Cichlids prefer sand. Cichlids love digging into the sand and burrowing to build nests and scavenge for food. Additionally, some cichlids also need to ingest a small amount of sand to aid their digestion.
But not all sand is equal. Though it won’t harm your cichlids, large-grained sand might limit their natural activities. Look for fine-grained sand that has a pH buffering ability, such as natural aragonite, black sand, crushed coral, coral sand, and crushed oyster shells.
If sand substrates aren’t available, you can opt for fine gravel instead. However, never use coarse gravel, as it may injure your cichlids or limit their natural behaviors.