Why are Cancun’s Beaches so White?

Latitude 21 Resorts would like to know: have you ever wondered where sand comes from?  The world’s beaches vary greatly in color.  The Pacific Northwest has famously brown beaches.  Hawaii has black sand beaches.  Areas in South America have pink sand.  However, most everyone agrees that for the perfect vacation destination, nothing beats a white sandy beach.  Throngs of vacationers flock to the white Caribbean beaches found in the Latitude 21 destinations of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and the Riviera Maya in general.  Cancun has received multiple international awards for having some of the best beaches in the world. So it begs the question: “Why are Cancun’s beaches so perfect and white?”

Latitude 21 Resorts - White sand beach

A Magical Ecosystem

The Mesoamerican coral reef runs from the tip of Belize all the way up past Cancun’s Yucatan Peninsula.  This is the world’s second largest coral reef. And it is generally located just meters off the shore of the Riviera Maya’s famously white beaches. This beautiful reef attracts an abundance of tropical fish that feed and live in and around these life-giving reefs, which provide food and shelter.


Parrot Fish are amongst these nesting fish that stay close to the reefs.  Their beaks, like teeth, bite off pieces of coral and then a second set grind it up into small granules. After these granulates pass through the Parrot Fish’s digestive system, they are released as white powdery sandy substance.  The biodegradable components are further digested by other small fish. This leaves just the tiny sediments of coral digested by the Parrot fish.  This process is repeated thousands of times a day by an army of coral consuming tropical fish. Over thousands of years they have produced an abundance of beautiful white sand that eventually washes up on the shore.

Sand Colors Come from Many Sources

Sand is also formed from eroding rock. Fragmented rock from the above terrain is washed down onto the beach by smaller rivers and streams.  The entire Yucatan Peninsula sits on miles and miles of limestone, which is white in color.  Over time, wind and rain erode bits of limestone away and carry it to the seashore. Other minerals like quartz crystals also contribute to the build-up of white sediments on the beach.  Seashells that have lost their inhabitants and become broken up can add to the beaches’ contrasting color as well. All these added elements help to determine if the beaches’ sand will be lighter or darker in color.

Other Contributing Factors to White Sand Beaches

Cancun’s world famous sparkling white sugar-fine sand beaches reap several benefits from a regional standpoint.  The Gulf of Mexico is considerably shallower than its neighboring oceans. This allows for the Mesoamerican Reef to deposit its pure white sediment onto Cancun’s beaches and prevents it from being washed away into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.  The clarity of the Caribbean water reflects back onto the shore which gives the sand a vibrant shine.  Cancun is also in sunbelt region, which means it receives an above average amount of sunshine.  The extra-long day and ultra-bright sun, combined with a relatively shallow shoreline, also helps to bleach out the layers of fine granulated sand.


As you can see, there are a number of contributing factors at work to make a beautiful white sandy beach.  Weather, water, overall terrain, sun, plants, and animals must all be orchestrated in perfect balance to produce paradise as we know it.  No matter how Cancun’s beaches retain their perfectly white appearance, there is no doubt that the ambiance contributes to a marvelous and magical destination for anyone seeking to get away from it all.  The Riviera Maya’s stunning white sand beaches are just one of the reasons why Latitude 21 Resorts believes that “Life is Better Here”!

Latitude 21 Resorts highly recommends vacationing in the Riviera Maya destination.  If you would like to see these sugar fine white sand beaches for yourself, please check out this list of properties for more information or give our travel agents a call today, toll free at (855)770-5270.  We are positive that you will agree with us that “Life is Better Here”.


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