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9 Most Colorful Beaches in the World

By Kaeli Conforti
January 12, 2022
Colorful_Beaches_Papakolea_Hawaii_green_rocks
Galina Barskaya/Dreamstime
The classic beach scene is beige sand, blue water. Yawn. On these nine beaches, you'll find sand ranging from purple to green to orange, plus one beach that showcases 74 different hues—all at once.

Most beaches need umbrellas and blankets to brighten up the landscape. Not these nine stretches of sand. From iconic pink sand beaches in the Bahamas to a green beach in Hawaii, we've rounded up nine beaches around the world that you have to see to believe—and we show you exactly how to get there.

SEE THE WORLD'S MOST COLORFUL BEACHES!

BLACK SAND
Muriwai Black Sand Beach, New Zealand
Black sand beaches are typically a result of an island's explosive volcanic past—the rich color is a result of a mixture of iron, titanium, and several other volcanic materials. New Zealand's stunning Muriwai Black Sand Beach is a 37-mile stretch of sparkling black sand and home to New Zealand's largest colony of Gannet birds. Hike up the scenic trail at the southern end of the beach to two viewing platforms for great ocean views and a peek at the birds in their natural habitat, where nearly 1,200 pairs nest between August and March each year.

See it for yourself: Just a 40-minute ride west of downtown Auckland, Muriwai Black Sand Beach can be a day trip, or book a room at the Lodge Escape at Muriwai for from $120 a night. Feeling gutsy? Try a two-hour lesson from the Muriwai Surf School (from $60 per person including equipment).

GREEN SAND
Papakōlea Beach, Big Island of Hawaii
Located on the southern tip of Hawaii's Big Island, Papakōlea Beach is more commonly referred to as Green Sand Beach. And for good reason. The sand here is made of tiny olivine crystals from the surrounding lava rocks that are trapped in the 49,000-year-old Pu'u Mahana cinder cone by the waters of Mahana Bay. The density of the olivine crystals keeps them from being washed away by the tide, resulting in a striking olive-green accumulation along the coastline. Swimming is allowed but waves on the windy southern coast can be particularly strong. And while it's tempting, it's bad form to take the sand home with you.

See it for yourself: Papakōlea Beach is equidistant from both Kona and Hilo, and well worth the scenic two-hour-and-15-minute drive on Highway 11 (look for signs for Ka Lae, or South Point between mile markers 69 and 70). You can also take the two-mile hike along the southernmost point in the U.S.A. for a glimpse of the uniquely olive-green sand.

RED SAND
Red Beach, Santorini, Greece
Santorini's Red Beach (also called Kokkini Beach) is set at the base of giant red cliffs that rise high over crystal-blue Mediterranean waters. The colorful red sand is a result of the surrounding iron-rich black and red lava rocks left over from the ancient volcanic activity of Thira, the impressive volcano that erupted and essentially shaped Santorini in 1450 B.C. Nowadays, the beach is popular with sunbathers, though you'll want to rent beach chairs to avoid sitting directly on the coarse sand. And it's best to visit in the early morning hours—the sand heats up under the warm Mediterranean sun.

See it for yourself: The easiest way to reach Red Beach is by boat from Akrotíri or Períssa on Santorini. Pair your trip to the beach with a visit to the ancient Minoan Ruins of Akrotiri, a 10-minute walk away.

PINK SAND
Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Eleuthera, Bahamas
A lot goes into making this Pink Sand Beach so… pink. The three-and-a half-mile-long stretch gets its hue from thousands of broken coral pieces, shells, and calcium carbonate materials left behind by foraminifera (tiny marine creatures with red and pink shells) that live in the coral reefs that surround the beach. The pink sands can also be found on Harbour Island's Atlantic side and along the Exuma Sound—Lighthouse Beach, Surfer's Beach, Winding Bay Beach, and French Leave Beach are also famous for their rosy sand.

See it for yourself: Several flights to Eleuthera are available through Bahamasair from South Florida, or opt for one of several ferries or water taxis from the other Bahamian islands. The five-hour Eleuthera Express from Nassau costs $35 per person one-way. To get to Harbor Island from North Eleuthera Airport, take a 10-minute taxi ride (about $5 per person) to the boat dock and a 10-minute water taxi (also about $5 per person) across to Harbor Island—bicycles, scooters, and golf carts are available for rental once on the island, while walking tends to be the preferred form of transportation.

PURPLE SAND
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California
Have you ever heard of purple sand? Head to the northern coastline of Pfeiffer Beach, where patches of violet and deep-purple sand can be found. The source is large deposits of quartz and manganese garnet originating in the nearby hills being washed down from the creek to its final resting place along the Pacific. The purple sand is more likely to be seen after storms during the winter. Swimming is not recommended because of strong currents and a number of sharp purple rocks offshore, which also contribute to the beach's rare coloration.

See it for yourself: Pfeiffer Beach is located just outside Big Sur State Park about an hour south of Monterey, or roughly two hours and 45 minutes south of San Francisco along Pacific Coast Highway 1. Keep an eye out for Sycamore Canyon Road just past mile marker 45.64 and continue through Los Padres National Forest—if you are driving from Northern California, turn right approximately 0.66 miles after you see the park ranger station. Parking is available for $5 per vehicle.

ORANGE SAND
Porto Ferro, Sardinia, Italy
The northern corner of Italy's island of Sardinia is home to Porto Ferro, a one-and-a-quarter-mile stretch of oddly orange-colored sand thanks to a unique mixture of the area's native orange limestone, crushed shells, and other volcanic deposits. You can also find 65-foot-tall ochre-colored sand dunes behind the beach on the way to Lake Baratz, Sardinia's only natural salt lake. The area is known for its scenic bike and hiking paths, and three Spanish lookout towers—Torre Negra, Torre Bianca, and Torre de Bantine Sale—that date back to the 1600s. Boating is the best way to explore this pristine area of Sardinia, which is also a popular spot for diving, surfing, and windsurfing.

See it for yourself: Ryanair offers affordable round-trip flights from many Italian cities to the town of Alghero on Sardinia, with prices from Rome's Ciampino Airport starting at around $69 per person. Once on the island of Sardinia, Porto Ferro is just 19 miles outside Alghero—drive northwest toward the town of Capo Caccia, turn right, and continue up the coast to reach Porto Ferro.

WHITE SAND
Crescent Beach, Siesta Key, Florida
A lot of places boast that they have white-sand beaches, but it doesn't get much whiter than Crescent Beach, located on Siesta Key, a barrier island just off the coast of Sarasota, FL. The sand here is 99 percent pure quartz, which has traveled down Florida's rivers from the Appalachian Mountains. The best part about this sand's fine texture: Not only does it feel like you're walking through powdered sugar, but because of its unique quartz makeup, it will never heat up no matter how hot the Florida sun beats down. You'll also find coral and other diverse rock formations at the southern end of the beach at Point of Rocks that make this a great area for diving and snorkeling. Alas, it turns out there may be one beach with whiter sand: Hyams Beach in Australia is now listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the whitest sand in the world.

See it for yourself: Siesta Key is about a 20-minute drive from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport—travel south on U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) to Siesta Drive, turn right and go over the bridge to Siesta Key, bear left at the first traffic light, follow State Highway 758, and make a right at the second traffic light at Beach Road. Park in the lot on the left and walk five minutes south to reach Crescent Beach.

GRAY SAND
Shelter Cove, Humboldt County, California
One word best describes Shelter Cove: remote. It's worth the trip to see the gray-colored sand, the result of years of erosion of the nearby gray-shale cliffs along the shore. The area is also known for its scenic coastal drives, hikes, and an abundant source of wildlife at the nearby 68,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area, home to sea lions, bald eagles, and Roosevelt elk—even Bigfoot himself has been spotted roaming the woods here.

See it for yourself: Make the four-and-a-half-hour drive north from San Francisco on Highway 101 to Northern California's Humboldt County. Shelter Cove is along "The Lost Coast" just above Mendocino County and about an hour south of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Look for the Redway-Shelter Cove exit on U.S. Highway 101 and drive onto Briceland Road to get to the northern part of the beach.

MULTICOLORED SAND
Rainbow Beach, Australia
Rainbow Beach makes up for its small size (just 0.62 miles) with its many colors. There are 74 different hues, a clandestine combination of erosion and iron oxide buildup that has been occurring since the last ice age, and the makeup changes. There is a sad romantic story behind the colors as well. According to an ancient Aboriginal legend, the sands became colorful as a result of the rainbow spirit falling onto the large 656-foot tall beachside cliffs after losing a battle over a beautiful woman, leaving his beautiful colors to rest on the beach for all of eternity.

See it for yourself: Rainbow Beach is a three-hour drive north of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast of northeast Queensland. Greyhound Australia offers shuttle bus service to Rainbow Beach from Brisbane International Airport—prices for a round-trip adult ticket start from $114 per person including taxes. Another bus company, Premier Motor Services, offers similar routes for from $60 per person for a round-trip ticket.

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The Azores, Faial For hundreds of years, ships have stopped in Horta, the main port of Faial, on their way between the New and Old Worlds. The seafarers left their mark, creating a giant collage of inscriptions and colorful paintings on the walls and sidewalks of the marina's jetty. (Bad luck reputedly follows any sailor who doesn't leave a mark in the port.) Yachts and fishing boats still pull into Faial regularly, but the nine islands of the Azores--an autonomous region of Portugal, in a warm climate 900 miles west of the mainland--also bring in Europeans attracted to the volcanic landscapes, black sand beaches, and peaceful vibe. Simple rooms with marina views and air-conditioning are usually less than $100 a night at Residencial São Francisco in Horta (Rua Conselheiro Medeiros, 011-351/292-200-980, residencialsaofrancisco.com). SATA International flies direct from Boston to the island of São Miguel in the Azores, with continuing flights to Horta (800/762-9995, azores-express.com, from $908). The Peter Café Sport, serving sailors since 1918, is big on nautical memorabilia (Rua Tenente Valadim, 011-351/292-292-327, grilled ham, cheese, and pineapple sandwich $2). The cafe's museum houses a fascinating scrimshaw collection ($2). Faial's western end is a moonscape formed by a volcano eruption in the 1950s, where roofs still peek out from mounds of ash. The nearby Forest Park of Capelo is a nice swath of green with tables and chairs made of volcanic stone. It's perfect for picnics. After exploring Faial, try neighboring isles Pico and São Jorge, connected by ferries; they're known for their wine and cheese respectively (transmacor.pt, $4--$17 each way). --Jeanine Barone France, Ile de la Barthelasse When Avignon's medieval popes needed a break from the hubbub of their walled city, they crossed a bridge to a bucolic retreat in the middle of the Rhone River. Centuries later, Ile de la Barthelasse and adjoining Ile de Piot--whose vineyards, vegetable gardens, and pear, apple, and cherry orchards cover more than half of their nearly three total square miles--still make for a wonderful getaway. The two river islands are crisscrossed by cobbled walkways, woodsy hiking trails, and rambling country roads. An old path along the river provides spectacular views of Avignon's ramparts and the St. Bénézet Bridge, both the subjects of Impressionist paintings. To reach the islands, pedal across the Daladier Bridge on a rental from Provence Bike (011-33/4-90-27-92-61, provence-bike.com, from $13.50 per day) or hop on the free bus from Avignon's Porte de l'Oulle. Once there, you'll feel truly out in the country by mounting a horse at Centre Equestre d'Avignon (011-33/4-90-85-83-48, cheval-avignon.com, from $3 per hour, reservations required). While away the hours in the riverfront bar/cafés or on the leafy terrace at Le Bercail (Chemin des Canotiers, 011-33/4-90-82-20-22, pizzas from $6), which looks straight across to Avignon's bluffs. Bed down in elegance at Auberge de la Treille (011-33/4-90-16-46-20, latreille.net, rooms from $104), an 18th-century mansion. Splurge on the evening menu for the full glory of Provençal cuisine--foie gras, fish, cheeses, truffles, fresh fruit, and chocolates (prix fixe from $30). --David Lyon Mexico, Isla Holbox Less than 100 miles north of the giant resorts and rowdy revelers in Cancún lies an island that feels like it's on another continent. On Isla Holbox, the village square, or El Parque, consists of a basketball court where locals play pickup games and a few basic stores that would never be considered boutiques. Instead of cars, golf cart taxis quietly motor along sandy streets. The island has no nightclubs, high-rise hotels, cell phone service, or ATMs (bring pesos). The lack of distractions leaves you with plenty of time for walking on the beach, feasting on the freshest seviche, taking siestas, swimming in calm waters, and collecting seashells. Peek into the doorway of a sand-floored home and you're likely to catch someone napping in a hammock. It's hard not to succumb to the slow life. In the afternoons, amble over to the beachside cantina Discoteca Carioca's (no address or phone; like everything else on the island, it's easy to find) for guacamole and a michelada--a specialty that mixes lots of lime with beer and a shot of chili sauce. A kiosk in the square serves a perfectly crisp chicken torta (sandwich) for about $1.50. If you're feeling ambitious, rent a sea kayak or try to reel in a few yellowtail or bonitos on a deep-sea fishing excursion. There aren't outfitters per se, so arrange an outing through your hotel, or simply head down to the waterfront and haggle. During the summer months, a local skipper can also take you out to swim with 50-foot whale sharks. It may sound dangerous, but the sharks are actually harmless and friendly. To get to Holbox from the port of Chiquila, catch the 9 Hermanos Ferry for the half-hour ride (travelyucatan.com, $4). Depending on the season, $80 to $130 scores a thatched-roof palapa, with beds made of rough-hewn logs, and a breakfast of eggs and fresh fruit, at the Xaloc Resort (011-52/984-87-52160, holbox-xalocresort.com). --Melinda Page Fiji, Ovalau From 1852 to 1882, Levuka, a rowdy outpost for sailors and traders on the island of Ovalau, served as Fiji's capital. Today, the Fijian government and most tourists do their business on Viti Levu, leaving Ovalau quiet and empty. The clapboard storefronts along Levuka's main drag have survived largely intact from the colonial days. Instead of the rollicking saloons of yesteryear, they now house quiet dry-goods stores and a few restaurants, such as Whale's Tale (011-679/344-0235, fresh fish or pasta entrées $6). Another relic is the Royal Hotel, which opened in 1852 and is Fiji's oldest hotel (011-679/344-0024, royal@connect.com.fj, doubles from $18). The old South Pacific comes to life in the lounge, which has creaking rattan furniture, a snooker table, and giant tortoise shells hanging on the walls. Rooms are furnished simply, with a couple of cots, toilet, and shower. The four guest rooms at Levuka Homestay offer better accommodations, including air-conditioning, a shady deck, and a full breakfast (011-679/344-0777, levukahomestay.com, doubles from $65). Round trips from Suva, on Viti Levu, to Levuka start at $72 (Air Fiji, 011-679/331-3666, airfiji.net). Ovalau lacks good swimming beaches, but the soft corals surrounding the island make for fine diving. Ovalau Watersports runs daily dives, as well as tours to Caqalai, a speck of an island with coral sand beaches 40 minutes away (011-679/344-0166, owlfiji.com, two-tank dive $75, Caqalai tour $40). --M.B. Croatia, Korcula A jewel box that juts like a thumb from the main body of the island, Korcula's Old Town owes much of its architectural heritage to the 15th and 16th centuries, when it was part of the prosperous Republic of Venice. Narrow streets lined with medieval white-stone buildings spread out from the spire of St. Mark's Cathedral at the center of town. Encircling the densely packed city is a 14th-century wall; sapphire-blue waters surround the entire isle. Korcula is connected by ferry to the more popular towns of Split and Dubrovnik (Jadrolinija Ferries, jadrolinija.hr, from $5). The boat drops you off in Vela Luka, on Korcula's western end. Buses bump along the spine of the island eastbound to Korcula Town, dipping past black cypress trees and terraced olive groves, with some hairpin turns along the way. On the harbor in Old Town is the Hotel Korcula, a Venetian palace with a loggia where you can have breakfast and look across the bay to the hills of the mainland (011-385/20-711-078, doubles from $67). A 10-minute bus ride away, the small fishing village of Lumbarda has the only sandy beaches on the island--at the end of a red dirt path that winds through vineyards that produce a crisp white wine called Grk. Enjoy a glass and dig into fresh grilled fish and octopus back in Korcula Town at Konoba Adio Mare (011-385/20-711-253, dinner for two $35). After dinner, go for a stroll through romantically lit Old Town. Pass by the city walls on the way to the harbor to watch the sky glow and slowly darken over the channel and the hillsides. --Sunshine Flint Brazil, Ilha Grande Rio's beaches sizzle, but when Brazilians want the escape that only an island can offer, they go to Ilha Grande. The 119-square-mile slice of paradise is home to 106 beaches, 500 full-time residents, and no cars (they're banned). Bring good walking shoes or be prepared to paddle a kayak, which are the only ways to find some of the best beaches and coves. Surfers are wowed by the waves at Lopes Mendes and other beaches, divers love the caverns and crystal clear waters in every direction, and hikers keep busy with scores of trails, such as the one that ascends 3,200 feet to the island's best lookout, Pico do Papagaio (Parrot's Peak). Until a decade ago, the only visitors to the island came in shackles. Ilha Grande served as a penal colony until 1994, so tourism is relatively new; there's little chance of finding resort chains renting wave runners. Abraão, the main hub, consists of a few souvenir shops and cafés. Ilhagrande.com.br lists places to stay and covers the basics, including how to get to Angra dos Reis or Mangaratiba, the mainland ports that connect to Ilha Grande by two-hour ferry. The island's edges are dotted with inns, or pousadas--most quite inexpensive thanks to the strong U.S. dollar. The nine suites at Sagu Resort are decorated simply, with exposed wooden beams and white walls, and outside each guest room there's a porch with a hammock (011-55/24-3361-5660, saguresort.com, doubles from $80). The property overlooks the beach, and up a stone path you can kick back in the dreamy ofuro (hot tub). Abraão is a 15-minute walk away, but most everything you want is right at the resort, including kayak rentals, caipirinhas, fresh-caught fish, and tropical fruit picked from the garden. --Jessica Shaw Japan, Miyajima The Japanese say that their country has three most scenic spots: Amanohashidate, a sandbar that snakes across Miyazu Bay in the northern Kyoto Prefecture; Matsushima Bay, which is dotted with 260 tiny, pine-covered islands; and Miyajima, or "shrine island"--12 square miles dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o-no-Mikoto, the Shinto god of the oceans. The island is so sacred that no one is supposed to give birth or die here; there are no maternity wards or cemeteries. Cutting trees is forbidden, and the forest provides sanctuary for dozens of bird species, as well as deer, which roam all over, and monkeys, which live atop 1,740-foot Mount Misen (reached by a two-hour hike from the pier or a 30-minute cable car ride). After a 10-minute ferry ride departing near Hiroshima, you're greeted by a 50-foot-tall red Torii gate that soars out of the water majestically, signifying entrance to the spiritual realm. Taira-no-Kiyomori, a 12th-century warlord, funded the construction of the main Itsukushima shrine--a collection of buildings on stilts over a cove--to provide repose for the souls of the war dead. A five-story pagoda, folklore museum, and aquarium are all minutes from the docks. Stop at a shop for momiji-manju--sponge cakes filled with sweet red bean paste, custard, or chocolate--or sit down at a restaurant for eel, oysters, or okonomiyaki, a vegetable and meat pancake. The island has several fine small inns, such as the Miyajima Hotel Makoto, where most rooms are equipped with tatami mats and futons (011-81/829-44-0070, makato@gambo-ad.com, from $125). Or make Miyajima a day trip and stay in Hiroshima at the World Friendship Center, a B&B that arranges tours of the peace park and interviews with A-bomb survivors (8-10 Higashi Kannon-machi, 011-81/82-503-3191, from $34 per person). --Jeanette Hurt