Difference between revisions of "Montserrat"
Revision as of 05:00, 29 December 2012
Once a popular get-away destination (especially after Beatles producer George Martin opened a studio here), Montserrat has been hit hard by the four elements, both from without and from within. First the wind and waves of hurricane Hugo swept through in 1989, damaging 90% of the island's structures. Then the earth and fire welled up in 1995, with the volcano of Soufriere Hills forcing the long-term evacuation of 2/3 of the island's population, and catastrophically closing the airports and seaports in June 1997. The capital of Plymouth was covered by 40 feet of ash, and much of the southern end of the island is now uninhabitable.
Government offices have since been set up in Brades on the northwest shore of the island, out of harm's way. Much of the island's population has returned, with estimates ranging from 4,700 to 9,500, compared to the pre-Hugo/Soufriere high of over 12,000.
Temperatures year-around average between 76-88°F (24-32°C), with constant cooling breezes. Rainfall is a little more common from July to November.
Montserrat is small, but getting larger. The erupting volcano is gradually extending the southern end of the island.
Proof of citizenship is required. United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and CARICOM citizens may present a driver's license or other government photo ID; all others require passports. Visitors from Cuba require visas, obtainable from British Consulate offices. All visitors must have tickets for departure, proof of accommodations, and funds to cover their expenses while on Montserrat.
Several tour operators in Antigua offer day excursions to Montserrat, including observation of the Soufriere Hills volcano. Charter helicopters from Antigua offer another way to view the volcano.
Fly Montserrat offers multiple daily flights out of Antigua into the John A. Osborne Airport (MNI). Prices as of Nov 2011 were approx $200US round trip, including all taxes. Note that the planes are twin engine turbo props that hold a maximum of six people, with limited luggage space. The flight is approx 20 minutes total, with amazing views or Antigua, Montserrat, and other islands off in the distance.
The primary transportation harbor is Little Bay, near the de facto capital of Brades. As of November, 2011, regular ferry service from Antigua continues.  Service is not available every day, so checking the schedule in advance is advised.
Montserrat has one main road that winds along the coast on the east and west sides of the island. Cars can be rented from any of a number of agencies. Traffic is mild (there are no traffic lights to bother with), but be warned that there are only two gas/petrol stations on the island. In November 2011, the going rate for a 4-door Suzuki Vitara (residents would call it a Jeep) was approx $250 US dollars per week.
A temporary Montserrat driver's license is required to drive on the island. Typically all that is required is $20 US or $50EC, a completed form, and presentation of your home country/territory license. Licenses are available at the police station in Brades or Salem.
Bicycle rentals are also available.
Taxis and minibuses run mostly during the day
Hitch-hiking, during the day and early evening is safe - just point your finger in the direction you are going.
Walking, while safe and possible to all points, is quite an arduous task, as the roads traverse very steep hills. Locals tend to walk in a local village or housing area, but find other transport from village to village.
The people of Montserrat all speak English (British dialect), albeit with a local accent.
The volcano! An observation area on Jack Boy Hill on the eastern side gives a view of the ash flows covering the old airport. Huge boulders may sometimes be seen, crashing down the slope in a cloud of dust. The Monserrat Volcano Observatory on the south-west side has an observation deck. Tours into the exclusion zone may be possible, depending on the volcano risk level; you will pass through a landscape of abandoned homes and fields, see the volcano close-up, and gaze down at the old capital of Plymouth, now buried in ash and mud. Currently (Nov 2011) no one other than government officials and scientists are permitted into what little remains of Plymouth.
Montserrat is blessed with natural beauty. On land there are lush tropical forests with trails of varying difficulty. Many can be enjoyed on your own, however, some require a guide to make the path clear. Stop by the National Trust our Tourist Information for a map (charge of $10 EC currently).
One of the special things about Montserrat are the quiet beaches. You most often have them to yourself but check out each one, they are all different.
For those who love the sea, the island is surrounded by reefs. Snorkeling and scuba diving can be enjoyed from shore or by boat. Check with "Scuba Montserrat" in Little Bay for diving, snorkeling, daily diving, full courses, clear bottom kayaks, volcano boat tours and equipment 
Scuba diving is also available at nearby Redonda, an uninhabited island 15 miles to the west of Montserrat. There you will find six-foot barrel sponges, Eagle Rays, Stingrays, and the occasional nurse shark. For diving trips to Redonda or dive sites closer to Montserrat's shores, contact the Green Monkey Dive Shop in Little Bay. They also offer Boat Tours to view the destruction left behind in Plymouth by the volcanic eruptions as well as Kayak Tours and Rental, Deep Sea Fishing Excursions, Dive Lessons, and Equipment Sales and Rental.
For other boat tours or land excursions,stop by the Tourist Board to get the numbers for one of the local guides.
Visitors should also check out the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO)for information on the Soufriere Hills Volcano. The MVO Visitors Centre is open to the public Monday through Thursdays and includes a documentary describing the history and impact of the eruption (shown at quarter past the hour every hour between 10:15 - 3:15), informative poster displays, interactive kiosks, and a display of artifacts. There is also a fabulous view of the volcano.
Unfortunately, there's no breakwater at Little Bay yet (where the scuba and tour boats leave from), so if there's a northerly wind, scuba and boat tours may be canceled for a day or two until the weather changes, and the boats can get out. Be prepared to go hiking, sightseeing, or just relaxing by the pool or at the beach instead while waiting for the seas to calm enough for the boats to be able to leave Little Bay.
There are currently two ATMs on the island, one at the Royal Bank of Canada, and one at the Bank of Montserrat.
John Ponteens Sunday BBQ Little Bay. DD Bar Friday night in Hope by the MVO. Chicken Wilsons in Salem. Roti for lunch at the Attic. Gourmet Gardens in Olveston. Olveston House (Sir George Martin's private residence) is open seven days a week. Tina's, La Colage and Emerald Rose for great local lunches. Upscale Ziggys Restaurant for dinner only by reservation. The Royal Palm Club typically shows movies with dinner on Tuesday evenings.
Most establishments are casual. Some bars on the beach are okay with folks walking right in sand and all.
Few places are open at night for dinner, and most of those that are require reservations (not because they're fancy or expensive, but because business is slower and they want to ensure they have fresh food available.)
Most meal choices consist of chicken or seafood, with most having a red meat option though the type of meat various greatly.
Bars include: Gary Moore's Wide Awake Bar, Salem; Falming El Paso, St Peter; Green Monkey Bar, Little Bay; Dessert Storm, Salem; Misers in Salem; Jaxxons, St John.
Visiting the island is a bargain compared to pre-eruption Montserrat and many of its less geologically active neighbors, as the island is anxious to reestablish its tourism industry. The tourism board has private villas for as little as US$700/week.
Keep in mind that shops are generally 'expensive' compared to US and European standards.
The island is still vulnerable to hurricanes during the season from June to November.
Volcanic eruptions still pose some danger, though volcanic activity has been primarily on the level of a nuisance in recent years. Travel to the Exclusion Zone on the south end of the island is generally not permitted, for safety reasons. The Montserrat Volcano Observatory publishes current risk assessments and exclusion zone limits. 
Montserrat is generally a safe place, however in recent years, violent crime has increased. Assault is the most common form, with an annual rate of just over 10 assaults for every 1000 people. (By comparison, Canada's rate is about 7 per 1000). General safety precautions, including such as not walking in an alleyway at night, are advised.
No vaccinations are required to enter Montserrat unless coming from a country that has suffered a cholera, yellow fever, or small pox epidemic.