Montserrat is like nowhere else. The Irish-influenced 'Emerald Isle' is totally unspoiled by tourism but its volcano has put it on the map, having wiped out the southern part of the island. Here you can enjoy views of a glowing volcano, volcanic moonscapes, deserted black-sand beaches, a network of challenging mountain trails, historic sites, waters teeming with fish, coral and sponges, and perhaps the friendliest people in the region. Only the northern third of the island is populated because of the volcano and the inhabitants are developing the area in style.
Geralds Airport was built to replace the one on the east coast which was hit by volcanic activity.
Driving is on the left. Roads are paved and fairly good, but narrow and twisty. There are many pebbles on the roads and you must be careful, especially when walking on inclines. Drivers travel fast, passing on blind corners with much use of their horns. There are several car hire companies. Hitching is safe and easy. The standard fare in minibuses is EC$3. Outside the fixed times and routes they operate as taxis and journeys can be arranged with drivers for an extra fee. Taxis are usually small buses, which can be shared. Fares are set and listed by the Tourist Board.
The volcano is now a tourist attraction and can best be viewed from the
Montserrat Volcano Observatory
. If the volcano is dangerously active visitors are excluded. Video shows of volcanic activity and a tour of the
monitoring rooms and equipment are available, and an expert guide from the scientific community will be available to show you around. Spectacular views of the volcano and its damage can also be viewed in safety from the Jack Boy Hill picnic spot in the east, close to the start of the Exclusion Zone. Do not enter the Exclusion Zone as it is very dangerous and hefty fines are levied on anyone caught in there. From here you can see the grey, ash-covered flanks of what was Chances Peak, in stark contrast with the Centre Hills, which are still green, forested and fertile. This viewing spot is popular at night time as you get excellent views of the glowing dome.
Montserrat's beaches are volcanic 'black' sand, which in reality means the sand may be a silvery grey or dark golden brown colour. The single white coral beach is at
in the north of the island. It is a stiff hike from Little Bay along a very steep mountainous trail (not suitable for small children). Take food and water, it is a long hot walk until you reach your refreshing swim. There is no shade on the beach, avoid the poisonous manchineel trees and the spiny sea urchins among the rocks at the north end. You can also take a boat, and it is quite a good idea to walk there and arrange for a boat to come and pick you up at an agreed time. The best of the rest of the beaches, all on the west of the island and black sand, are
in the north,
(National Trust, beach house, washrooms), where you can safely swim through caves,
, with its delightful beach bar and restaurant. An interesting beach to visit is the one at
, below the
, which has been impacted by volcanic mudflows, creating strange patterns. The beach is now much bigger than it was and the original pier is now firmly on dry land. Be careful in rainy weather as mud can flow very quickly down the valley behind the beach.
is a deserted beach in a zone which at the height of the volcanic crisis was a no-go area. The area has now reopened and the beach is a delight. From the northern end of
, below the abandoned Montserrat Springs Hotel in Richmond Hill, you can walk round to
at low tide. Take the road down to the old hotel beach bar.
The volcano has had an unexpected benefit for Montserrat's underwater life, as the three 4-km exclusion zones have created a marine reserve, with no one going in to the area for some years. The waters are teeming with fish, coral and sponges and their larvae have drifted with the currents to the reefs of the north where the best dive sites are. Shore diving is good from
, where there are ledges with coral, sponges and lots of fish;
, where there is a shallow reef at 25 to 30 ft; at
where there are some excellent coral and interesting fish about 400 yd from the shore; and at
. There are some shallow dives from boats, suitable for
novices or a second dive, but also deep dives for experienced divers.
is a deep dive, dropping from 65 to 300 ft, where you can see brain coral, sponges and lots of fish.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF