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The world is full of incredible destinations with beautiful beaches. If you love exploring new coastlines you might want to consider putting these especially magnificent colorful stretches of sand on your must-see list. From the tropical shores of Hawaii to the chillier but no less spectacular black sands on Iceland’s shores, you’re sure to find one that’s just right for your next vacation.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach - Naalehu, Hawaii
Papakolea Beach is made up of tiny olivine crystals from surrounding lava rocks that are trapped in the 49,000-year-old Pu’u Mahana cinder cone near the waters of Mahana Bay. These crystals are what give the sand its striking green color. As magma is rich in olivine, and it tends to be one of the first crystals to form as the lava cools, olivine is sometimes called “Hawaiian Diamond.” The crystals are particularly dense which helps them to accumulate on the beach without being washed away.
The downside to visiting Papakolea is that it is very remote – which can also be a positive, depending on your outlook. From either Kona or Hilo, it’s about a two-hour drive to the trailhead, followed by a two-mile hike which includes a rather rugged descent before reaching the emerald-colored sands.
Glass Beach - Kauai, Hawaii
Considered one of the best beaches in Hawaii, Glass Beach on Kauai is so unique because of its beautiful sea glass. Located on the southern shore of the island, you can thank the nearby industrial garbage dump for its existence. Over the years, the pounding ocean waves have transformed broken bottles and other trash like windows and even car windshields into stunning smooth, rounded bits of glass. The glass is not only more round than what’s found on most other beaches with sea glass, partially because of the massive waves, but it also contains more shades of blue than what’s usually found anywhere else as well as many other colors, like brown, clear and red.
Pink Sands Beach - Harbour Island, Bahamas
One of the world’s prettiest pink sand beaches, Pink Sands Beach on Harbour Island in the Bahamas is a fantasy come true. The nearly three-mile stretch of beach that’s consistently rated as one of the top five beaches in the world, is made up of idyllic pink sands with its rose-colored hue derived from single-celled marine organisms known as foraminifera. It’s those red shells that mix with the white sand to create a distinct, pink tone. For those who are looking for the perfect spot for a destination wedding, to celebrate an anniversary or just enjoy a little romance, there are few better places. Not only can you sink your toes into the powdery pink sands that sit at the edge of crystal clear, azure waters as you say your “I dos,” you’ll find plenty of room for guests as well as a number of idyllic honeymoon cottages.
Kokkini Beach - Santorini, Greece
Set at the base of dramatic red cliffs that rise high over crystal-blue Mediterranean waters, colorful Kokkini Beach is a result of the surrounding iron-rich black and red lava rocks that came from Thira’s ancient volcanic activity. In 1450 BC, the volcano erupted and essentially shaped the entire island of Santorini. Part of the Cyclades, this legendary isle filled with whitewashed cave houses backed by blue-domed churches that spill down the ancient volcanic crater is said to be the site of Apollo’s birthplace. In addition to the brilliant sands of Kokkini, the island is also home to extraordinary white and black sand beaches as well as ancient ruins from the prehistoric era.
Punaluu Black Sand Beach, Hawaii
Punaluu Beach, located on the Big Island’s southeastern Kau coast, is one of Hawaii’s most famous black sand beaches. It almost looks like a film negative of a traditional beach, with its incredible jet-black sand composed of basalt, a common igneous rock formed when lava rapidly cools. Here, the underwater volcanic vents ooze magma, which rapidly cools and then explodes as it touches the ocean’s waters, creating the shards of basalt seen lining the beach. With coconut palms fringing the upper edge of the sand, and Hawaiian Green Sea turtles, or honu, frequently seen basking in the sun on the sand, this is truly a spectacular place to visit.
Muriwai Black Sand Beach, New Zealand
This stunning stretch of black volcanic sand sits on Auckland’s wild west coast. The beautiful, windswept beach with sparkling black sand extends for 37 miles, perfect for a scenic stroll. Its rich color is a result of a mixture of titanium, iron and a number of other volcanic materials. The beach is also popular for surfing, fishing and bird watching. In fact, at its southern end, Otakamiro Point is the site of one of the few mainland Gannet breeding colonies in New Zealand. The headland, as well as offshore islands, are also home to white-fronted terns, blue penguins and fur seals.
Hyams Beach - New South Wales, Australia
You can find white sand beaches all over the world, but there is only one that’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the whitest sands of all. Situated on the southern shores of Jervis Bay on the south coast of New South Wales, about a 2.5 hour’s drive from Sydney, Hyams is centrally located to the numerous activities Jarvis Bay has to offer, including a marine park, native forests and clifftop walking trails. The crystal clear waters at its edge offer legendary snorkeling and diving, sailing and surfing, while whales and dolphins frequently passing by. The sands are made up of extremely fine quartz particles and are so white you almost have to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun that reflects off of it.
Pfeiffer Beach - Big Sur, California
One of the best beaches in California, Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur on the central coast is home to a beach with violet and deep-purple colored sands. The color comes from manganese garnet in the surrounding hills, which have been eroded and washed down to the beach from the creek to the Pacific. The largest concentration of purple sands can be found on the northern part of the shore – and, you’re more likely to see greater amounts of purple after a winter storm, which helps to speed the erosion of the manganese garnet. With the turquoise-hued waves crashing against the purple-tinted shore, the contrast is absolutely breathtaking. The entire region is simply breathtaking – while driving legendary Highway One, you’ll be mesmerized by the incredible scenery that includes deep gorges cutting through rugged mountains, cascading falls that plunge to the sea and pine forests that extend to the edge of numerous beautiful beaches.
Black Sands Beach - Shelter Cove, California
Black Sands Beach, part of the 80-mile-long Lost Coast of Northern California in Humboldt County, is actually more of a charcoal gray color. It’s not a product of black sand mixing with white sand, but a result of hundreds of years of erosion from nearby gray-shale cliffs along the shore. Like much of this remote region, this is a quiet, secluded beach, ideal for doing nothing at all, or for surfing, exploring and even nude sunbathing, with nudists typically congregating near the southern end of this mystical 3.5-mile stretch of sand.
Rainbow Beach - Queensland, Australia
Rainbow Beach is a tiny town at the base of the Inskip Peninsula, a three-hour drive north of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast, as well as a beach with some 74 different hues in the sand. The colors are a clandestine combination of erosion and iron oxide buildup that’s been occurring since the last ice age – though ancient Aboriginal legend says the sands are the result of the rainbow spirit falling onto the large beachside cliffs after losing a battle over a beautiful woman. You can see the most brilliant colors by walking south from the surf club along the beach for at least one-and-a-quarter miles to the start of the towering cliffs of colored sands, ideally at low tide.
Porto Ferro - Sardinia, Italy
Porto Ferro, located on the northern corner on the island of Sardinia in Italy, is a more than one-mile stretch of uniquely orange-colored sand due to the unusual mix of the area’s native orange limestone, crushed shells and other volcanic deposits. This region of the island attracts visitors of all types who arrive to see the spectacular sands as well as the clear, crystalline waters at its edge. It’s also known for its scenic hiking and biking paths, as well as three Spanish lookout towers that date back to the 17th century. On a windy day, the sea is ideal for surfing and windsurfing, while more calm days are perfect for hiring a “patino” boat to explore this stunning stretch of coast.
Red Sand Beach - Prince Edward Island, Canada
Prince Edward Island, one of eastern Canada’s maritime provinces, is home to striking red beaches due to the iron-rich sand that lines its shores. When iron comes into contact with oxygen, it forms iron oxide – also known as rust. Red soil can be found across the entire island and is particularly prevalent as the island is formed from sedimentary red sandstone. The South Shore is especially blessed, with its miles of sandy shoreline in various shades of red from champagne and pink to fiery hues, all perfect for taking a pleasant stroll, soaking up the sunshine, building castles and digging for clams.
Crescent Beach - Siesta Key, Florida
There are few places with whiter sand than Crescent Beach, located just north of Ocean Blvd and Beach Road, including the public beach of Siesta and extending southward to Point O’ Rocks on Siesta Key in the Florida Keys – other than the previously mentioned world record holder, Hyams Beach in Australia. If you don’t want to travel that far from home to find it, head here. The sand is 99 percent pure quartz, which has traveled down Florida’s rivers from the Appalachian Mountains. That means that not only does it feel like you’re walking through powdered sugar, but your feet will never burn, no matter how hot the sun happens to be that day.
Kaihalulu Beach - Maui, Hawaii
This dramatic and beautiful hidden cove, also known as Red Sand Beach, is crescent-shaped and cut deep into the Kauiki Head cinder cone, whose rust-hued lava cinder cliffs provide the beach with its red-colored sand. The cliffs made up of loose, crumbly cinders raise up almost vertically, yet somehow remain intact. The cove is protected on the ocean side by a wall of jagged black lava rock, with the colors of the water just outside the cove almost a surreal, brilliant blue. The contrast of the deep red sands against the water, combined with the lava rock, gives the entire scene an otherworldly feel.
Ramla Bay Beach, Malta
Ramla Bay Beach is located on the island of Gozo in Malta, famous for the orange sands that make it different from all the other beaches in Gozo as well as the entire nation. Locals often refer to it as the “Ramla il-Hamra” Beach, which means Red Sandy Beach, though its hue is really more of a vibrant golden orange. In addition to the unique sand, the area is filled with rich, historic treasures. In fact, Roman remains lie right beneath the beach, and the famous Calypso Cave overlooks its western side.
Rockaway Beach, Pacifica
Rockaway Beach in Pacifica, just south of San Francisco, exhibits an unusual dark, almost chocolate, brown sand color. This natural occurrence is due to the erosion of bluish-grey limestone that combines with volcanic greenstone around the beach. While the raging waters here are generally too rough for swimming, the views are amazing, and the beach offers the opportunity for favorite beach activities in a rather tranquil, serene atmosphere.
Vik Beach, Iceland
The village of Vik in southern Iceland near Katla Volcano is home to one of the most renowned black sand beaches on the planet. Its pristine, sleek black sands are believed to be due to hot lava that flowed into the chilly waters of the ocean, with the extreme temperature difference causing it to harden in tiny fragments that washed ashore. Islands Magazine named Vik as one of the world’s most beautiful non-tropical beaches, something you’ll have to decide for yourself. Just offshore you’ll see a number of striking, jagged basalt sea stacks known as Reynisdrangar. Keep an eye out for puffins while you’re here too, as this is also the home of a large population of the adorable sea birds.