Montserrat has 25 miles of coastland, many with black-sand beaches, which make an interesting contrast to the azure waters. Away from the beaches, visitors can explore fantastic tropical forests and a huge, active volcano.
Following the volcanic eruption two decades ago, visitors are returning in droves for volcanic-related trips which can be found in few other countries.
Montserrat is a volcanic island in the Lesser Antilles situated between Antigua and Guadeloupe. It is referred to as the “Emerald Isle of the Caribbean” due to its large Irish settlers. This is a very green island, and not only with its forests and gardens. The Irish influence is everywhere, and St. Patrick’s Day has been a national holiday since 1768 – the only country outside of Ireland where that is the case.
Like so many islands in that part of the world, Monserrat was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493. It was briefly under French rule, but the island became a British territory following the civil war.
Sugar and cotton plantations thrived, and the original settlers brought in African slaves and Irish indentured servants to work them. Slavery was abolished in 1834, after a British plantation owner named Joseph Sturge proved that hired workers were essentially more profitable than slaves. When Sturges sold off land to locals, the workers were shareholders instead of slaves. An interesting lesson in the profit system.
An iconic Irish influence is in the island’s music, where Irish folk music combines with African dance steps.
Plymouth is Montserrat’s capital, and it fell victim to an enormous volcanic explosion of the La Soufriere volcano in 1997, as did a good portion of the entire island. A new capital is being built. There is no real activity in Plymouth anymore, which is mostly still covered in ash. Northern Montserrat consists of lush tropics with tranquil beaches, lovely resorts, and great dining; the south is still recovering from the eruption, with much of it still buried in ash. The entire Plymouth area is referred to as the “exclusion zone” and requires a tour guide or police escort to enter. Following the eruption, many government functions were transferred to the city of Brads.
Many visitors take part in a volcanic tour of the affected area and hike to the top of La Soufriere, a four-hour trek with breathtaking vistas from the 4,000-foot top. It is not recommended that visitors explore the La Soufriere volcano on their own.
Language Spoken in Montserrat
English is the official written and spoken language on the island of Montserrat.
Currency Used in Montserrat
The currency on Montserrat is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar, which is fixed to the U.S. dollar at $2.70 ECD to $1.00 US Dollar. The US Dollar is accepted in most places.
Things to Do in Montserrat
Montserrat Volcano Observatory
The Montserrat Volcano Observatory offers the best and closest view of the Soufriere Hills volcano from its viewing deck. They have a film and computer information on the volcano’s activities and exhibits of lava bombs and rocks. If visitors are lucky, they can witness lava flows and plumes of smoke and ash. The lava glows quite dramatically after sundown.
Ponts Beach View – Sunday BBQ
Ponts Beach View, a restaurant just a few steps from Little Bay, is famed for its food, but especially its Sunday barbeques. This is the ultimate in Caribbean seafood cookout.
Drinking from the Runaway Ghaut
Before leaving Montserrat, visitors are encouraged to take a sip from the Runaway Ghaut. These island ghauts carry rainwater from the mountains down to the sea. Great effort is taken to ensure that the rainwater remains drinkable. And legend promises that drinking the water at Runaway Ghaut will assure a return visit.
The ghaut is a deep gully and visitors are not expected to climb down. There is a fountain in the town of Olveston filled with the ghaut’s water that anyone can drink.
National Museum of Montserrat
The National Museum of Montserrat is a history of the island from its indigenous canoe building through colonial times and Irish folklore. It includes modern history, such as information on the St. George Martin’s Air Studios, where luminaries such as Elton John, Paul McCartney, Black Sabbath, the Rolling Stones and others came to record their hits. The studio itself was a victim of the volcano eruption.
Oriole Walkway Trail
The Oriole Walkway Trail is one of Montserrat’s favorite trails. It begins at the Hill Top Café and trails through some gorgeous jungle with some astonishing views.
Montserrat Island Dive Centre
The Montserrat Island Dive Centre helps visitors get the most out of their Montserrat diving experience. The Centre offers diving lessons, master diving courses, scuba certification, and underwater photography lessons.
Montserrat St. Patrick’s Day
Montserrat has the largest St. Patrick’s Day bash outside of Ireland. They even turned it into a holiday. Many Irish trying to escape Cromwell’s dictatorship volunteered for indentured servitude elsewhere. Plenty of them ended up in Montserrat, working alongside slaves. Those Irish who paid off their servitude acquired their own slaves. The irony may have been lost on them.
But St. Patrick’s Day became a weeklong of freedom and celebration celebrating both African and Irish cultures. There are Irish dances, entertainment, and even leprechauns.
Blackwood Allen Trail
The Blackwood Allen Trail in the Central Hills begins next to the Seventh Day Adventist Shelter in Mongo Hill. The trails span through lovely northern villages with the coastline below.
Visitors during the month of July can celebrate one of Montserrat’s important cultural events, the annual Calabash Festival. Instead of commemorating the island’s Irish heritage, Calabash celebrates its African traditions. There will be historical exhibits, foods from Montserrat’s various cultures, live music, dancing, a gospel concert, and an island cruise. There will also be kite flying for families.
Local artists will be exhibited at a Grand Art Expo to honor and showcase the island’s native talent.
Best Beaches in Montserrat
The only white-sand beach in Montserrat is the lovely Rendezvous Bay. It is remote and can be accessed by boat or a scenic hike from Little Bay. The beach’s isolation guarantees that it is never crowded, which makes it perfect for snorkeling and diving. Bring a lunch and enjoy a picnic on the beach after the hike.
Tucked into the beach’s cliffs are two bat caves – one for males and the other for females and their bat babies. These are best explored with a guide.
Woodlands Bay Beach
Woodlands Bay Beach is a black sand beach that attracts bird and turtle watchers. These natural beauties should be seen on a guided tour as there is a wide variety of colorful birds, including the Montserrat Oriole, Montserrat’s national bird. Woodland Bay Beach is also a turtle habitat, where the leatherback and loggerhead turtles lay their eggs between April and September, at which time they will hatch and make their way into the water.
Carr’s Bay is located on the eastern side of Montserrat. It is a wonderful place for a picnic and an exploration of the Gun Battery that was built here to protect Montserrat from pirates.
Little Bay is one of Montserrat’s most popular beaches for diving and snorkeling. And then there are the parties. Several beach bars offer a rest from the hot sun and cold drinks. For an excellent seafood meal, visitors can try Carlton’s Fish Net Bar. Little Bay is where most of the Montserrat bars are located, so it can get fairly lively. For the swimmers, there are changing facilities before having a pre-dinner drink to watch the gorgeous sunset.
Fox Bay Beach is a long stretch of black-sand beach. One can see Plymouth in the distance.
The Best Resort or Hotel in Montserrat
Chez Mango Villa in Salem is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and lush green mountains. This boutique hotel has suites and private villas with private patios. The resort delivers food and offers the services of a private chef. For those wishing to spend an evening beneath the stars, Chez Mango Villa offers luxury camping facilities on its roof decks. Lime Kiln Beach is a mere five-minute stroll from the resort.
The Best Resort or Hotel for Couples in Montserrat
The rooms and suites in Tropical Mansions overlook Little Bay. Breezes Restaurant offers organic dining, intimate private dining areas for couples, or a picnic beach lunch can be prepared. The front desk will also arrange any desired tours or excursions
Members of the British Royal Family have been guests of the hotel, which has won the Prestigious World Travel Award as Montserrat’s premier hotel for four years in a row.
Best Resort or Hotel for Families in the Cayman Islands
Rosedale Villa in Olveston is the perfect villa for a family getaway. It is near the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, Woodland Beach, and Lime Kiln Beach, so there is plenty for everyone to explore. This is a private villa with a balcony, and the family will be the only inhabitants. The villa comes with a pool, a garden, and a barbeque. The villa also has cribs for infants. Housekeeping is available.