Whether it’s in the tropics of Hawaii and the Caribbean, along the coastlines of Greece and Italy, or rimming the far-flung shores of Iceland and New Zealand, these dark, dramatic shorelines make white beaches seem awfully—well—pale.
Pailoa Beach, Maui
Just off Maui’s renowned Hana Highway, Wai’anapanapa State Park is home to a seabird colony, sea stacks, arches, and other natural wonders, but its small black sand beach, created by the surf grinding down the lava flow of the Haleakela Volcano, is the prize. Further, the emerald naupaka shrubs lining the beach add a stunning contrast to the dark, dark sands.
Pololū Valley Beach, Hawaii Island
The eruption of the Kohala Volcano 250,000 – 300,000 years ago created the Kohala coastline on the Big Island’s windward coast, which is marked by steep and spectacular sea cliffs. Nestled among those 500-foot cliffs (and at the end of the Pololū Valley via a half-mile hike) sits this wild beach dotted with polished lava rocks. Note that the waters here are as wild as the scenery: Swimming is dangerous and not advised.
Diamond Beach, Iceland
On the island nation’s southern shore, this strip of black sand is doubly stark because of icebergs that wash up onto the beach from the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, glittering like massive diamonds. Beyond this natural drama, Diamond Beach is also home to many seals and is one of the best places in the country to spy orcas offshore.
Black Sands Beach, Lost Coast, California
Unlike Hawaiian beaches, whose black sand is the result of volcanic basalt being shattered and ground by the ocean, this 3.5-mile stretch of sand in Northern California’s remote and rugged region is a mix of non-volcanic material: a dark-hued sandstone called greywacke and compressed shale.
Playa Jardín, Tenerife, Canary Islands
In the midst of the busy town of Puerto de la Cruz on Tenerife, this may be one of the tamest black-sand beaches to visit, but the surrounding gardens and pathways designed by Canadian artist César Manrique, the views of the volcano Mount Teide, not to mention the brightly colored umbrellas that line the shore, make it a singular visual feast.
Anse Couleuvre, Martinique
Backed by steep hillsides, ringed by lush undergrowth, and shaded by slender palms, this dark-grey strand near the village of Le Precheur on Martinique’s north shore has a strong Caribbean castaway vibe. With rich marine life just offshore, Anse Couleuvre also attracts snorkelers; with strong currents though, explorers need to swim with caution.
Kamari Beach, Santorini, Greece
With its pewter-colored pebbles, this is one of the largest stretches of black sand on the volcanic Greek island. Located on Santorini’s east coast, the beach’s namesake village of Kamari is a popular tourist spot with all the requisite pleasures of beach bars, shops, and picturesque thatch umbrellas shading rows of lounges that overlook the cerulean Aegean Sea.
Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve, Indonesia
This tropical wildlife preserve in the northeasternmost part of volcanic Sulawesi Island is not only home to deeply dark beaches, but also to Celebes crested macaques who roam the shore, making for a perfect match with their landscape.
Muriwai Beach, New Zealand
With silty, dark sands caused by the iron content from ancient volcanoes (including the Kaipara Volcano, which erupted 16-23 million years ago), this beach near Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island is a popular hangout for surfing, fishing, and horseback riding. Muriwai Regional Park, at the southern end of the beach, is a haven for nesting Australaisan ganett seabirds.
Praia a Mare, Italy
Tucked at the northern tip of the Calabrian coastline that faces the Tyrhhenian Sea, the beach of this charming resort town of the same name is a stretch of fine, dark gray volcanic sand and pebbles that overlooks stunning Dino Island.
Once blessed with white sands deposited by the Abe River, time and tide has removed that layer to reveal an equally dramatic, dark base of volcanic shoreline that first formed this peninsula that overlooks Mount Fuji. This famed scenic area is also lined with more than 30,000 pine trees, including a 650-year-old specimen that plays a role in the Japanese legend of Hagoromo and is the site of festivals and shrines.
The Reynisdrangar sea stacks standing like dark, ghostly sentinels make this beach near the small fishing village of Vik a mysterious and otherworldly place. And that otherworldly quality wasn’t lost on the producers of Game of Thrones: the sea stacks are visible in a few scenes of “North of the Wall” in Season 7 of the popular HBO series.
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