12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Montserrat
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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, and to the south lies an eerie lunar scape 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 more than half the island. Police-escorted sightseeing tours take tourists into the zone, and 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.
For ideas on the best places to visit and popular things to do here, read our list of the top attractions in Montserrat.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
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 an exclusion zone, however you can organize a guided and police-escorted tour, subject to seismic activity, to parts of this zone through Sun's Montserrat Island Tours.
If you are traveling around the island on your own, you can also experience and photograph 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.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Montserrat
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 or kayak since the hike to this serene stretch of coast is strenuous. Bring plenty of water and sun protection.
Carved into the bluff here are two caves that are home to large colonies of Antillean fruit-eating bats. You might catch a glimpse of them as you paddle past on a kayak.
3. Montserrat Volcano Observatory
Want to learn more about the volcanic eruptions that devastated this island? A visit to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory is highly recommended. Scientists at the observatory monitor seismic activity on the island and share live recordings with visitors.
A highlight of a visit is watching an excellent 20-minute video on the Soufrière Hills Volcano, which shows how the eruption impacted life on the island. You can also enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding exclusion zone, the abandoned capital of Plymouth, and the cloud-capped volcano looming beyond.
The best way to enjoy a visit here is to organize a tour with a knowledgable guide, preferably someone who was personally impacted by the volcano's eruption and can compare and contrast life before and after this tragic event. The observatory also offers lectures and field trips.
4. 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 snorkeling, and you can relax along the gray-sand shore and watch boats bob in port at the bay's northern end. The best place to swim here is closer to the cliff-backed end of the beach.
Beachside restaurants sell local seafood and refreshments, and you'll find dive shops and places to rent water sports equipment here as well.
5. 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. It's known for its resident green moray eel and visiting nurse sharks.
Montserrat Island Dive Centre and Scuba Montserrat at Little Bay are the island's most popular dive shops.
6. 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 to a viewing area that overlooks the ocean and villages in the north.
The Oriole Walkway is one of the island's most popular trails. 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 views that extend across the island and coastline, and it's also a good area for birding.
7. 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, and two species of bats.
The best way to explore this wonderland of rare species is on the hiking trails. Guided tours are available through the Montserrat National Trust.
8. Woodlands Bay
Peaceful Woodlands Bay lies close to the villages at the southwestern end of the Northern Zone. This small black-sand beach is ideal for relaxing, but the waters here are often rough, and swimming can be dangerous. Look out for riptides if you're braving the swells.
The beach is a nesting ground for sea turtles, and you'll find some decent snorkeling - especially around the rocks at the south end of the beach. Change rooms are available here, too.
The cliffs above the beach are a great spot to enjoy a picnic and a good vantage point for spotting migrating whales.
9. Montserrat National Trust
Montserrat National Trust headquarters is a great place to visit when you first arrive on the island. Here, you can learn a little about this fascinating island through 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, and you can also organize guided hikes on the island's nature trails here.
Another place to learn more about this rugged Caribbean island is the Montserrat National Museum in Little Bay, a short stroll from the ferry terminal. Artwork, artifacts, and exhibits here unveil the island's history and culture, from the pre-Columbian era to the present day. The museum is only open a couple of days a week for limited hours. Check with the National Trust for details.
Official site: http://montserratnationaltrust.ms/
10. Runaway Ghaut
Runaway Ghaut is one of Montserrat's most famous ghauts (pronounced "guts"). These steep ravines carry rainwater to the sea from high in the mountains.
Hiking along the short 10-minute Runaway Ghaut Trail, you can see luxuriant vegetation and huge tropical trees, as well as more than 20 different species of birds.
Local legend states that anyone who sips the spring water at the drinking fountain here is destined to return to Montserrat.
11. Montserrat Cultural Centre
The Montserrat Cultural Centre is a top attraction in Little Bay. This multipurpose performing arts center was inspired and funded by ex-Beatles producer, Sir George Martin.
Capped with a red roof that pops against the lush hillside, the facility hosts a recording studio and can accommodate up to 500 people for conferences, weddings, and cultural events.
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.
Official site: http://themontserratculturalcentre.ms/
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 17 with colorful events, fun things to do, entertainment, and competitions.
Other popular festivals include the Calabash Festival, held in July, and Carnival, which takes place over the two weeks leading up to the New Year, with music, dancing, costumes, parades, and competitions.
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Other Caribbean Islands near Montserrat: A short flight from Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda are famous for their sublime white-sand beaches, which are some of the best beaches in the Caribbean. South of Montserrat, nature lovers will enjoy the dramatic volcanic landscapes of Guadeloupe and Dominica. Both of these islands are rich in natural beauty, with hot springs, hiking trails, and lush peaks.
Frequently Asked Questions
What accommodation is available on Montserrat?
You won't find any large resorts on this Caribbean gem. Instead, Montserrat hotels are mainly small family-run guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. If you look at a Montserrat map, you'll notice that most of the accommodation peppers the island's west coast. Some hotels perch atop lush hillsides with rain forest, volcano, and ocean views. Others lie a short stroll from some of Montserrat's best beaches.