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This article was written on 10 May 2010, and is filled under To: Montserrat.

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Montserrat Vacation

If you’re looking for a place where you can lay back and relax, you can’t go wrong with a Montserrat vacation. The island is as peaceful as the Caribbean gets and crime is virtually non-existent. Since the Soufrière Hills Volcano erupted a decade ago, its southern half has been pretty much left untouched, a rarity in the region. Montserrat draws volcano lovers, divers, and those who simply want to be transported back in time.


A view from the peaceful island of Montserrat

A fairly strenuous Centre Hills trail ascends along a dirt track to the ruins of “The Cot” as well as an “oki” banana plantation. One of Montserrat’s remaining historic centres, “The Cot” was the summer cottage of the once-powerful Sturge family. The trail continues to the Duck Pond Hill perch, which at 1000 ft (305 m) above sea level, provides a fantastic view of the coastline, Garibaldi Hill, Old Towne, abandoned villages, and Plymouth.

The Jack Boy Viewing Facility sits on Jack Boy Hill and provides a good view of the Soufrière Hills volcano. It was designed by a Japanese architect who also helped build homes for displaced residents after the volcanic eruption that covered the capital, Plymouth, in ash. The center includes telescope, barbecue area and tables for picnickers, landscaped grounds, and washrooms. From here, you can see the remains of the old W.H. Bramble airport and eastern villages damaged by pyroclastic flow in 1997.

Established in 1970, the Montserrat National Trust’s Natural History Centre is dedicated to the protection of the island’s natural beauty and cultural heritage. The center has permanent and rotating exhibits showing glimpses of the island’s past, as well as pictorial information about the island’s active volcano and coral reef life. The lovingly tended botanical garden features many local plants and a plant nursery.

The Montserrat Volcano Observatory occupies capacious, strikingly post-modern quarters with a stunning view of the Soufrière Hills volcano and surrounding areas, including abandoned homes, the Belham River Valley, Sir George Martin’s Air Studios, and glimpses of Plymouth itself. The MVO is responsible for monitoring the Soufrière Hills Volcano and providing information on the volcano to the public. Activities include a short documentary detailing the history and impact of the eruption, displays of various artefacts such as pyroclastic surge deposits, informative poster displays, and interactive kiosks.

Due to volcanic activity, Montserrat’s former capital Plymouth is currently off-limit, but you can schedule a boat tour of the southern coast that will get you a few hundred feet of the city’s ruined waterfront. Once a thriving business and commercial town, Plymouth now resembles a dust-covered lunar landscape, with elegant Georgian buildings covered in ash and volcanic debris. At lower alert levels, it may be possible to pay a guide and stroll the capital’s streets, albeit at your own risk. You (or your group) will be charged a hazard allowance of EC$150.

If you don’t feel too daring (or simply don’t want to pay the hazard allowance), the devastation of Plymouth can be safely viewed from Richmond Hill. Here you can find the 18th-century sugar mill that once housed the Montserrat Museum and the abandoned Montserrat Springs Hotel, where the lobby is now a mass of caked mud and the swimming pool overlooks the lunarscape. You might encounter cattle grazing in the hotel’s pool and tennis court.

Montserrat’s ghauts (pronounced guts) are deep ravines that carry rainwater down from the mountains to the sea. A short walk into the hilly rain forest outside Woodlands, Runaway Ghaut was once the site of bloody clashes between the British and French during the colonial period. Legend has it that a drink from the roadside faucet will ensure that you return to Montserrat again and again.

The only access to St. George’s Hill is across the Belham Valley, through the mud-covered ruins of the Montserrat Golf Course. Since the routes aren’t signposted on the rough road, which is often impassable after heavy rains, hiring an experienced driver is a must for any tour in the area. Along the way, you’ll drive through the spooky, abandoned villages of Cork Hill and Weekes, which are almost intact. Close to the summit, you can see the equally eerie, abandoned generator project, as well as the giant satellite dishes of the Gem and Antilles radio stations. At the top sit the sparse ruins of Ft. St. George, including a few cannons, but the real draw here is the incredible view of the devastation, offset by swaths of greenery and the turquoise Caribbean Sea.

BEACHES

Most of Montserrat’s beaches are composed of soft pearl-grey volcanic sand. The island’s best beach, though, is Rendezvous Bay beach, which is composed of non-volcanic white sand and is accessible only by boat. Little Bay, near Festival Village, is popular for swimming, and you can see boats chugging in and out of the port at the northern end of this otherwise comely crescent with calm waters. You’ll find several beach bars nearby if you need a drink, and if you feel hungry, the Fish Net Bar in the Festival Village and Good Life restaurants offer great food.

Next we come to the secluded and lesser-known Bunkum Bay and the attractive Woodlands Beach. The cliff that overlooks the beach is a picnic area and offers an excellent vantage point to watch humpback whales in spring and green and hawksbill turtles in early fall. Because the waves can be quite rough, inexperienced swimmers and children should be closely supervised.

ACTIVITIES

The main draw in Montserrat is ecotourism, especially volcano tours. Another thing you come for is diving or fishing in the island’s amazingly pristine waters. Hiking in Montserrat’s lush, untrammelled rain forest is an exciting experience, and the island’s mountainous terrain is perfect for horseback riding.

By Michael Young. For more information about Montserrat and other islands, visit Cheap All Inclusive Caribbean Vacation.

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