New Zealand
Just over 21 miles from downtown Auckland and close to the incredibly popular Piha Beach, Karekare Beach at Karekare Regional Park sits among towering rocky cliffs and thundering surf. The dark sand dunes created out of the volcanic black sand also make for some pretty epic views. Also part of the regional park, the beautiful Karekare Falls are l only a short 15 mins walk from the beach along the La Trobe Track.
Perissa Beach, Santorini, Greece
Perissa is one of the largest and most famous beaches on the island of Santorini, found just at the base of Mesa Vouno Mountain. With plenty of restaurants and shops just next door—as well as lifeguards, beach chairs, umbrellas, a beach volleyball court, and restroom facilities—a trip to Perissa Beach is an absolutely perfect way to spend the day. Because of its accessibility, the beach can often get crowded during the busier tourist seasons, so opt for an off-season vacation if you want some more space to yourself.
Stokksnes Beach, Stokksnes, Iceland
With its ruggedly isolated location and icy mountains (some reaching as high as 1,500 feet), it truly doesn’t get much more epic than Stokksnes Beach in southeastern Iceland. Though the beach is near Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, and about an hour’s drive from the popular glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón, it doesn’t see too many tourists. The land is privately owned, and the landowner allows access to the area for a small fee in order to maintain the upkeep of the road. Because of the isolation and stunning landscape, Stokksnes Beach is a popular site for professional photographers.
Playa de Roque Bermejo, Tenerife, Spanish Canary Islands
A quiet, uncrowded beach hidden away from the rest of the world is what awaits you at Playa de Roque Bermejo on the island of Tenerife. The secluded beach is only accessible by foot or boat, with the hike from the nearby village of Chamorga taking upwards of two hours each way. Once there, do some snorkeling in the crystal clear waters if the surf is calm enough, or take another 30-minute walk to view Anaga Lighthouse nearby.
Maori Bay, Muriwai, New Zealand
Maori Bay on the west coast of Auckland is one of the most popular surf spots on New Zealand’s North Island. The waves are powerful here, so surfing is best left to the highly intermediate or advanced, though beginners can always look into hiring a surf instructor. Also known as “Maukatia Beach,” the bay is also a good place to check out pillow lava structures, a result of an eruption from Waitakere Volcano millions of years ago.
Ficogrande Beach, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Though there are several gorgeous black sand beaches to choose from on the Italian Aeolian Islands, Ficogrande Beach on the northeastern tip of Stromboli is the most popular. Popular partly because of the number of amenities (such as refreshments, umbrellas, beach chairs, and a beach volleyball court) and partly because of the calm swimmable waters, a day at Ficogrande is usually a day well-spent. Be prepared to bring sandals or water shoes, as the beach is mostly made up of black rocks mixed with black sand.