Located at the heart of the Leeward Islands chain in the Caribbean, the tiny island of Montserrat boasts a diverse cultural heritage, beautiful landscapes, and unique eco-friendly activities that have made the island a highly-anticipated destination for visitors wishing to discover and explore the little-known vacation hideaway. Recognized for its rich Irish heritage, the “Other Emerald Isle” enables travelers the opportunity to soak in an environment of soothing tranquility, partake in unique adventures that include black-sand beaches and bountiful marine habitats, verdant green forests and moonscape-like lands, as well as immerse themselves in the diverse culture that has made Montserrat a “must-visit.”
Here are the Top 10 Reasons to make Montserrat your next travel stop:
- Volcano Viewing – Characterized by dome-building materials, the Soufrière Hills Volcano holds an irresistible lure. The volcano, which has been active since July 1995, is continually monitored at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO), where international and local scientists conduct research and keep local authorities and residents current with volcanic information. On a clear day, visitors can stop by Garibaldi Hill or other designated safe points for a panoramic view of the volcano and, perhaps spot a thin plume of steam rise from the crater.
- Irish Heritage – Although a British Overseas Territory, the island was settled by Irish indentured laborers and boasts a strong Irish heritage. The Irish legacy is present in the folklore, surnames and even the local speech, which is laced with an Irish brogue. On arrival to the island, the immigration passport stamp is a shamrock. The harp and the figure on the island’s flag are also derived from the Irish heraldry. Additionally, Montserrat is the only nation in the world, outside of Ireland, that celebrates St. Patrick’s Day as a national holiday with week-long events, Montserratianstyle. Residents and visitors alike take part in a week of feasts, costumed parades, concerts and cultural exhibitions celebrating the island’s Irish and African heritage.
- A Modern-Day Pompeii – Montserrat’s now- buried capital city, Plymouth, has been compared to a modern-day Pompeii– minus the fossilized bodies. As the only volcanic-buried city in the Americas, Plymouth offers visitors the rare chance to witness a city frozen in time. Although many buildings have been buried by ash and mudflows, some rooftops remain visible. Visitors wishing to access the city may do so through a certified tour operator, a list is available at the Tourism Division.
- Luxury Villa Vacations at Bed & Breakfast Prices – Montserrat offers a number of luxurious villas at rental rates that won’t burn a hole in visitors’ pockets. Upon request, most of the villas offer airport and ferry transfers, car rentals, stocked kitchens, housekeepers, baby-sitting services and cooks. Additionally, visitors can enjoy the villa-specific organized activities during their stay. Rates start at USD $1000 per week from mid-April through mid-November for a three-bedroom, three-bathroom villa with a housekeeper, swimming pool, wet bar, wireless internet, washer and dryer.
- Birdwatching – The Centre Hills is a haven for birdwatchers and nature lovers alike, boasting over 34 species of birds and diverse flora and fauna. Visitors can observe the Montserrat Oriole, Brown Trembler, Forest Thrush, Bridled Quail-Dove, Green and Purple-Throated Caribs, and the Antillean Crested Hummingbird. Visitors may also hear the distinctive single-note call of the Scaly-Breasted Thrasher, cheery song of the Caribbean Elaenia, peculiar tri-syllable-ending call of the Scaly-Naped Pigeon, and the sweet whistling call of the Yellow Warbler.
- World Class Trails — Montserrat’s mountainous vistas, curvy slopes, deep valleys and fertile fields make hiking a natural and popular activity. The island hosts several trails that allow visitors to explore the dramatic diversification of the landscape. “The Blackwood Allen Trail” allows for panoramic views of the northern villages and coastline, while the “Centre Hills Trail” is renowned for its biological diversity, rich habitats and vegetation. “The Oriole Walkway” is where hikers are most likely to get a glimpse of the Oriole, the island’s national bird, while “Duberry’s” and “The Cot” trail provides visitors the opportunity to drink from the cool spring water at “Runaway Ghaut,” where legend has it that if anyone drinks here, he or she is guaranteed to be drawn to Montserrat repeatedly in their lifetime.
- Acquatic Adventures – The island’s coral reefs are teeming with exotic wildlife, some of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Visitors can swim from Little Bay toward Rendezvous Beach, the island’s only white sand beach, and go snorkeling to explore the rich coral and marine life. Divers can also access the two caves that house Montserrat’s colony of Antillean fruit-eating bats with a tour guide. For a unique adventure, visitors may learn lionfish hunting and have the extraordinary opportunity to prepare, cook and eat their catch.
- No Fast-Food Chains, Traffic Jams or Noise Clutter – Unlike some of its Caribbean neighbors, Montserrat boasts the serenity that results from the lack of mega-resorts and crowded beaches. This is further exemplified by the fact that Montserrat has no fast-food chain restaurants. Instead, visitors can taste local delicacies and sumptuous island-style cuisine, and may even stumble upon a special gathering serving goat water, a tasty stew cooked on a wood fire, the national dish of the island. Additionally, visitors will find Montserrat’s lack of rush hour congestion and traffic lights refreshing, although it might take some getting used to Montserratians driving on the left side of the road.
- Still Growing In Size – Pyroclastic and other flows in the Exclusion Zone areas as a result of volcanic activity have increased the physical size of the island and even created a new beach. Bottomless Ghaut beach is the ideal spot to relax for a leisurely afternoon picnic. Sun lovers can bask on a beach towel or chair nestled on its dramatic black sand while enjoying Instagram-worthy vistas punctuated by distinct rock formations jutting from the sides of craggy cliffs.
- Festivals And Culture – In addition to the island’s week-long celebrations for St. Patrick’s Day, Montserrat invites visitors and locals alike to several key festivals that highlight the island’s rich heritage and cultural diversity. Named after the calabash, fruit traditionally used to produce eating utensils, musical instruments and decorative items, the 11th Annual Calabash Festival, which will be celebrated July 17-23, includes a family fun day, hike, island tour, food fair and boat excursion to the former capital city Plymouth. The annual Cudjoe Head Festival, named after the 18th century slave Cudjoe who ran away from his master and was caught and beheaded, will be celebrated July 29-31 with a steel band performance, road race, J’ouvert and an exhibition of goods produced in the village. The Alliouagana Festival of the Word in November brings together acclaimed writers and readers from the Caribbean, North America, the UK and Australia for readings, poetry, conversations, lectures, panel discussions workshops and freestyle performances. Finally, from mid-December to New Year’s Day, Montserrat erupts with an explosion of color, music, revelry, and creativity during the year-end Carnival (Festival), with cultural activities such as calypso competitions, masquerade street performances, J’ouvert, the festival Queen Competition and a parade of costumed troupes on New Year’s Day.