Montserrat at a glance
Montserrat is one of the most spectacular sights in the Caribbean, with a tremendous, still-smoking volcano that erupted in 1997 with such force two thirds of the island is now out of bounds to both residents and visitors. The chance to behold mighty Soufrière Hills, and the colossal devastation it caused, is a key reason to visit (the island is now perfectly safe). Once here, travellers discover a welcoming, little developed English-speaking island with an old-style charm and an unusual Irish heritage. Hiking, diving and the relaxed pace of life are further reasons to spend time on the “Emerald Isle” of the Caribbean.
Read our guide about Montserrat - with independent reviews, listings, and information from top travel journalists and Caribbean specialists.
- Best for:
- A taste of the “old” Caribbean, escaping the crowds, beholding the power of volcanoes
- What for:
- Culture & Heritage, Eco/Nature, Scuba Diving, Carnivals & Festivals
- Not for:
- All-inclusive, Luxury Hotels, Cruises, Beaches, Golf, Spas and Wellbeing
- How to get there:
- Via Antigua
- Top tip:
- Go for the annual St Patrick's Week celebrations held in March
Montserrat in depth
“There's a dot on the map...” goes a popular folk song about Montserrat, an enigmatic island that Caribbean travellers need to go out their way to see. It's worth it, although the only way there is from Antigua on a ferry or plane. You can visit on a day trip, but the island deserves more time on account of its old school charm and several compelling features.
Just 11 miles (18km) long by 7 miles (11km) wide, Montserrat is a laid-back British Overseas Territory that is home to around 5,000 islanders. Since 1997 they have been forging a new life in the northern third of its green and hilly landscape. That's when Soufrière Hills, a mighty volcano that sits close to the island summit of Chances Peak, set at 3,002 feet (915m), blew up. The eruptions destroyed the island capital, Plymouth, which had been there since the mid-17th century, and left huge outpourings of mud, ash and pyroclastic flows that today sweep down into the turquoise sea – a fearsome sight. You can't go inside the Exclusion Zone that now fences off two thirds of the island, but visitors can view the ruins of Plymouth − “the Pompeii of the Caribbean” − from a boat, by air and from several viewpoints. Dramatic footage of these events can be seen at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, which closely monitors the seismic activity. Here you will learn that Soufrière Hills has now been quiet since February 2010, and that the north of the island is quite safe to visit.
There's more. Montserrat is unique for having been settled by the Irish in the colonial era – a legacy that becomes obvious as soon as you receive a shamrock-shaped stamp in your passport. The map is dotted with place names such as Kinsale and Davy Hill, while the phone book lists surnames like Sweeney and O'Garro. The island's St Patrick's Week festival is one of the most engaging parties in the Caribbean. In addition, there is rewarding hiking and birdwatching to be enjoyed in the Centre Hills, and the lack of tourists makes this a relaxed place to snorkel and dive. Most beaches are small with black sand, except for the glorious golden sweep of Rendezvous Beach, which is often deserted.
Back in the 1980s Montserrat had a good scene going, with a golf course, luxury villas and rock stars like Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder coming to record at Air Studios, set up by former Beatles producer George Martin. Today, Montserrat's accommodation and restaurant options are a weak point and some visitors are put off the light dusting of volcanic ash that sometimes blows north. But in many ways it's what's not here that counts. Montserrat is how the Caribbean used to be − gentle, friendly, uncommercial. There are no casinos, no condos, no cruise ships... If you want a truly relaxing holiday, just head for the slopes of an active volcano.
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