Montserrat

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For other places with the same name, see Montserrat (disambiguation).
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Capital Brades (de facto)
Currency East Caribbean dollar (EC$ or XCD)
Population 4,600(July 2006 est.)
Electricity 230V/60Hz (North American plug)
Country code +1 664
Time zone UTC -4

The British Overseas Territory of Montserrat is an island in the Caribbean, south-east of Puerto Rico.

This island was a very popular tourist destination until Hurricane Hugo caused widespread damage in 1989 and then in 1995, the island's volcano, Soufriere Hills, became active. A large part of the island was evacuated as a result. There have been on-going volcanic eruptions in the southern half of the island since that time, and that part of the island (the exclusion zone) is now ash-strewn and inaccessible.

However, the northern half of the island is untouched, as beautiful as it ever was, green and lush, and visiting it is perfectly safe. The active volcano (which can be viewed from a good distance) has become a tourist attraction in its own right. Montserrat is still well worth visiting, and the locals go out of their way to be encouraging and welcoming to tourists. Since tourism is still at a low level, accommodation prices often represent excellent value compared to other Caribbean destinations.

Understand[edit]

Once a popular get-away destination (especially after Beatles producer George Martin opened Air 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 closing the old airport and seaport in June 1997. The capital, Plymouth, is now covered by 40 feet of ash, earning its nickname "the new Pompeii", and much of the rest of the southern part of the island is now quite uninhabitable and unusable.

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. A new town is being built at LIttle Bay and the new port there is being expanded.

Climate[edit]

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.

Landscape[edit]

Montserrat is small, but getting larger. The erupting volcano is gradually extending the southern end of the island. The northern part of the island is mostly quite hilly.

Regions[edit]

Montserrat has traditionally been divided into three parishes. However, the eruption of the Soulière Hills volcano in 1995 and the subsequent evacuation of the southern half of the island has rendered the parishes less meaningful to travellers.

Far more important to travellers is the degree of access permitted to the different parts of the island because of the active volcano. Since 2008, Montserrat has used the Hazard Level System which divides the at-risk areas of the island into zones. The Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) is responsible for setting the hazard level, and travellers should always check the current access restrictions at their website (mvo.ms). On the MVO map, the level of access permitted for any zone at a given time is denoted by one of four colours: green (unrestricted), yellow (daytime access or transit), orange (controlled access), and red (authorised access only). Note that these are not the same colors as the ones used in the map in this article.

Regions of Montserrat
Northern Montserrat
Northern Montserrat is the area not covered by the Hazard Level System. Access is unrestricted on this part of the island. As a result, the majority of residents and attractions are here. Brades, the de facto capital, and the new John A. Osborne Airport are located here.
Central Montserrat Hazard Zones
The Central Hazard Zones include four hazard zones that usually allow full or partial access. Zones A and B are currently allowing full unrestricted access, while Zones C and F allow daytime access only. Be aware that the MVO has been known to close Zone C for long stretches of time, and that it most recently returned to daytime access in the Spring of 2012.
Soufrière Hills Volcano Hazard Zone
The Soufrière Hills Volcano Hazard Zone, or Zone V in the Hazard Level System, includes the Soufrière Hills volcano and the abandoned capital Plymouth. The 1995 eruption of the volcano covering the whole area with volcanic debris. The volcano continues to erupt and For your own safety, you currently cannot enter this area. Furthermore, maritime transit is currently not permitted off the eastern coast (Zone E). Maritime transit is permitted off the western coast (Zone W) during daytime hours, provided that boats do not stop.

Settlements[edit]

The old capital town, Plymouth, was destroyed by the volcanic eruptions. Villages in the northern part of the island include:

  • Brades, (the de facto capital of the government of Montserrat)
  • Little Bay, the new port, which is rapidly expanding to become a new town
  • Saint John's
  • Salem

Other destinations[edit]

Sunset from Montserrat's west coast

The northern zone of Montserrat has a number of different beaches. Each one has its own appeal and all are worth visiting.

Get in[edit]

Proof of citizenship is required. United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and CARICOM citizens may present a driver's licence or other government photo ID; all others require passports. Visitors from Cuba require visas, obtainable from British Consular offices. All visitors must have tickets for departure, proof of accommodation, 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.

By air[edit]

Fly Montserrat offers multiple daily flights out of Antigua into the John A. Osborne Airport (MNI). Prices, as of Nov 2011, were approx US$200 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 of Antigua, Montserrat, and other islands off in the distance.

By boat[edit]

The primary transportation harbour (the new port) is at Little Bay, near the de facto capital of Brades. As of November, 2011, regular ferry service from Antigua continues. [1] Service is not available every day, so checking the schedule in advance is advised. On rare occasions (some public holidays) a day trip to Montserrat from Nevis is offered.

Get around[edit]

Montserrat has one main road that winds along the coast on the east and west sides of the island. Cars can be rented from several businesses. Traffic is light and there are no traffic lights) but be warned that there are only two gas/petrol stations on the island. In November 2011, the going rate to rent a 4-door Suzuki Vitara (residents would call it a Jeep) was approx $250 US dollars per week.

A temporary Montserrat driver's license can be obtained at the police station in Brades or Salem, all that is required is a completed form, presentation of your home country/territory license, and a payment of US$20 or EC$50.

Bicycle rentals are also available. Taxis and buses run, mostly during the day. Hitch-hiking, during the day and early evening is safe and considered normal - 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 within a local village or housing area, but find other transport from village to village.

Talk[edit]

The people of Montserrat all speak English (British variety), albeit with a local accent.

See[edit]

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 Montserrat Volcano Observatory on the south-west side has an observation deck.[2] Tours into the exclusion zone are sometimes possible, depending entirely on the official volcano risk level as assessed by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory staff. If you are able to go into the exclusion zone 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. As of January 2012 no one other than government officials and scientists was permitted into what little remains of Plymouth.

Soufriere Hills volcano looms at the center of the southern part of the island

Do[edit]

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 or Tourist Information for a map.

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. Snorkelling and scuba diving can be enjoyed from shore or by boat. Check with "Scuba Montserrat" in Little Bay for diving, snorkelling, daily diving, full courses, clear bottom kayaks, volcano boat tours and equipment [3]

Scuba diving is also available at nearby Redonda, a steep uninhabited island 15 miles to the Northwest 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.[4]

For other boat tours or land excursions, stop by the Tourist Board to get a phone number of one of the local guides.

Visitors should also check out the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO)[5]for information on the Soufriere Hills Volcano. The MVO Visitors Centre is open to the public Monday through Thursday, 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 artefacts. There is also a fabulous view of the volcano.

Unfortunately, although there is a good solid pier where boats dock, as yet there is no breakwater at Little Bay (where the scuba and tour boats leave from), so if there's a strong southerly wind with big swells, scuba and boat tours may be canceled for a day or two until the weather changes, so 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.

Buy[edit]

The official local currency is the East Caribbean dollar using a currency symbol of $. This is the currency of eight of its neighbours too. Like them, much accommodation on Montserrat is priced in the much more valuable US$, so we use the designation EC$ to distinguish the two.

The EC$ is subdivided into 100 cents and has been pegged to the United States dollar (US$) since 1976 at US$1 = EC$2.70

There are currently two ATMs on the island, one at the Royal Bank of Canada, and one at the Bank of Montserrat.

  • Bank of Montserrat, Brades main road, +1 664 491-3843. Open M-F 8AM-2PM; closes W 1PM, F 3PM.
  • Royal Bank of Canada, Brades Main Road. +1 664 491-2426. Open M-F 9AM-2PM; closes W 1PM, F 3PM.

Eat[edit]

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.

Drink[edit]

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.

Sleep[edit]

  • Tropical Mansion Suites. Near the airport. PO Box 404, Sweeny's,
  • Villa "Tan Ry Doon",. Olveston,
  • Gingerbread Hill 1-813-774-5270 (USA); 1-664-491-5812 (int'l). Choose from the villa or fully equipped suite at US$125, or simpler accommodations as low as US$35. Great views of the ocean and mountains. A large number of ex-pats living on the Island stayed here prior to buying property.
  • Travellers Palm Guest House. Closed for good on 31 Jan 2008.
  • Vue Pointe Hotel, Old Towne, was the only remaining beach resort after the volcano erupted. It has struggled through repeated closures because of volcanic activity, and the owners do not plan to reopen. They seek to build a new resort farther from the volcano.[6] Closed and deserted as on November 2011.
  • Turtle Bay ApartmentsWoodlands. Fully equipped apartments, with tropic gardens and views of the mountains and sea. Woodlands Bay is nearby. US$60-70.
  • Miles away Villa.
  • Hot Rock Hostel, Salem, nice and qiet hostel near the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. $25 including light breakfast (in 2008).[7]
  • Essence Guest House, Old Towne, very nice guest house, very friendly owners. Beautiful rooms and apartment. [8]

Costs[edit]

Accommodation on Montserrat is a bargain compared to many of its less geologically active neighbours, as the island is anxious to re-establish its tourism industry. The tourism board has listings of private villas for as little as US$700/week.

Keep in mind however that items for sale in shops are generally 'expensive' compared to US and European standards.

Stay safe[edit]

Like almost all Caribbean islands, Montserrat may experience a tropical storm or even a hurricane 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. [9]

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.

Stay healthy[edit]

No vaccinations are required to enter Montserrat unless coming from a country that has suffered a cholera, yellow fever, or small pox epidemic.

  • Glendon Hospital, Saint John's. +1 664 491-2552.
  • Lee's Pharmacy, Brades Main Road, +1 664 492-3444. 9AM-7PM.

Connect[edit]

Internet Cafés[edit]

  • Andy's Internet Café & Repairs, BBC Building, Brades Main Road, +1 664 491-9768, [10].
  • Grant Enterprises & Training, Brades, +1 664 491-9654.


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