When you picture Bali in your mind, your first thought is of a tropical paradise: crystal-clear water and golden beaches of soft, pure white sand stretching as far as the eye can see. But Indonesia, and in particular Bali, is just as famous for beaches that don’t tick the golden sand box: instead, their sand is black.
You can find black sand beaches all along the east coast of Bali, stretching from the little fishing village of Padang Bai in the South, to the relaxed beaches of Lovina in the North. We know Bali very well, and we’ve spent time on most of the island’s 40-plus beaches. Over the next few minutes we’re going to share with you some of our favourite black sand beaches, and give you a quick run-down on what you can expect to find when you visit.
Why is there Black Sand in Bali?
The black sand was formed when lava erupted from Bali’s volcanoes: Mount Agung and Mount Batur. When the lava flow reached the waters of the Java Sea, it cooled rapidly and shattered into tiny fragments, known as basalt. The smallest of these fragments were about the size of a grain of sand, and so the black beaches were formed. Geologists agree that because the lava flow was so intense, many of Bali’s black sand beaches were created almost overnight.
There are black sand beaches all over the world, including stunning examples in Hawaii and Iceland, but also in unexpected places like Greece, Spain and Shimizu in Japan. Bali’s neighbouring island Java also features black sand beaches, although some of these are actually made of metallic ironsand rather than basalt.
The Healing Powers of Bali’s Black Sand
If you ever get to Bali (and we hope you do!), you won’t fail to notice that the people there are very spiritual. They believe in the divine powers of the gods, many of whom watched over their people from Mount Agung — the highest place on the island. Agung is therefore a sacred place, and locals believe that the lava that flowed from the mountain had been touched by the gods. And so it follows that the black sand is also sacred; a gift from the gods infused with the fiery power of volcanic lava.
In Ubud, Bali’s cultural home, the healing power of nature is well known. The many spas and wellness centres often mix black sand with other natural products to make massage oils, and volcanic stones are widely used for hot stone therapy. On many of the black sand beaches, holy medicine men and women offer healing services to travellers, often for just a small donation to their temple. They believe the hot sand increases blood flow and aids circulation, helping to treat arthritis, sciatica and other aches and pains.
Our Top 7 Black Sand Beaches in Bali
Located on the mid-eastern coast, Kusamba Beach is set amongst Bali’s famous rice terraces, giving it a unique look and feel when compared to other beaches. It’s a working beach, and on clear mornings you’ll see local fisherman preparing their nets and hauling their jukung (wooden outriggers) out to sea to make the daily catch. Across the water, you can see the island of Lusa Nembongan, where you can book a tour through the mangrove forests or take in the views from Devil’s Tear.
At the west of the beach is a traditional salt farm, dating back over 1,000 years and still run by descendants of the original owners. Local farmers collect saltwater from the sea in buckets, then flick it across the hot black sand to crystallise in the sun. The salt is then rinsed from the sand and packaged for selling. Needless to say, sea salt and freshly-caught fish are readily available at the local markets, including one actually on the beach. And haggling for a good price is all part of the fun!
The village of Amed in Karangasem used to be a small fishing community, but easy access to the nearby reef put Amed on the map for dive enthusiasts. When we first visited Amed (about 8 years ago), there were only a few tumbledown shacks along the coast, but now the village offers luxury resorts and rented villas. Many choose to stay here because of the diving and snorkelling, but the area is still far less busy than the beaches on the west coast.
The impressively-tall hills form a cocoon that’s sheltered from the wind, so the waters here are very still and clear, and ideal for snorkelling. It’s a great vantage point for Mount Agung, and the chic cafés and bistros make this a great place to unwind at the end of the day. Or take an early evening stroll along the black sands, framed by a border of smooth black volcanic rocks and stones.
Keramas Beach sits on the mid-eastern coast, very close to the Bali Safari and Marine Park. It’s a very popular surfer beach; famous for its large and fast waves. Last year we saw some surfers riding a 3-foot tube, which looked very impressive! Most surfers visit during the rainy season (October to April), so during the dry season (May onwards), the beach is usually very quiet.
Although there is certainly black sand here we don’t advise laying out, as there are quite a few pebbles on the beach. We’ve even seen some locals bagging the pebbles, which they then sell to the ’townies’ who use them to decorate their drives. Keramas is an easy 30-minute drive from the Ubud, and you can tick off some other cultural attractions on the way. Please note that we don’t advise swimming at Keramas Beach due to the rough waters, especially if you’re not a confident swimmer.
Tulamben is one of the most popular beaches in Bali for black sand, but it’s most famous for being home to the shipwrecked USAT Liberty (it’s often wrongly prefixed as ‘USS’). In 1942 The Liberty — an NSA spy ship — was travelling from Australia to the Philippines when she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and became beached at Tulamben. The eruption of Mount Agung in 1963 pushed the ship off the beach and into the shallows of the Timor Sea, where she now enjoys a second life as the most accessible underwater wreck in the world.
At just 30 m from the shore and 5 m at its most shallow, the wreck is very popular with snorkellers. To avoid the crush, it’s best to scuba to the other side. But if you’ve never dived before, don’t worry — plenty of certified dive schools offer first-time training with a certified instructor. Full-day dive courses include training, two separate dives and some sightseeing thrown in for good measure, all for less than £100. Once you’ve finished your dive, relax on the beach then make an early start for a sunrise trek tour to the summit of Mount Batur It’s amazing!
On the north coast of Bali and surrounded by an abundance of resorts, Lovina Beach is probably the busiest black sand beach in Bali. The crystal clear and shallow water makes it very popular for swimmers, and a range of water sports and rides are offered by the over-eager army of beach salesmen. If you’re looking for a relaxing beach day, this is not going to be your first choice!
In September, Lovina Beach hosts a three-day cultural festival. Opening with a lively parade, the highlights include many handicraft exhibitions, puppet performances and even a bull race! Throughout the day (and night) there is always plenty of live music, and there’s a wide range of stalls serving Balinese street food and local beer. It’s a happy, fun beach, and we’ve only ever heard good reports from friends who’ve visited before.
Echo Beach, Canggu
Even though all the bar signs proudly proclaim “World Famous Echo Beach…far away in time”, we’re sorry to say that this black sand beach in Canggu was never the inspiration for the song by Martha and the Muffins. But it’s an inspiring beach nonetheless. Set at the end of a road full of surf shacks and motorbike repair shops, Echo Beach sits at the foot of a small, ancient temple overlooking the surf. It’s a great place for sunseekers and those who want a leisurely stroll, but the waves are strictly for advanced riders.
In 2005, the half-Kiwi, half-Māori pro surfer Tai “Buddha” Graham set up a small surfer hostel for his friends. Ten years later, he launched beach club The Lawn which, along with his live music venue Single Fin, has made Echo Beach the go-to place for a chilled-out beach party. Friday nights see top DJs and musicians headlining at The Lawn, while Sunday nights are reserved for live music at Single Fin. Plans for a new luxury hotel, with twelve penthouses, may eventually change the atmosphere at Echo Beach; but for now it’s a laid-back surfers’ paradise.
Even though it’s not as popular as some beaches on this list, you should still make a trip to Lepang. Based in Takmung Village, it’s a gorgeously exotic stretch of black sand, surrounded by rice fields and towering mountains. Lepang is one of the beaches designated as a turtle sanctuary, so it’s quite common to see Olive Sydney sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs during the nesting season. Because of its location, Lepang is one of the few beaches that offer a panoramic view of both sunrise and sunset, so it’s a great place to spend a whole day.
Whilst you’re waiting for the sun to go down, you can spend a few hours at the Jivva Beach Club — a laid-back bamboo watering hole with a great beachfront location. They serve a decent brunch or afternoon meal, and of course many types of drinks and cocktails. There are beanbags scattered throughout the club which add to the chilled-out atmosphere, and a few little private booths are perfect for couples to sit and watch the sunset.
Some Final Words
We love journeying the globe — it’s how we came up with the name! — but we particularly love Bali, and we spend a lot of time there. We don’t make any commissions from promoting any particular beaches or bars, we just genuinely want to help you enjoy Bali as much as we do. If we’ve helped you find a great beach, then our work here is done. If you’re still unsure, then please contact us — we’d love to hear from you and we’d love to help.
Here’s some other guides we’ve produced about Bali – we hope you find them interesting.
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