By Melissa Alvarado Sierra | Published on September 21, 2022

The Caribbean is one of the most popular beach vacation destinations in the world, and for good reason. It's a colorful place, with coastlines boasting hues of blue, white, yellow, green and, perhaps surprisingly, black. This for me makes black sand beaches one for the best vacation destination spots to uncover. Honestly when I first heard of them, I thought they were just a myth — a trick to get tourists to go to a less popular beach. It wasn't until I was at Conuco restaurant and met Antonio, a resident of Vieques island in Puerto Rico, that I started to believe that maybe the hype was real. "You need to see Playa Negra," he said. "It's true black sand, and there's nothing like it on the isle or elsewhere in Puerto Rico." He said it was a bit difficult to reach, so he drew a map on a napkin and handed it to me. I was intrigued.

Finding My First Black Sand Beach in Puerto Rico

I took the napkin, hopped on my 4X4 rental and headed south on the small Puerto Rico island to the town of Esperanza. The 996 winding road took me past small neighborhoods and farms to a clearing where I could see the coast. Then, I took route 201, as per the map, and was suddenly deep in the jungle driving on a narrow lane. I then saw the words "Playa Negra" on a lamppost and knew I had found it. There's a trail that takes you to the beach, an easy 8-10 minute walk on a remote path through the forest. If it rained the day before, beware of flooding on the trail — I can speak from experience. I trudged through the water on my way to the beach, feeling lucky that I wore my waterproof shoes.

black volcanic sand beach in Vieques Puerto Rico. The Caribbean.
black volcanic sand beach in Vieques Puerto Rico. The Caribbean.
Playa Negra in Vieques, Puerto Rico. The Caribbean.
Playa Negra in Vieques, Puerto Rico. The Caribbean.
Once on the beach, I heeded Antonio's advice to walk east to witness how the sand changes from golden to black. The further I walked, the finer and darker the sand became underfoot. All of a sudden I was walking on pure black sand. The colors of the water and the rocks changed and seemed brighter, highlighted against the black background. The sand here is believed to turn black because of erosion caused by the water splashing constantly against the rocks, but on the other islands I later visited, this phenomenon is believed to take place because of volcanic residue. No matter the reason, I was finally witnessing a Caribbean rarity and was surprised at how utterly mesmerizing and mysterious it all felt. That day, I decided I would travel around the Caribbean in search of other black sand beaches I had heard about. Maybe those were real, too.
It's a colorful place, with coastlines boasting hues of blue, white, yellow, green and, perhaps surprisingly, black. 

One Island, Two Black Sand Beaches

 black sand beach with waterfall at Wavine Cyrique in Dominica. The Caribbean.
black sand beach with waterfall at Wavine Cyrique in Dominica. The Caribbean.
On my tour of the Caribbean's most beautiful black sand beaches, I ended up in the northern town of Portsmouth in Dominica, known as the Spice Isle. The sand is not as dark as in Playa Negra, but it's still an enchanting sight. Locals and visitors alike love this stretch of sand, fringed by palm tree after palm tree. You'll see tourists and local families, as well as medical students from around the world who are studying at the nearby Ross University, all enjoying the dark sand. I found a little patch of shade under a palm tree and sat down to enjoy the beach. It was a lively scene, with volleyball games on the sand, kayaks and jet skis on the water, and people riding horses up and down the beach.
seashell on the Black Sand Beach. The Caribbean.
seashell on the Black Sand Beach. The Caribbean.

The Coconut Beach Hotel was close by and featured a small restaurant and bar. As soon as I got hungry, I walked over and ordered a mango salad and a glass of Kubuli, the local beer. The bartender casually mentioned that Coconut Beach was not the only black sand beach on Dominica. I could not believe it. Two black beaches on one island? Impossible, I said.

He was right. It's called Rosalie Bay, and the sand is very dark with views that are out of this world. Picture this: a rugged mountain called Morne Trois Piton that seems to touch the sky with hundreds of palm trees, tall and short, sitting along the shore. The sand is black, and shades of aquamarine dance across the water. And the best part? It was totally deserted, which only added to the mystique. I was surprised to have the beach to myself, surrounded by a very dense and humid jungle. I headed to the water and jumped in, coming face to face with a sea turtle. I kept a safe distance and said hello. The turtle peacefully floated there for a second, looking into my eyes, then slowly turned and swam away. It was an incredible moment, and I felt like I was let in on a beautiful secret.

Beyond The Black Sand

 visiting the hidden beaches of Grenada. The Caribbean.
visiting the hidden beaches of Grenada. The Caribbean.

The next black sand miracle on my bucket list was Black Bay Beach in Grenada. And for this one, I had to hike a little longer than usual. I took the Concord main road and looked for the signs, parking along the street. Once I found the trail, I hiked about half an hour until I came upon the secluded beach, located in the parish of St. John. The beach was lined by skinny palm trees and robust tropical trees, the sand marbled with shades of black and gray. There were streaks and roads of black sand that swirled and led straight to the ocean, submerging under the waves and seemingly reaching the bottom of the sea. I found this beach to be one of the most relaxing spots on the island and was surprised to find that the black sand was only one of many attractions here. 

Throughout the day, I watched as people wandered in and out of a cave peeking out of the stone walls. I followed a group inside, finding just more sand and some rocks, thinking this cave was relatively unremarkable. Then, a fellow traveler gestured for me to come over and look up at the cave wall. I saw what looked like minimalist drawings and asked what they were. "Those are ancient Amerindian markings," they explained. "Really?" I asked, amazed by this discovery. "This beach keeps getting better and better," I said.

That beach in Grenada made me realize that there's so much more beyond the black sand that makes these beaches so special. As soon I stepped foot in Soufriere in St. Lucia, I asked a local about Anse Chastanet Beach, a supposedly black sand beach that titillates the senses with views of fantastical peaks, giant tropical plants and emerald green waters caressing the dark shore. Getting here is easy; the hard thing is to leave, I was warned. The view of the Pitons, one of UNESCO's natural World Heritage sites, is surely going to make you want to move here. I was not prepared to witness this kind of beauty.

First, make sure you bring along your snorkeling gear, or you can rent it nearby. Then be ready to be wowed by the colorful underwater world of Anse Chastanet Reef, a place teeming with marine life and coral reefs — some of the most vibrant and thriving reefs I have seen in all of the Caribbean while on vacation. It's easy to reach, too. You just access it via the beach. Look for the area that is buoyed off and protected with "no boats" signs. Once underwater, dozens of fish put on a show. I spotted needlefish, trumpet fish, peacock flounders, and puffers, as well as seahorses, sea urchins and sea turtles. I fell in love with the variety of sea sponges. I knew that if I hadn't gone searching for that black sand beach, I wouldn't have discovered this wonderful reef. It made me want to see more beaches.

traveling to the volcanic black sanded beach of Bananier. The Caribbean.
traveling to the volcanic black sanded beach of Bananier. The Caribbean.

My black sand beach adventure took me to Guadeloupe, to a strand of sand called Plage Bananier on Basse-Terre. This gorgeously wild beach has very dark sand, darker even against the bright green forest and vibrant waters. For this visit, I decided to rent a longboard to surf the gentle waves. In between waves, I would wade in the water, looking out to the shore where children were building a sandcastle, gothic looking in its dark shade.

I took a break from the surf and sat by the shore to watch the waves as they came and went. My feet were covered in the sand. Even up close, my eyes could not adjust to this phenomenon. I scooped some sand up with my hand to study it closely, shimmering in my palms like thousands of tiny diamonds. A treasure, I told myself. I joined the children on the beach to help them build their sandcastle. By the afternoon we were all covered in the sand from head to toe, shining like diamonds ourselves.

Volcanic History Of The Beaches

 beach on the Black Point National Park. The Caribbean.
beach on the Black Point National Park. The Caribbean.

I made my way to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in search of Beach Black Point, a favorite of several people I met in St. Lucia. I was told by a local tour guide that the sand there was the result of volcanic activity and that it covered the entire beach, shining through the clear waters of the sea. Coral reefs are found everywhere on this beach, and there were several divers and snorkelers enjoying the underwater scene. On the other side of the beach, I explored the jungle. Ringing with birdsong, the forest was denser than I expected. I walked on the sand, along the treeline, peeking in to see if there were any other surprises to uncover, and I was happy to come across the mouth of a tunnel. 

The Black Point Tunnel was built in 1815 and has a dark history. It was built by slaves for the transport of products — namely sugar — from the different plantations in Kingstown, the capital. The tunnel is short, but tours are available to learn more about the history of this area.

rustic wooden beach home with turquoise stairs. The Caribbean.
rustic wooden beach home with turquoise stairs. The Caribbean.

For my last black sand beach experience, I headed to famous Montserrat — a destination with an active volcano called Soufriere Hills volcano. This volcano wiped out the former capital of the island, Plymouth, in 1995 and turned it into a ghost town or modern-day Pompeii, with houses and buildings preserved under the volcanic debris. This eruption created a black sand beach, called Woodlands Beach. I drove to the west coast to find this remnant from the eruption and encountered what is perhaps the blackest beach of all. Two giant cliffs frame the beach, and the waves cannot hide the intensity of the sand because it's too clear and the sand too dark. What you see is a watery desert of black sand.

I was, again, the only person on this mythical-looking beach and I buried my feet in the dark sand, thrown off-balance by the coal colored sand around me. I danced, I jumped around, I laid on the sand floor and created black angel wings. Then sunset came and I was still there. My skin, a golden hue, positively glimmered against the carbon black sand.

feet covered in sand on a volcanic beach vacation. The Caribbean.
feet covered in sand on a volcanic beach vacation. The Caribbean.

The Science Behind Black Sand

If formed by volcanic activity, which is the case for most beaches, the sand turns black when lava touches the ocean water. The incredibly high temperature of the lava (around 1200 °C) quickly cools and cracks, turning into fine sand. Interestingly, black sand beaches can be created in a very short time while white sand beaches, on the other hand, form when rocks disintegrate from weathering over thousands and sometimes millions of years. Black sand is a rare phenomenon — and truly a sight to see on your next Caribbean vacation.

Written By
MELISSA ALVARADO SIERRA

Melissa Alvarado Sierra is a journalist, author and sailor. She's been exploring coastal destinations around the world for more than a decade, always searching for authentic experiences to share with her adventurous readers. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The New York Times, Lonely Planet, Orion Magazine, AFAR, USA Today and others.


Get Royal Deals, Sign Up Today

Black Sand Beach, Fort de France, Martinique
Black Sand Beach, Fort de France, Martinique
 

Getting There

Explore Our Most Affordable Itineraries
Find the beautiful and rare, book your cruise to the Caribbean.

Book Now

{{ content.countdownLabel }}:
{{ remainingTime.hours }}h {{ remainingTime.minutes }}m {{ remainingTime.seconds }}s
{{ content.data.flagText }}

My Personas

code: