12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Montserrat
Known as the "Emerald Isle" of the Caribbean, magnificent Montserrat survives as a somber spectacle of nature's awe-inspiring power. The north side of the island puckers with lush peaks, while to the south lies an eerie lunarscape of deserted settlements and blackened valleys scarred by a series of devastating volcanic eruptions that began in 1995. Today the active Soufrière Hills Volcano and its ash-smothered surrounds lie in an exclusion zone comprising about two-thirds of the island. Visitors are asked to avoid this zone, however several hilltop vantage points provide breathtaking views of the devastated areas, including the former capital of Plymouth.
On Montserrat's picturesque northern side, new settlements are flourishing. Ecotourists and nature lovers travel by ferry from Antigua to hike the verdant rainforest trails, spot some of the island's many species of birds, dive and snorkel the thriving coral reefs, and sunbathe on the silver-sand beaches. Rich in natural beauty, friendly Montserrat is a haven for those seeking a slow and peaceful slice of tropical island life and a humbling reminder of nature's brute force.
1 Soufrière Hills Volcano
The Soufrière Hills Volcano erupted in 1995, devastating a large section of Montserrat, including the once-charming capital of Plymouth. Today the volcano is part of the exclusion zone and is closed to the public, however visitors can experience a sobering view of the volcano and its path of destruction from several vantage points. Some of these include Jack Boy Hill, the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, and Garibaldi Hill. A trip to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory gives an excellent overview of the volcanic eruptions and their impact on this beautiful island.
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2 Rendezvous Bay
Tucked beneath towering cliffs, the peaceful beach at Rendezvous Bay is Montserrat's only stretch of blond sand. The bay itself is favored for swimming, diving, and snorkeling. Most visitors access the area by boat since the hike to this serene stretch of coast is strenuous. Bring plenty of water and sun protection.
3 Montserrat Volcano Observatory
A visit to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory is a great way to learn about the series of eruptions that devastated the island and enjoy excellent views of the Soufrière Hills Volcano. Scientists at the observatory monitor seismic activity on the island and share live recordings with visitors. The observatory also offers lectures and field trips.
4 Montserrat Hiking Trails
As Montserrat reinvents itself and seeks to lure more visitors, hiking has become a key tourist attraction. The Blackwood Allen Trail is one of the more difficult hikes, offering great views and a close up look at some of the island's unique vegetation. The hike leads past the Blackwood Allen stream and on to a viewing area that overlooks the ocean and villages in the north. The Oriole Walkway is a popular trail in the Central Hills. This hike offers a glimpse of life in the rainforest and an opportunity to see Montserrat's national bird, the oriole.
'The Cot' is a hiking trail offering both beautiful views and a glimpse of the island's history. The path runs through an old banana plantation and near the ruins of a cottage that belonged to a prominent family on the island. A high vantage point also allows for great views out over the ocean. A strenuous trail leads from Little Bay to Rendezvous Bay, the only white sand beach on Montserrat, while the Silver Hills trail takes hikers past the extinct Silver Hill Volcano. The trail is known for the scenic sightseeing views that extend across the island and coastline and it's also a good area for birding.
5 Centre Hills
Covered in tropical rainforest, the Centre Hills are renowned for their biological diversity and rich habitats. Most of Montserrat's 34 species of land birds and large numbers of migrant songbirds make this area their home, including the threatened Montserrat Oriole (the national bird), the rare Forest Thrush, the Bridled Quail Dove, and the Mangrove Cuckoo. The area also harbors many species of reptiles and amphibians.
6 Montserrat Cultural Centre
The Montserrat Cultural Centre is a multi purpose performing arts center inspired and funded by ex-Beatles producer, Sir George Martin. The facility can accommodate up to 500 people theatre-style, and is used for conferences, weddings, and cultural events. The Centre also has a recording studio. The Wall of Fame exhibit features bronze handprints of famous musicians who recorded music on Montserrat during the 1980s, including Elton John and Paul McCartney.
7 Woodlands Bay
Peaceful Woodlands Bay lies close to the villages at the southwestern end of the Northern Zone. The small beach is ideal for relaxing, but the waters here are often rough and swimming can be dangerous. The cliffs above the beach are a great spot to enjoy a picnic and a good vantage point for spotting migrating whales.
8 Little Bay Beach
On Montserrat's west coast, Little Bay Beach is one of the most popular crescents of sand on the island. The calm waters are great for swimming, and visitors can relax along the gray-sand shore and watch boats bob in port at the bay's northern end. Beachside restaurants sell local seafood delicacies and refreshments.
9 Montserrat National Trust
At the Montserrat National Trust headquarters, visitors can view permanent and rotating exhibits on the island's history, arts and crafts, and local way of life. After touring the exhibits, take a self-guided stroll around the botanical gardens and nature trails. Among the indigenous and exotic flora, are medicinal herbs, orchids, and plants of former economic importance. A gift shop on the premises sells handcrafted souvenirs.
10 Runaway Ghaut
Runaway Ghaut is one of Montserrat's most famous ghauts (pronounced "guts"), which are steep ravines that carry rainwater to the sea from high in the mountains. Hiking along Runaway Ghaut visitors will see luxuriant vegetation and huge tropical trees. Local legend states that anyone who sips the spring water at the drinking fountain here is destined to return to Montserrat.
11 Scuba Diving
Divers looking to escape the crowds and explore thriving coral reefs will love Montserrat. After the volcanic eruptions, the southern reefs were reborn and the budding marine life drifted to the reefs in the north, boosting their populations. Divers can see everything from huge sponges and heads of brain coral to kaleidoscopic tropical fish, spotted eagle rays, sea turtles, and sharks.
A favorite dive lies off Redonda, a small island about 14 miles from Montserrat, known for its resident Green Moray Eel and visiting nurse sharks.
12 Montserrat Festivals
Montserrat holds a number of annual festivals in both the winter and summer months. The St Patrick's Week Celebration is a highlight in Montserrat. It's the only place outside of Ireland to declare St. Patrick's Day an official holiday. The celebration takes place in the week leading up to March 17th with colorful events, fun things to do, entertainment, and competitions.
Other popular festivals include the Calabash Festival, held in July, and the simply named Festival, which takes place over the two weeks leading up to the New Year. Festival here is comparable to Carnival on other Caribbean islands, with music, dancing, costumes, parades, entertainment, and competitions.