Montserrat’s old capital, Plymouth, and the Soufrière Hills volcano which caused so much damage in 1995 erruption remain strictly off-limits to tourists. However, there is still much to see and do in Montserrat’s safe zone at the island’s north end. In some ways, the volcanic explosion has improved Monserrat’s landscape, from the healthier coral formations best seen on snorkeling or scuba diving tours to the newly grown vegetation visitors can admire during guided hikes or cycling trips.
Most Montserrat beaches lack the pure white sand found on many other Caribbean islands, but these have their own special charm. Typical Montserrat sand is black, soft and formed from volcanic matter. Many believe the added debris from the Soufrière Hills volcano has increased the amount of sand on Montserrat beaches. The one beach which fits the typical white sand stereotype, Rendezvous Beach, can only be reached by a long hike or short boat ride. The Soufrière Hills volcano is most safely seen from guided aerial tours.
Each of Montserrat’s 30 dive sites offer their own collection of coral and marine life. At one point, the fairly shallow waters of Montserrat’s marine shelf dramatically drop down to 69 feet below the surface, where experienced scuba divers can see some of the island’s largest coral reefs and sponges. Little Bay is home to Montserrat’s most reputable dive companies, one of which is Scuba Montserrat. Regular 15-mile boat journeys to the nearby uninhabited island of Redonda are easily arranged to see nurse sharks and stingrays swim around six foot barrel sponges.
Those who prefer to explore the shallower waters can go on guided snorkeling tours offered by Scuba Montserrat or the island’s other major operator, The Green Monkey. Underwater filming opportunities are available at Rendezvous Bay Reef, where snorkelers can set their eyes on some of Montserrat’s most shallow coral formations, swim alongside sea turtles and even venture into the Bat Cave where hundreds of fruit bats live. Bunkum Bay is another popular Montserrat snorkeling spot.
N & B Service Centre in Carr’s Bay supplies fishing rods to any anglers wishing to test their luck in Montserrat’s waters. Little Bay, Rendezvous Bay and Old Road Bay are among the most peaceful places to catch tuna, marlin or dolphin king. Fishers can cast their rods onshore or take a boat out on the water. All Montserrat fishers should drink plenty of water and wear a hat to protect themselves against the hot Caribbean sun.
OnDeck, based on the nearby island of Antigua, offers weekly sailing trips between Antigua and Montserrat. OnDeck’s 65-foot racing yacht leaves Falmouth Harbour four mornings a week and docks in Little Bay roughly four hours later. Check ahead though because trips are often postponed or cancelled due to sudden northerly winds.
Gingerbread Hill and Imagine Peace Bicycle Shop are Montserrat’s two main bicycle rentals for visitors interested in cycling excursions across Montserrat. The main road takes bikers past several picturesque villages and landscapes all the way across the island.
The Montserrat National Trust provides plastic cards depicting Montserrat’s 34 diverse bird species, nature trail maps and guided bird watching tours of the island. Some of the more experienced rangers can imitate the call of the rare Montserrat oriole, the island’s national bird. Bird lovers should also keep their eyes peeled for purple-throated caribs and mangrove cuckoos.
Visitors who want to take a closer look at the Soufrière Hills volcano, which still occasionally spews ash plumes, can most safely do so on a guided aerial tour. Fly Montserrat provides private chartered flights of Montserrat which depart from John A Osborne Airport and last about 15 minutes. Caribbean Helicopters, based in Antigua’s Jolly Harbour, offer longer 45-minute helicopter rides departing from Antigua that take passengers over the Soufrière Hills volcano and to Plymouth’s remains.