The world is full of beautiful, jaw-dropping, breathtaking beaches. It seems that anywhere there’s a stretch of coast, you’re bound to find a nice spot to sit in the sand and listen to the waves crash. It’s a hypnotic feeling—one that’s relaxing and soothing. Most of us out there love the beach. And if you don’t, then we have some lists for you.
Most of the beaches that take our breath away are of a tropical nature–turquoise waters, soft sand, and warm water–the kind of beach you might find on a postcard or envision when travelling to Hawaii or Tahiti. But we wanted to really push that idea to its limit. We wanted to scour the globe for beaches so mesmerizing that you’ll have a hard time believing they’re even real. And we’re not just talking about your typical blue water, white sand beaches. We’re talking about beaches with colored sand—colors like black, red, and green. No pink, though. Turns out, those pink beaches in the Bahamas everyone talks about aren't actually that pink. Most pictures are enhanced, but it’s still a nice beach and worthy of an honorable mention. The beaches on this list are unique and captivating. Scaling rock formations, caves, natural and man-made phenomenon that make these beaches one in a million. By the time you finish this list, you might think you’ve come back from a science fiction movie, but these places are all real and you can travel to any one of them. So, put on some sunscreen and grab a towel because this is our list of 20 Beaches You Have To See To Believe.
20 Xi Beach, Greece
We just can’t get enough of Greek beaches. There’s something truly exotic and unreal about some of the coastlines that travelers encounter on the Greek islands. They sometimes feel as though they’re from another world and challenge what we know about beaches. So, our love for soft Greek sand and crystal blue Mediterranean water brought us to the island of Kefalonia on the eastern side of mainland Greece. There, you’ll find the Paliki peninsula to the south of the island and the stunning rust-colored Xi Beach. Xi Beach, like numerous other Greek beaches, is a Blue Flag beach, but what sets Xi apart from its Greek counterparts is the sand and the backdrop. On your way to the beach, you’ll walk among soft clay formations which have been beaten down and shaped into sharp features over the centuries and give the impression of walking along some alien mountain range with great white pillars with a barnacle-like texture.
Once you reach the beach, you’ll find deep hypnotic red sand, almost like the color of rust. It’s hard to believe it’s even real.
And there’s really something about the combination of the two–the massive white face and the deep red sand–that really provides a beautiful contrast that begs for photographs.
19 Shell Beach, Australia
The Shark Bay World Heritage Area in Western Australia is a beautiful beach in its own right. The iconic red bluffs of Australia fill the inland area with a beautiful ruby coloring from above, and in some areas, it stretches all the way out to the bright blue ocean. The water is enchanting and the coral reefs are perfect for snorkeling, and the area has dozens of activities and natural attractions for travelers. And yes, Shark Bay is a literal name for the area. You can visit the beach and take tours to watch species like the tiger shark feed on chummed waters. There is one specific stretch of the coast, however, that we had a hard time believing was real. This one feels like a scene from a science-fiction space opera. Shell Beach got its name from the billions of abandoned shells which form the shoreline for this stretch of Shark Bay. The shells come from the Shark Bay cockle, a unique species only found in Western Australia. They’ve made a home on this beach because the water provides a perfect environment for them to thrive and burrow into the ocean bed. It’s a real treat to walk along the shore and pick up handfuls of shells. From a distance, it looks like white sand but be sure to bring shoes because you can cut your feet up if you aren’t careful. This is a great photo opportunity as well.
18 Genipabu Beach, Brazil
This is a fun beach because many visitors, upon arriving at the Genipabu Lagoon in Natal, will think that they’ve taken the wrong turn somewhere along the way.
They might think they’ve gone inland by mistake when the reality is that the Atlantic ocean is just a few yards away from this—just out of site of the massive sand dunes that huddle along the coast.
We suspect that a lot of the confusion stems for the local camel rides that you can take to the lagoon. Riding a camel along sand dunes for long enough will convince you that you’ve been transported to the Middle East. And because the dunes are so tall, it’s hard to see the ocean until you’re actually there. Still, once you arrive, the beach is splendid. The nearby lagoon is scenic and beautiful, and the beach is soft and inviting. Locals play sports in the dunes, anything from riding dune buggies to sandboarding down the incredibly steep slopes. All around the world, there are iconic and spectacular images of dunes and sand. The two go together like Brazil and beaches, but the dunes at Genipabu are in a category of their own, both amazing to behold and impressive in size.
17 Glass Beach In California
Unlike most of the beaches on this list, this beach was caused by people, and unlike most of the marvelous things people have made over the centuries, this beach has a nasty story. However, it has created a really special destination, so we’ll let you decide if it was worth it. California’s Glass Beach in Fort Bragg is situated just north of San Francisco, so we don’t recommend coming here to swim in the ocean unless you have a wetsuit. Try the summer when the water is still cold, but the weather is just right. The beach gets its name from the glass littered all over the shore. However, it’s not sharp nor dangerous. As the story goes, Fort Bragg suffered a fire back when the earthquake hit San Francisco, and during the town’s rebuilding efforts, locals used the nearby beach as a dumping ground for their trash. But because of the way the currents and surrounding rocks were situated, the trash wouldn’t leave the coastal area no matter how strong the waves were or even when a particularly nasty storm hit. The town was forced to burn the trash each time it built up and what was left behind was the glass. After decades of waves crashing and smashing into the glass, the beach ended up with an entire shore full of sand glass. The glass is soft like pebbles now, and all sorts of colors give the appearance of rubies and gems littering the beach.
16 Papakolea Beach, Hawai'i
The Hawaiian islands are home to a number of breathtaking tropical beaches with warm consistent year-round temperatures that make it easy to travel to the island at any time of the year. Most of its beaches are composed of gorgeous white sand or stunning and fascinating black lava rock. The islands are relatively young in Earth terms and were formed as the result of volcanic activity in the region. This has given the island some really special features that make it stand out. One of those unique features is the Green Sand Beach on the Big Island. Locals call it the Papakolea beach or even Mahana beach, but Green Beach is what most people call it because, you guessed it, the beach is green.
This odd coloring is the result of the beach’s location, which is in the cinder cone of an inactive volcano. Sea water shaped it into a beach and the green sand is a result of the volcanic mineral olivine.
The mineral is lighter than volcanic rock and typical beach sand, so while the other two get swept away, most of the green mineral remains on the beach. Some areas are greener than others, and there is still a mix of beach sand and volcanic sand, but the vibrant forest green color remains stunning.
15 Jokulsarlon, Iceland
Iceland only has three national parks, but all three are incredibly beautiful to see. Now, we know what you are probably thinking—this is a list of beaches. How did Iceland get on this list? Isn’t there ice? Well, yes, there’s ice, but there are also beaches. Jokulsarlon is a lake to the far south of Vatnajokull National park, the largest glacier in Europe and the second largest national park. We included this beach on the list because we know that not everyone reading is a beach bum. Some of you like the cold and have way more fun playing in the snow than in the sun, so we’ve decided to add this cold destination just for you. What makes the shores of Jokulsarlon so captivating are the chunks of ice. As the glacier melts and the lake grows larger, more of the black sand beach is exposed to travelers, but many small chunks of ice remain on the beach. These chunks are what give the beach the nickname Diamond Beach. That’s because the ice looks like a bunch of diamonds covering the black beach, a beautiful contrast of colors. This is a breathtaking sight and one that’ll have you thinking that you’re on another planet, one where sparkly diamonds litter the shores.
14 Giants Causeway, Ireland
Gaelic legend has it that the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is the result of a beef between an Irish Giant and a Scottish Giant. As the story goes, the Scottish giant was causing trouble and yelling across the ocean at the Irish giant, Finn McCool (we’re serious about this tale, look it up if you don't believe us). To settle the squabble, the Giant’s causeway was built, and today, you can visit the town of Bushmills and see the remains of the stepping stones that still exist today. '
Science argues that the hexagonal columns of rock that rise out along the coastline are the result of volcanic activity in the region, but locals maintain the legend of Finn McCool.
We invite you to visit the site and draw your own conclusions. In any case, the Giant’s Causeway is an incredibly unique work by Mother Nature and one that many visitors, even after seeing it with their own eyes, have a hard time believing was made naturally. You’ll have to take photos to bring back home just to prove to your friends and family that these columns are real, so be sure to walk along the rock columns like the ancient giants and snap a picture that you can bring back with you as proof.
13 Voidokilia Beach, Greece
That’s right, another Greek beach because planet Earth somehow decided to concentrate loads of exotic beauty, stunning scenery, and breathtaking lands and cram it all into the eastern Mediterranean Sea. While Xi Beach was on one of Greece’s famous islands, Voidokilia beach is actually in southern Greece, in the Messinia area of the Peloponnese region. There you’ll find the famous and unique ecosystem of Gialova Lagoon. The lagoon is a beautiful Greek treasure to visit, but on the other side of this wonderful lagoon facing the open ocean is Voidokilia Bay and its famous beach. We might say that the beach is uniquely shaped like a mushroom, almost perfect in its curvature, but the locals will insist that the famous beach is shaped like the Greek letter omega (Ω). Two massive rock formations sit on either end of the beach like a gateway to the ocean. Like any Mediterranean beach, Voidokilia is lush and absolutely stunning, with gorgeous white sand and endless blue sea warm enough to dip your toes into. From high up above, the colors of the ocean and the ocean floor give the impression that you’re staring at one of the world’s largest geodes. It would make more sense to see this beach in a painting, but it exists in real life and is actually very stunning.
12 Panjin Beach, China
This entry on our list stretches the definition of what we call a beach, but if you were to travel to eastern China and visit the Lio River, then you would find many people recommending a trip to the Panjin Red Beach. While there are many famous red beaches around the world, and some are truly beautiful to behold, most of them aren’t actually red in color. In most cases, you’ll get a nice rustic color or a dark brown that looks red against the blue ocean. But the Panjin Red beach is actually red (bright red, in fact), and although it’s not technically a beach, this place seems like it's too good to be true. The Lio river is one of the major rivers in China and is a state-level protected area along the Liaohe Delta. It’s one of the largest wetland and reed marsh in the world, boasting hundreds of different species of wildlife and hundreds more different birds (with some known to be endangered). While most of the area is protected, there is a small area open for visitors to walk along piers and photograph the captivating red beaches.
The color comes from a seaweed that grows year round and, in the Fall, becomes a brilliant red that seems so alien.
But, it’s not Photoshopped. It’s quite real and it’s quite red.
11 Pfeiffer Beach, California
California is known for its glamorous beaches. From Santa Barbara south all the way along the Pacific Coast Highway and through Malibu down to San Diego, you’ll find gorgeous scenes of soft waves rolling up and down the sandy shores. Even some of the northernmost coastlines of California are really quite breathtaking, albeit a lot colder. But right in between the sunny summer beaches, just below the Bay Area, you’ll find Monterey Bay and Carmel-by-the-Sea. These beaches deserve their own praise for beauty and scenery. It’s down here on the coast of Big Sur, a popular beach destination, that you’ll find Pfeiffer Beach (we know, it’s hard to say). It’s home to one of California’s lesser-known beaches and even lesser-known natural phenomena. Because the beach is protected by hillsides lush with fauna, the mineral garnet washing down these slopes mixes with the quartz sand to turn the beach a wonderful purple hue. Purple is a unique color among beaches, and this beach is really special in that regard. Although it’s nothing as intense as so many of the other colored beaches on this list, the purple color makes for a beautiful photograph around sundown and a rare experience for those who want to visit beaches that most never get to see.
10 Zlatni Rat Beach, Croatia
If you see it from the sky, it looks like a giant vanilla popsicle that someone dipped into the Mediterranean ocean (in fact, it looks pretty delicious). Hard to imagine, but if you were up in a helicopter looking down on Zlatni Rat Beach in Croatia, that description wouldn’t seem too far from the truth. This beach is in the south of Croatia on the island of Brac, an amazing travel destination. What makes the beach so unique is the mile-long spit of beach that extends out into the ocean. Along its edges, locals have been planting pine trees for added shade for beach goers.
The spit itself it made up of fine pebbles so soft they’ll feel like sand. As for the popsicle imagery, the beach is nearly white against the backdrop of the ocean, and as the shorelines dip into the ocean, the water becomes turquoise in color.
However, the drop-off is so drastic that it becomes deep blue after only 60 feet. The resulting effect is a beautiful transition from the white beach to the deep blue Mediterranean. The shape of the spit alone makes this location very unique, but it’s that beautiful blue ocean all along its edges and the fresh green pine trees that make this one of the world’s most famous beaches (and it's not hard to see why).
9 Benagil Cave, Portugal
The Benagil beach in the south of Portugal is a picturesque scene of beautifully deep, dark, soft sand and steep rock faces surrounding a quaint little shore. If you travel to Algarve in southern Portugal, you’ll think that this beach is beautiful enough to warrant this spot on our list, but the truth is this isn’t even the most spectacular part of Benagil. Similar to the other beaches on this list, this coast has an extensive network of caves and rock formations. There are many to visit via boat like the Captains Cave or the Elephant Cave, each with its own unique shape and structures, but the one that seems like it can’t possibly be real is the Benagil Cave. Most travelers arrive by boat. Locals warn that there are strong tides and a lot of ocean between the cave’s entrance and the actual beach, so swimming is for those who feel confident in their ability. The boat will take you under one of the two archways leading into the cave, massive and wide as if man-made, and then you’ll reach the secluded cave beach of Benagil. To make this place even more breathtaking, there is a hole directly above acting like a skylight. The locals call it the Eye because of the way the blue sky contrasts with the red-orange hue of the rock face.
8 Gulpiyuri Beach, Spain
The beach completely vanishes with the tide, and there is nothing but dry sand and green fields. At around 100 meters out, the Cantabrian Sea is the nearest source of salty ocean water from the Atlantic Ocean. The beach is small, only a few hundred feet, so how, you’re wondering, can this place even exist? Gulpiyuri Beach in northern Spain may be one of the most intriguing entries on this list simply for how strange its existence is. The beach is actually a massive sink hole that floods with ocean water as the tide rises. When this happens, ocean water rushes in through a small cave formed by saltwater and fills the sandy sinkhole with enough water to form a small beach.
It’s the world’s smallest beach, one of the strangest, and certainly one of the most photographed in all of Spain. You get there by walking along a bright dirt road that slices through green fields and you’ll probably wonder how a beach can exist here, but then you reach the sink hole and look down to find a small little beach just for you.
The water is fairly warm because the shallow area of water is allowed to heat up in the sunlight. When the tide is exceptionally high, you can swim around a little, but mostly, its knee-deep water. Even still, this is a genuinely spectacular beach.
7 Punaluu Beach, Hawaii
Volcanic activity on Hawaii’s Big Island has produced some really amazing natural wonders, but the lava flow has also created a special kind of beach on the southeastern coast. Punaluu Beach has a jet black shores that are really a sight to behold. Lava flow in the island’s younger years would pour out in the ocean and explode upon hitting the water, causing this black rock color to form on the beach. Punaluu would look like any other beach–with beautiful palm trees swaying in the breeze, warm tropical water crashing on the shore–except for the black sand which really gives the area an eerie otherworldly feel. While there, you may encounter sea turtles which are an endangered species, but because these guys don’t have the proper immune systems to ward off human bacteria, visitors are asked to keep a distance. The beach is a great place to travel and also has a small fresh water pool not too far from the shore where you can dip your feet and cool down. One more tip: legend has it that whoever removes rock or sand from the beach will be cursed forever, so look, touch, but don’t take home. They even have a wall of rocks that were mailed back by guilty culprits who swear that the curse is real.
6 Vaadhoo Beach, Maldives
The Maldives has become a growing travel destination for those looking to unwind on a tropical beach without breaking the bank. A small tropical nation south of India, these islands provide visitors with some of the most breathtaking coasts in the world. You’ll want to lie out all day in the soft sand and turquoise water, but the Maldives don’t make this list because of what you can do in the day. At night, the shores can come ablaze with a millions glowing balls of cold blue light. These neon fireflies in the ocean will haunt your mind in the best way.
It’s like a galaxy glowing in neon blue out in the black expanse of the ocean. This is what makes the Maldives so unique.
The experience is alien to your sense, something you would believe if you were in a movie theater watching an Avatar sequel, but this is real life. The phenomenon occurs when small phytoplankton become stressed (ironic for such a beautiful display). It’s a chemical reaction that causes their bodies to glow, and although the exact reason isn’t fully known, it’s quite a thing to see. Unfortunately, there’s no specific season for this. The best chance you have of seeing this amazing image is going to the Maldives near the end of the moon’s cycle when it’s mostly dark out. That way, you’ll see the glow at its best.
5 Hidden Beach, Mexico
In Puerto Vallarta, at the mouth of the Banderas Bay, you’ll find a small cluster of islands about an hour’s boat ride out. The islands are uninhabited and the Mexican government has recently named it a national state park due to the large biodiversity of marine life and the captivating coral reefs along the coast. It wasn’t always a tropical paradise, though. At one point in time, the government used the islands as testing grounds for military weapons. The island was bombarded with bombs in the early 20th century until activists stepped in to stop it. That’s where the next beach on our list comes in. Rumor has it that one of those bombing tests blew a giant hole in the ground and formed a new beach. The view is hard to describe—a giant halo of local fauna and rock surrounding a small hidden beach. Although it has no official name, the locals call it Playa de Amor (Beach of Love), but it’s known internationally simply as the Hidden Beach in Marietas, Mexico. The travel to the beach is difficult since the local government is worried about the tourism industry destroying the natural habitat, but many local travel agencies will help you get there and catch a glimpse of this rare otherworldly beach.
4 Reynisfjara, Iceland
Yes, we already did a beach with jet black sand. Yes, we did a beach with peculiar geometrical rock formations jutting out from the shore, and yes, we included a frigid beach where the water is sub-zero and you can see ice on the sand. And each of those beaches was beautiful and breathtaking in their own right, but we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to combine all three into one spectacular beach in Iceland. Who would have guessed that Iceland would make it on this list twice? Reynisfjara Beach is known as the Black Sand Beach of Iceland, and it’s located at the very southern tip, in one of the wettest places in the country. It’s not a beach for swimming, but National Geographic ranked it as
one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world (yes, there’s a list for that). Not only are the shores made of black sand from lava, but the beach also features rock formations similar to those prominently features at the Giant’s Causeway.
There are also rock formations out in the ocean, towering rocks nearly 100 feet up. This Swiss-army knife beach also has some really eerie caves along the shore for you to explore. All that Reynisfjara is missing are some tropical waters and this beach would win the strange beach bingo.
3 The Baths, Virgin Islands
The island of Virgin Gordo lies on the eastern edge of the Bahamas and is home to one of the most unique beaches we’ve come across, one so stunning and breathtaking that we’re not sure this piece can do it justice, but we’ll try anyway. South of the island, in Devil’s Bay, you’ll find a beach simply and ominously named the Baths. It’s hard to know what you’re going to get with such a name, but we can tell you that it’s nothing but beauty and otherworldly charm. The beach itself is a gorgeous Bahamian white sand beach with the crystal clear light blue water you typically encounter in the Caribbean, but it’s the volcanic activity that makes this coast so unique. The activity has formed unique granite boulders, some as big as 40 feet. The boulders create small hidden grottoes, almost like bathtubs in the ocean. The area is perfect for snorkeling and relaxing in these small pools and grottoes. What’s even better is the small cave system at the Baths. You can follow clear blue water straight from the ocean into these massive caves that feel like a dream—massive triangular roofs that you have to see to believe.
2 Khao Phing Kan, Thailand
Although this beach is a little remote, it’s garnered so much attention over the years as a go-to spot that most people recognize images of it right away without even knowing what it is. Thailand is a great place to go to see some of the most exotic beaches and local fauna in all of Asia, and more specifically, Phuket is the go-to destination for most people travelling to Thailand. We’ve included the tiny island of Khao Phing Kan on this list because when you visit, you’ll think you’re in a movie and that’s because this place was actually in one (a James Bond movie, to be exact). Famously featured in The Man With a Golden Gun, this island resides near the back of Phang Nga Bay in Thailand and
has some of the most exotic rock formations in the world, the most famous one being the limestone structure rising out of the water.
With a thin base and top heavy shape, the rock seems to defy gravity. There’s an air of otherworldly vibes emanating from this place. Many of the massive rock are steep and tall, covered in a thick growth and scattered throughout the bay like pebble in a river. The scene is haunting in the best way possible.
1 The Beach Of The Cathedrals, Spain
In the north of Spain, along the Galician coast, you’ll find a beach right out of science fiction. It feels as though it must be man-made. Surely, that’s how the beach acquired the famous name, The Beach of the Cathedrals. When the tide is low, the rocks along the coast appear as flying buttresses, some with an arch as high as 90 feet. At low tide, you can walk along the shore, right under these natural behemoths. There are caves that go deep into the rock face that you can explore too. Be sure to thank Mother Nature for being the world’s first architect and showing us how cathedrals should be made. The beach has gained some notoriety in recent years, so the government has been forced to limit the number of visitors per day (5,000) during peak tourist season. Thankfully, you can go online and book a reservation for free. Although it’s called the Beach of the Cathedrals, its actual name is the Beach of the Holy Water. And because you can only see the beauty of these cathedrals at loud tide, we stress making sure you get back inland before high tide comes in because that’s when it all disappears in to your typical gorgeous Spanish beach.