Montserrat is an island in the Caribbean, southeast of Puerto Rico. A former popular resort, it is recovering from a hurricane and volcanic activity from the 1980s and 1990s.
Once a popular get-away destination (especially after Beatles producer George Martin opened a studio here), Montserrat has been hit hard by the four elements, both from without and from within. First the wind and waves of hurricane Hugo swept through in 1989, damaging 90% of the island's structures. Then the earth and fire welled up in 1995, with the volcano of Soufriere Hills forcing the long-term evacuation of 2/3 of the island's population, and catastrophically closing the airports and seaports in June 1997. The capital of Plymouth was covered by 40 feet of ash, and much of the southern end of the island is now uninhabitable.
Government offices have since been set up in Brades on the northwest shore of the island, out of harm's way. Much of the island's population has returned, with estimates ranging from 4,700 to 9,500, compared to the pre-Hugo/Soufriere high of over 12,000.
Temperatures year-around average between 76-88°F (24-32°C), with constant cooling breezes. Rainfall is a little more common from July to November.
Montserrat is small, but getting larger. The erupting volcano is gradually extending the southern end of the island.
Proof of citizenship is required. United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and CARICOM citizens may present a driver's license or other government photo ID; all others require passports. Visitors from Cuba require visas, obtainable from British Consulate offices. All visitors must have tickets for departure, proof of accommodations, and funds to cover their expenses while on Montserrat.
Several tour operators in Antigua offer day excursions to Montserrat, including observation of the Soufriere Hills volcano. Charter helicopters from Antigua offer another way to view the volcano.
Winair flies into Monserrat's Gerald's Airport (IATA: MNI, ICAO: TRPG) offering several daily scheduled flights from Antigua. . Flights can be booked on their website at www.fly-winair.com or by e-mailing email@example.com. Note: this airline will be ceasing service to Montserrat as of January 2011.
Scheduled and Charter services can also be booked by the Montserrat-based Fly Montserrat (www.flymontserrat.com).
If you have any problems with booking a flight to Montserrat please contact the Montserrat Tourist Board by phone at (664) 491 2230/8730 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
The primary transportation harbor is Little Bay, near the de facto capital of Brades. As of December, 2010, ferry service from Antigua has resumed.
Montserrat has one main road that winds along the coast on the east and west sides of the island. Cars can be rented from any of a number of agencies. Traffic is mild (there are no traffic lights to bother with), but be warned that there are only two gas/petrol stations on the island.
Bicycle rentals are also available.
Taxis and minibuses run mostly during the day.
The volcano! An observation area on Jack Boy Hill on the eastern side gives a view of the ash flows covering the old airport. Huge boulders may sometimes be seen, crashing down the slope in a cloud of dust. The Monserrat Volcano Observatory on the south-west side has an observation deck. Tours into the exclusion zone may be possible, depending on the volcano risk level; you will pass through a landscape of abandoned homes and fields, see the volcano close-up, and gaze down at the old capital of Plymouth, now buried in ash and mud.
The people of Montserrat all speak English (British dialect), albeit with a local accent.
Montserrat is blessed with natural beauty. On land there are lush tropical forests with trails of varying difficulty. Many can be enjoyed on your own, however, some require a guide to make the path clear. Stop by the National Trust our Tourist Information for a map (charge of $10 EC currently).
One of the special things about Montserrat are the quiet beaches. You most often have them to yourself but check out each one, they are all different.
For those who love the sea, the island is surrounded by reefs. Snorkeling and scuba diving can be enjoyed from shore or by boat. Check with "Scuba Montserrat" in Little Bay for diving, snorkeling, daily diving, full courses, clear bottom kayaks, volcano boat tours and equipment
Scuba diving is also available at nearby Redonda, an uninhabited island 15 miles to the west of Montserrat. There you will find six-foot barrel sponges, Eagle Rays, Stingrays, and the occasional nurse shark. For diving trips to Redonda or dive sites closer to Montserrat's shores, contact the Green Monkey Dive Shop in Little Bay. They also offer Boat Tours to view the destruction left behind in Plymouth by the volcanic eruptions as well as Kayak Tours and Rental, Deep Sea Fishing Excursions, Dive Lessons, and Equipment Sales and Rental.
For other boat tours or land excursions,stop by the Tourist Board to get the numbers for one of the local guides.
Visitors should also check out the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO)for information on the Soufriere Hills Volcano. The MVO Visitors Centre is open to the public Monday through Thursdays and includes a documentary describing the history and impact of the eruption (shown at quarter past the hour every hour between 10:15 - 3:15), informative poster displays, interactive kiosks, and a display of artifacts. There is also a fabulous view of the volcano.
Unfortunately, there's no breakwater at Little Bay yet (where the scuba and tour boats leave from), so if there's a northerly wind, scuba and boat tours may be canceled for a day or two until the weather changes, and the boats can get out. Be prepared to go hiking, sightseeing, or just relaxing by the pool or at the beach instead while waiting for the seas to calm enough for the boats to be able to leave Little Bay.
John Ponteens Sunday BBQ Little Bay. DD Bar Friday night in Hope by the MVO. Chicken Wilsons in Salem. Roti for lunch at the Attic. Gourmet Gardens in Olveston. Olveston House (Sir George Martin's private residence) is open seven days a week. Tina's, La Colage and Emerald Rose for great local lunches. Upscale Ziggys Restaurant for dinner only by reservation.
Gary Moores Wide awake Bar, Salem. Falming El Paso, St Peter Green Monkey Bar Little Bay Dessert Storm, Salem Misers in Salem. Jaxxons St John
Visiting the island is a bargain compared to pre-eruption Montserrat and many of its less geologically active neighbors, as the island is anxious to reestablish its tourism industry. The tourism board has private villas for as little as US$700/week.
Keep in mind that shops are generally 'expensive' compared to US and European standards.
The island is still vulnerable to hurricanes during the season from June to November.
Volcanic eruptions still pose some danger, though volcanic activity has been primarily on the level of a nuisance in recent years. Travel to the Exclusion Zone on the south end of the island is generally not permitted, for safety reasons. The Montserrat Volcano Observatory publishes current risk assessments and exclusion zone limits.
Montserrat is generally a safe place, however in recent years, violent crime has increased. Assault is the most common form, with an annual rate of just over 10 assaults for every 1000 people. (By comparison, Canada's rate is about 7 per 1000). General safety precautions, including such as not walking in an alleyway at night, are advised.
No vaccinations are required to enter Montserrat unless coming from a country that has suffered a cholera, yellow fever, or small pox epidemic.