Volcanoes. Lava flow. Turquoise water lapping against dark, glossy, metallic sand. Are we vacationing on Mars? Saturn? Where are the sugary white sands, the golden dunes and gently blowing sea oats?
Black sand beaches challenge our preconceptions of what a beach should look like. Black sand is created by the violent interaction between hot lava and seawater. Many black sand beaches are not ideal for sunbathing or other traditional beach activities (black sand absorbs more heat than a traditional white sand beach, and it can be coarse to walk on barefoot), but they do offer travelers a different type of escape -one characterized by dramatic, otherworldly views and a landscape of richly contrasting colors. Black sand beaches provide the type of surreal exoticism one equates with fantasy and science fiction.
10 Langkawi Island, Malaysia
9 Anse Chastanet, St. Lucia
8 Point Venus, Tahiti
7 Santo Domingo Beach, Albay: Philippines
6 Cahuita Beach, Costa Rica
Costa Rica has over 200 identifiable volcanic formations. However, only around 100 actually show signs of volcanic activity, while five are classified as active volcanoes. The northwest Pacific region of Costa Rica is where most of the black sand beaches are found. Coco, Flamingo, and Portete beaches all feature pebbly black sand and are popular destinations for ecotourists. However, Cahuita Beach, otherwise known as Playa Negra, is the country’s most famous swath of black sand.
5 Black Sand Beach: Prince William Sound, Alaska
4 Kehena Beach, Hawaii
The Hawaiian Islands are home to some of the world’s most famous black sand beaches. Located on the Big Island’s Puna district, this narrow beach is not only comprised of fine black sand, but it is one of the only clothing optional beaches in Hawaii. Locals call it "Dolphin Beach" because of the frequent appearance of spinner dolphins offshore
3 Black Sands Beach, California
2 Vik Beach, Iceland
Icelandic legend says that a magician swam to the island in the form of a whale with the goal of bringing the isolated island under his spell. However, when the magician reached Iceland’s rocky shores, he discovered the North Atlantic Island was already inhabited by elves, trolls, and spirits who fiercely defended the volcanic mountains, glacial ice sheets and lush green meadows.
1 Punaluu Beach, Hawaii
Featuring jet black sand, a palm-lined freshwater fishpond, and cool ocean water due to the freshwater springs in the area, Punaluu is a classic Hawaiian black sand beach. The sand was created when the molten lava from Kilauea Volcano flowed into the cool sea causing the lava to break apart into tiny fragments that later washed up on the beach. The beach is ideal for swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, fishing, and turtle watching. Yes. Turtle watching. Hawksbill turtles and Green sea turtles use Punaluu Beach as a nesting site and feed on the limu seaweed that grows offshore. Although Punaluu’s famous jet-black sand is beautiful, it’s illegal to take it off the beach. If you want a souvenir, buy a postcard instead.
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