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Top Ten Black Sand Beaches

Among the least common colors for beach sand, black sand beaches are made from a combination of natural elements and occurrences. There are few truly black sand beaches in the world and most occur in areas where there has been volcanic activity, in the ancient past or more recently. But black sand beaches are not always made from lava and sometimes the color isnít permanent.

A temporary black beach can occur when mineral deposits are churned up and deposited during bad storms with accompanying high waves. Some of the minerals present include thorium, tungsten, titanium and zirconium; the black sand may also include ground fragments of semi-precious stones such as ruby, sapphire, garnet, topaz and even precious diamonds!

Black sand often, but not always, contains lava. The famous black sand beaches of the Hawaiian Islands virtually all were created from the dramatic collision of cool, salty ocean water with hot lava pouring into it.

Weíve picked the top ten black sand beaches not based on typical beach accouterments and activities like swimming and sunbathing, but more for the drama of their appearance. There are thousands of white, gold, beige and pinky sand beaches that answer to vacation-style popularity. Black sand beaches are about breathtaking scenery, color-contrast drama and the earthís elements that created them. Here are our choices:

#10 - Pololu Valley Beach, Hawaii

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This very small stretch of soft, sandy beach takes its beauty from the surrounding Kohala Mountains. Visitors must hike down about 400 feet (a walk of about 20 minutes) to the beach, which is also a good spot for long, leisurely walks; the currents are too strong and the waves too high for swimming or snorkeling.

#9 - Lost Coast Black Sand Beach, California

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Stretching along 80 miles of coastline, the stark blue water, black sand and emerald green hillsides create a palette of contracting colors that results in striking photographs. The beach is surrounded by mountain peaks over 2000í feet high, the highest reaching 4087 feet, and is mostly visited by hikers and photographers. Swimming is possible, but few partake.

#8 - Black Sand Beach, Prince William Sound, Alaska

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This is not a suitable spot for sunbathing, but more for watching water mammals bask in the icy blue waters they call home. A great spot for kayaking, the beach is about 60 miles from Anchorage and resplendent with incredible views of waterfalls, glaciers and the surrounding low, old mountains. You can hear the silence. Majestic.

#7 - Kehena Beach, Hawaii

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Also known as Dolphin Beach, here is where you can swim with the dolphins in their natural habitat when the tides are conducive to it. The current, however, can be unpredictable, and beach-goers much remain aware of this. The beach is normally good for swimming, when currents allow, and many visitors have made this an impromptu nude beach (although local laws do not permit nudity or even partial nudity on the Stateís beaches). The soft curve of the beach and its ring of lush green trees make it picturesque and fairly private.

#6 - Vik Beach, Iceland

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Located near a small village in the south of Iceland, this is a beach with unparalleled scenery, worthy of a photography expedition to the site. Given the cold climate, the beach is not one for swimming and sunbathing, but the physical majesty and stunning beauty of it are sufficient reason to spend quiet time here connecting with the power of nature. The theatrical mossy cliffs with their touches of orange rock contrasting with the black sand, pebbles and rocks of the beach are simply pure, natural art.

#5 - Oneuli Beach, Maui

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Warm gentle waters, soft waves and lack of crowds make this beach a favorite for people who love to swim, hike, fish or go boating; you can even camp right on the beach! It is ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving; the underwater scenery is pretty and varied. A kayak tour of the waters just offshore makes for a relaxing paddle with interesting sights on and in the waters. This very black sand gets extremely hot in the sun, so shoes are mandatory beach equipment.

#4 - Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach, Maui

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Itís the breathtaking scenery that separates this beach from other similar ones on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Bright green, vegetation-covered outcrops protrude into the royal blue and turquoise sea waters next to the deeply black sand. Sea caves make exploring underwater fascinating and relaxing; natural stone bridges are mysterious and enchanting. This is a perfect spot to swim and scuba dive in the summer, but in winter the surf is too dangerous to tackle.

#3 - Punaluu Beach, Hawaii

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Boasting a very soft sandy surface, this black beach turns slightly rocky as it merges into the ocean. It is surrounded by palm trees that lean gently in the warm breezes and the waters are comfortably warm for swimming and paddling. One of the top features of this beautiful beach, often cited as the top black sand beach in the world, is the giant green sea turtles; they come ashore and wander among human visitors with ease. Itís a remarkable sight!

#2 - Honokalani Black Sand Beach, Maui

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Located within the Waianapanapa State Park, this stunningly beautiful beach is privately encircled by lush green vegetation, graceful, tall palm trees and striking lava cliffs. The diversity of the sea and sand and surrounding nature is a perfect synergy. The beach itself comprises small, very smooth lava pebbles. Swimming is excellent here; underwater caves make for some of the best snorkeling anywhere.

#1 - Playa Zancudo, Cost Rica

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It might come as a surprise that we didnít pick a Hawaiian black sand beach as our number one, but this is one of the best-kept sandy secrets in the world. This beach has it all, unless you happen to like a Miami-style beach with all the hustle and bustle. Relatively unspoiled and decidedly not a huge tourist draw, Playa Zancudo is located on the southern Pacific coast and runs 6 miles in length; the sand is black and the ocean is comfortably warm, offering some of the best swimming on the planet. Surrounded by coconut palms and almond trees, there is a nearby mangrove swamp where abundant wildlife entertains. Near the old banana port of Golfito, and right on the Golfo Ducle, this beach is ideal for swimming, surfing, snorkeling, walking and relaxing in peace and quiet. The bay is a haven for sport-fishing with tuna, marlin and sailfish ready for the catch. At night, spectacular sunsets are closed by skies glittering with stars.

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