When polling the five people I visited Iceland with last week, the consensus pick for most memorable place to visit was Black Sand Beach (Reynisfjara). There are plenty of options to choose from aside from that particular location—epic waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, geysers, the Blue Lagoon, tectonic plates drifting away from each other, and of course, Reykjavik. Each offers a possible highlight moment on a normal week of living on this planet. But the Black Sand Beach stood out for all of us.
Why? Because a place like Reynisfjara changes you, as travel does, but more viscerally than visiting the tasty Icelandic hot dog stand. It might be the distinct black sand, ground up bits of lava expressing itself vividly against the white salty foam of the crashing waves. It might be the angry seas with their sneaker waves, always threatening to pull a distracted tourist to their doom. Maybe it was the basalt columns rising up from the sand and sea, standing against the ocean in a fight to the end of time. Mostly it was all of those things, combined into a magical place that is indifferent to the hordes of tour buses casting tourists upon the sands. The beach will be here long after we’re gone, but each of us take black sand memories with us.