Visit Montserrat For Your Next Holiday
Montserrat is a unique island in the Caribbean set apart by its volcanic activity and the strong Irish culture brought by inhabitants who trace their Irish roots to the early 1600’s. It is located in the Leeward Islands a group of islands in the West Indies. The Leeward Islands also includes popular tourist destinations like the Virgin Islands and Saint Martin, making Montserrat the perfect alternative or additional trip for a more unique, off-the-beaten path vacation.
Montserrat is often known as the ‘Emerald Isle of the Caribbean” for its resemblance to the Irish landscape as well as the rich Irish cultural heritage. It is the only place in the Caribbean where every pub will serve Guinness and it is the only state outside Ireland that has declared St. Patrick’s Day a national holiday.
The stunning green cliffs of Montserrat truly do resemble the Irish coastal landscape, but they cover an even more intriguing truth. This little Island is one of the most volatile volcanic regions of the inhabited world. In 1995, the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted, burying the capital city of Plymouth in a sea of mud and ash. Subsequent eruptions necessitated more evacuations and emergency displacement of many island residents. The volcano remains active, and an exclusion zone in the southern part of the island is still restricted. Some travel has recently been allowed to return, so if you are feeling adventurous and take the right precautions, you may be able to visit the ruins of Plymouth!
Why Make Montserrat Your Next Weird Vacation?
Montserrat is a fascinating island with many unique experiences to offer. It is a little bit more remote than its popular Caribbean neighbors, but with that remoteness comes undiscovered mystery. Montserrat offers beautiful beaches, intriguing volcanic ruins, and unique landscapes and wildlife, this is a bucket list holiday you won’t want to miss.
How to Get To Montserrat
Fly to Montserrat
The original airport in Montserrat was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the 90’s, but a new airport was built to accommodate tourists close to the new capital, Brades. The new airport, John A. Osborne (MNI) flies several short, 15-minute flights daily from nearby Antigua and Barbuda (ANI). Multiple international carriers fly into Antigua making it the best place from which to access the rest of the Leeward Islands.
Boat to Montserrat
The best way to get to Montserrat is through Antigua and there is a boating option as well. Ferries run from Heritage Quay in Antigua to Little Bay, Montserrat daily. You can also charter a boat from Antigua or nearby Nevis.
When To Visit Montserrat
Like most Caribbean islands, Montserrat has a dry season and a rainy season, with warm and stable temperatures year-round. Dry season is December to June and is the most popular time to visit the island. Rainy season is from July to November and can bring hurricanes or floods which will interfere with travel, so it is best to plan carefully if visiting during that time of year.
Generally, the best time to visit Montserrat is February through May, when the climate is at its driest and the risk of hurricanes is lowest. Limited accommodations on the island can fill up however, so plan in advance for the best deals on hotels and tours!
What to Do In Montserrat
Soufrière Hills Volcano
The Soufrière Hills Volcano is the reason most people make the trip to Montserrat, and it is easy to see why. The violent explosions that left almost two thirds of the island uninhabitable are also one of the most unique volcanic events in living memory. The ‘exclusion zone,’ or area of fall-out from the volcano that is still considered unsafe, is the kind of unique site that makes the best weird vacation.
Montserrat has rebuilt much of their island, and the Soufrière Hills Volcano is now considered one of the most well studied volcanoes currently active. The modern Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) offers tourists a chance to see the volcano and learn about its history without venturing into the exclusion zone. The MVO in coordination with the Royal Montserrat Police Force monitors volcanic activity and based on risk assessment and other factors controls whether tours into the exclusion zone are available. Other observation opportunities include lookout points like Jack Boy Hill or Garibaldi Hill.
Getting closer to to Soufrière Hills is also possible via helicopter, with tours out of Anitigua or Montserrat. These tours will take you through the exclusion zone and feature amazing views of the active volcano, the three other inactive volcanoes on the island and the ruins caused by the eruptions. It’s worth it to see the ruins of the Georgian-era capital, Plymouth, which has been called a modern-day Pompeii. The city was buried under 12 meters of mud and ash and has been uninhabitable since the eruption in 1995
Woodlands Bay is a secluded, jungle-covered beach on the western coast of Montserrat. The beach is hidden away and you’ll likely have the place mostly to yourself to relax and explore. Rip currents on this part of the coast can be dangerous, so it’s important to check the tide information and water conditions before you go.
Woodlands Bay offers an adventurer’s paradise of snorkelling, diving, swimming and whale watching. Book a diving trip out of Little Bay to explore underwater vistas and check out the wildlife. The bay is also home to a turtle hatching grounds and nests can be found September through the end of hatchling season in December. The most unique pastime here is whale watching and the beautiful cliffs above the beach are a great vantage point to watch the pods of whales swim by.
Leaving from Little Bay, drive south about 15 minutes to get to Woodlands Bay. The beach is located at the southernmost part of the northern zone of the island.
Peaceful Rendezvous Bay is Montserrat’s only classic blonde sandy beach with clear blue water. This beach is tucked away into the cliffs, and the best way to access it is via boat or kayak. Rendezvous Bay offers peaceful waters perfect for swimming, relaxing and snorkelling. There are also caves nearby that can be seen from the water, but don’t get too close to avoid disturbing the native fruit bats!
You can get to Rendezvous Bay from Little Bay easily via charter boat or kayak. There is also a .7 mile trail from Little Bay, but it is difficult terrain so most vacationers choose to kayak around the coast instead.
Little Bay is now the principal hub for tourism in Montserrat, located on the northern tip of the island close to Antigua and Barbuda. The most built up of the beaches, Little Bay offers a variety of options for dining and drinking as well as swimming, snorkelling, and kayaking.
The Montserrat Cultural Centre is an unexpected monument to Montserrat’s storied past in the music industry. Funded by Beatles producer Sir George Martin, among others, the museum catalogues memorabilia from the recording studio Martin founded on Montserrat, AIR Studios. Stars like Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney came to Monserrat to record, write, and perform music in the 1970’s and 80’s with Martin and they left an interesting influence of rock and roll on this tiny Caribbean island.
Also full of rock and roll memorabilia is Hilltop Coffee Shop, a non-profit museum, gallery, coffee shop and cultural center in its own right. Filmmaker David Lea founded the coffee shop with his wife Clover after they fell in love with Montserrat while filming a documentary on the Soufrière Hills volcano.
Little Bay is the perfect place to catch some of the unique, Irish inspired nightlife right off a day at the pristine Little Bay Beach. A beach bar favorite is the Soca Cabana, open for simple sandwiches and drinks and hosting Saturday karaoke nights. Visit nearby Olveston House Restaurant for more rock and roll heritage and an eclectic mix of Caribbean-infused British pub food, served in the house of the late Sir George Martin himself.
Diving in Montserrat is a top activity for exploring the natural beauty of this unique island. The most popular dive spot is Redonda Island, located between Montserrat and the island of Nevis. This little uninhabited island is a natural haven for undersea wildlife and coral reefs. The volcanic activity in Montserrat made the waters surrounding much of the island a haven for green moray eels, brain coral, spotted eagle rays and different types of sharks. Being able to visit a completely uninhabited paradise for diving is a treat that any experienced diver or beginner would not want to miss.
You can book a dive trip to Redonda, or other popular dive sites like Lime Kiln Bay, Bunkum Bay and Woodlands Bay, out of dive shops in Little Bay.
Hiking is the best way to get up close to the amazing natural treasures found on Montserrat and Centre Hills offers a variety of trail options for hikers. Like many isolated tropical islands, Montserrat is host to endangered species found only on the island itself. The wildlife, as well as the fascinating effects of the region’s volcanic activity and the unusual landscape of tropical rainforests cascading into sandy beaches, is a highlight of visiting Montserrat.
The Centre Hills is the best place to see the national bird, the native Montserrat Oriole. Take a birdwatching tour or just explore down Oriole Walkway Trail, and you will probably see the little yellow-shouldered bird found only in Montserrat. Other native species include the reptiles Montserrat Galliwasp and Plymouth Anole and over 120 species of invertebrate. Also in the Centre Hills is Blackwood Allen Nature trail, an equally beautiful and popular trail of moderate difficulty.
Montserrat’s lush greenery meets its colonial past in Runaway Ghaut (pronounced “gut”), a deep ravine not far from the Montserrat Volcano Obervatory. These ravines are a necessary feature of temperate rainforests—carrying rainwater out to sea and allowing for vibrant flora and fauna to flourish. Runaway Ghaut was the site of a skirmish between the British and French during the colonial era in the Caribbean. Legend has it that visitors who drink the sweet, fresh water from this ghaut will be drawn back to Montserrat again and again.
Where to Stay On Montserrat
Accommodations on Montserrat are limited and can book up quickly. Because of the small amount of tourists around, however, staying on Montserrat has the welcoming charm of a small town where everyone knows each other. Here are some of the best hotels on Montserrat for any price point.
Tropical Mansions Suites
The plushest accommodations on the island are Tropical Mansions Suites, in the hamlet of Sweeney’s, close to Little Bay and St. John’s. It is also the island’s only real resort, featuring a pool and a restaurant. The neo-colonial architectures gives the hotel an air of luxury, the restaurant serves tasty breakfast lunch and dinner and there is free WiFi.
For the resort-weary traveler, Gingerbread Hill mountainside retreat is an eco-lodge that will offer a more casual atmosphere. The property is the home of David and Clover Lea, founders of Hilltop Coffee Shop, and their extended family. They also run a semi-self-sustaining farm, and fresh eggs and fruit come every day from their own chickens and hydroponic gardens. Gingerbread Hill offers a range of options from a single room to a villa and all accommodations come with free WiFi.
Grand View Bed & Breakfast
Located in Baker Hill, overlooking Little Bay, the charming Grand View Bed & Breakfast offers cozy, pleasant accommodations. The real draw here is the food, host Theresa Silcott serves delicious breakfasts and will also make you a great dinner if you make a reservation. Simple and well-maintained, the rooms do lack air conditioning but are cooled by the mountain air. All the rooms also offer free WiFi.
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