Image: Barbuda
Antigua & Barbuda Dept. of Tourism
Barbuda’s smooth coastline is ringed by long pink and white sand beaches protected by barrier reefs. The pristine pink beaches of the southwestern shore stretch for ten miles without interruption.
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updated 4/8/2008 4:14:06 PM ET 2008-04-08T20:14:06

"We get to see rainbows all the time when it rains, but we're always looking up at them. How many times do you get to look down and see one?" asks Lia Batkin of In the Know Travel.

As the owner of a luxury concierge service, Batkin considers her primary responsibility to deliver "sights that 99.9 percent of the people in the world haven't seen before." Thus, she booked one adventurous client a skydiving trip at Australia's Fraser Island, known for its sand cliffs and "Rainbow Beach." More than 70 different colors of sand have been identified on this little-known island—most of them in the cliffs, which from a near distance oddly resemble massive scoops of rainbow sherbet.

Though no beach yet discovered can beat Fraser Island for variety, colored sand beaches are actually not as rare as you might think. Long-ago volcanic activity, crushed-up coral or nearby gemstone troves can cause sand to assume different shades. If you're dedicated, you might be able to seek out every color in the rainbow.

Which is not to say white doesn't count: Australia's Whitehaven Inlet has some of the finest, whitest silica sand on the planet. But to get a more solid footing on rainbow sand, the first and most obvious stop is Hawaii. Thanks to its unique geology, this easy-to-access paradise has more colored sand beaches than anywhere else in the world. The islands are essentially formed from inactive (or still-active, on the Big Island) volcanoes that rose upward from the island floor more than 10 million years ago.

"Sand variation in Hawaii results from the islands' wide variety of geological sources and processes," says Kauai geologist/nature guide Chuck Blay. "Glassy, jet-black sand is produced when molten lava flows directly into seawater and fragments violently. Green sand is produced by the concentration of olivine crystals eroded from basaltic lava rocks."

Hawaii's beaches are such a phenomenon that several University of Hawaii geology researchers study them specifically. None, however, are exactly on the main tourist trail. Probably the one that gets the most traffic is the black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park, just off the Hana Highway on Maui.

Further along the highway, Hana Town has a red sand beach. Officials don't like to talk about it for two reasons: it's not on an official trail, and it's somewhat dangerous to access. Should you be a rope-crossing sort of person, the path starts right by the Hana Hotel cottages. If you like to play it safe, Kauai's famed red dirt offers approximately the same visual effect, only with comparatively tame potential consequences. (Your white shirts could be stained beyond repair.)

The Big Island has black sand beaches as well as a bizarre green sand beach called Pu'u Mahana on the south end of the island. Crushed olivine crystals lend the sand its distinctive hue. There's another green sand beach at Mahana Bay on the Big Island.

Hawaii can't claim the world's nicest black sand beach, though. Bacacay Beach on the east side of Albay in the Philippines sports a 100-kilometer stretch of black sand. Not all of it is postcard-perfect, but broad expanses of it offer comparatively fine-textured sand and calm, swimmable water.

The green sand beach at Punta Cormorant is one of approximately 200 visitor sites in Galapagos National Park. Though accessible (not all of the sites are), it's not the headline attraction. "Probably this island is best known for two things," says Allie Almario of adventure tour company Myths and Mountains. "The first is Post Office Bay, which is a tradition started by whalers in 1700s" whereby passing ships would use a barrel on the shore as a pick-up or drop-off point for their international letters. "Even to this day visitors still drop off postcards," says Almario.

Image: Waianapanapa State Park, Maui, Hawaii
© istockphoto.com
The black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park is just off the Hana Highway on Maui. "Let go of your past, release, transform and find a new beginning on these volcanic sands," says color therapist Peri Enkin.

"Also," says Almario, "Punta Cormorant is known for its flamingo lagoons." The lagoons and their Day-Glo inhabitants are located near the green sand—all in all, quite a colorful daytrip if you can make it.

Bermuda only has one variety of colored sand, but the pink beaches on this honeymooners' paradise are so lovely and vivid, they've gained worldwide acclaim. Bermuda resorts build entire experiences around their distinctive natural setting. At the "flip-flops required" 9 Beaches, the canvas cabanas on Paradise Pier offer Easter egg-hued views of blue water and pastel shore; while at picturesque Cambridge Beaches, a variety of special services are designed to play up the romance factor. (Hint: If you're lucky enough to make it to Cambridge Beaches, request a bottle of hibiscus-infused champagne to sip at sunset. The world will never look rosier.)

Though the Bahamas' pink sands are known amongst a certain traveling set, Eleuthera has managed to avoid the development craze that turned neighboring Nassau and Grand Bahama into package-holiday hot spots. Slowly but surely, Eleuthera is allowing a few luxury developments onto the island. However, tourism officials at the local and state level are working directly with developers to ensure that the natural resources (among them, the colored sand beaches) are well-treated.

Barbuda, too, has its fair share of pink sand: Ten miles of pink sand beaches, protected by barrier reefs, grace the island's southwestern shore.

That's just the beginning. If you're really of a rainbow-chasing mind, journey along California's Central Coast, hunting for semi-precious gems in Cambria's Moonstone Beach and digging your toes in Pfeiffer's purple sand. (Or, to quote local travel writer Charyn Pfeuffer, it's "perfectly powdery and a most dreamy shade of mauve.") Explore the undeveloped park islands of Goa, India, where explorers report finding sands of gold and silver.

Sidling up to a sliver of sand of a certain hue could also enhance your well-being. Everyone knows how wearing a certain color can change your mood. In the same vein, lounging on a green sand beach versus a pink or black sand beach could subtly change your outlook on life. We turned to Hawaiian color therapist Peri Enkin for her unique spin on rainbow beaches. "When you look at the rainbow, you're talking about the whole," she says. "It's the integration of all your dreams and vision." And due to its purplish hues, a walk up and down California's Pfeiffer Beach (to give just one example) could well "bring out knowledge and wisdom," Enkin says. Of course, you have to get there first—we can help with that part.

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