Montserrat

Capital Brades (de facto)
Currency East Caribbean dollar (EC$ or XCD)
Population 7000
Electricity 230V/60Hz (North American plug)
Country code +1 664
Time zone UTC-4
For the similarly-named mountain-top monastery in Catalonia, see Montserrat (Spain).

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, Soufrière 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.

The northern half of the island is untouched, as beautiful as it ever was, green and lush; 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.

Understand

Colonisation dates to the 1600's; a gun battery was strategically placed at Carr’s Bay in 1624 to defend the island against approaching ships. Montserrat was initially an agricultural economy; plantations and sugar mills were common in the 1700s with sugar cane juice and molasses processed for local consumption and export. Later, the well-to-do built their estate houses on the island; an elaborate main house was often a landmark because of its size and numerous rooms. In 1857 Joseph Sturge established the Montserrat Company, which cultivated lime fruit for export and sold small plots of land to settlers. Various old churches date to the late 19th or early 20th century. The first air charter flights on the island began in 1956; an eleven-hole golf course (now defunct) opened in the Belham River Valley in response to growth in tourism in the 1960s. A well-equipped recording studio, established by Beatles producer George Martin in 1979, attracted a long list of popular musicians in its one decade of operation. Tiny Montserrat promoted itself as "the way the Caribbean used to be".

More recently, 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 Soufrière 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/Soufrière high of over 12,000. A new town is being built at Little Bay and the new port there is being expanded.

Climate

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

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 and settlements

Sunset from Montserrat's west coast

Montserrat had traditionally been divided into three parishes; since the 1995 volcanic eruption, only one (Saint Peter, which is Northern Montserrat) is inhabited.

Villages in the northern part of the island include:

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

The old capital town, Plymouth, was in the south and has been destroyed or buried by volcanic eruption. While the Soufrière Hills Volcano Hazard Zone in the south is (de-facto) never publicly accessible, the level of access to Central Montserrat Hazard Zones in the centre of the island is variable, based on current volcanic activity levels.

The Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) has divided the at-risk areas of the island into zones as part of a Hazard Level System. A map on MVO's website (mvo.ms) updates frequently to indicate the level of permitted access for each zone by one of four colours: green (unrestricted), yellow (daytime access or transit), orange (controlled access), and red (authorised access only).

Regions of Montserrat
Northern Montserrat
Northern Montserrat, the area not covered by the Hazard Level System, offers unrestricted access and is home to the majority of residents and attractions. Brades, the de facto capital, and the new John A. Osborne Airport are here.
Central Montserrat Hazard Zones
The Central Hazard Zones include four hazard zones that sometimes allow full or partial access. Zones A and B often allow full unrestricted access, while Zones C and F allow daytime access only; the MVO has been known to close Zone C for long stretches of time.
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 covered the whole area with volcanic debris. The volcano continues to erupt and for your own safety, you currently cannot enter this area. In theory, this area would be opened for daytime use only if a year were to pass with no volcanic activity, something which has not occurred. Maritime transit is currently not permitted off the eastern coast (Zone E) but is often permitted off the western coast (Zone W) during daytime hours, provided that boats do not stop.

Get in

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 Soufrière Hills volcano. Charter helicopters from Antigua offer another way to view the volcano.

By air

Fly Montserrat offers multiple daily flights out of Antigua into the John A. Osborne Airport (IATA: MNI) near Gerald's. Prices, as of Nov 2011, were approx US$200 round trip, including all taxes. The planes, twin engine turbo props that hold a maximum of six people, offer very limited luggage space. The flight is about 20 minutes with amazing views of Antigua, Montserrat and other islands in the distance.

By boat

The primary transportation harbour (the new port) is at Little Bay, north of Brades. As of 2014, Little Bay is slated for substantial redevelopment. Regular ferry service from Antigua runs a few days a week; check the schedule in advance. On some public holidays there may be a circumferential service that gives you fantastic views of the volcano, pyroclastic flows, abandoned and destroyed towns as well as the beautiful scenery. There is also a more seldom a service to/from Nevis.

Get around

Traffic drives on the left. Montserrat has one main two-lane 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 (there are no traffic lights) but there are only two gas/petrol stations on the island. In 2011, a 4-door Suzuki Vitara (residents would call it a Jeep) rented for 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

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

See

Soufrière Hills volcano looms at the centre of the southern part of the island
Ruins of George Martin's Associated Independent Recording (AIR) studio

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. 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.

Do

Montserrat is blessed with natural beauty, with lush tropical forests crossed by 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.

Montserrat is known for its quiet beaches. Check out each one, they are all different. The island is surrounded by reefs; snorkelling and scuba diving can be enjoyed from shore or by boat. Redonda, a steep uninhabited island 15 miles to the Northwest of Montserrat, is a scuba destination with six-foot barrel sponges, Eagle Rays, Stingrays, and the occasional nurse shark.

Little Bay has a good solid pier where boats dock but no breakwater yet (as of 2014, one is proposed). As scuba and tour boats operate from this pier, tours may be cancelled for a day or two if there's a strong southerly wind with big swells. Once the weather changes, the boats can get out. Be prepared to go hiking, sightseeing, or just relaxing by the pool or at the beach while waiting for the seas to calm enough for the boats to be able to leave Little Bay.

Scuba Montserrat in Little Bay offers diving, snorkelling, daily diving, full courses, clear bottom kayaks, volcano boat tours and equipment. Green Monkey Dive Shop was closed (as of Jan 2014) as a hotel is to be built on their Little Bay site. The Tourist Board has listings of local guides for other boat tours or land excursions.

Carr’s Bay Gun Battery is now a picnic area; the ruins of the master's house at Carr’s Plantation remain visible at Little Bay.

Among radio amateurs, a confirmed country or island contact with a Montserrat VP2M callsign is a rare catch. Fewer than two dozen active "ham" operators live on the island. The Montserrat Amateur Radio Society can provide a local callsign to a visiting, foreign-licensed radio amateur on eight weeks notice. Over a busy ham radio contest weekend, CQ CQ CQ DE VP2M... might get a few thousand responses as hams worldwide seek a rare contact for the logbooks.

Events

Buy

The official local currency on Montserrat (and eight of its neighbours) is the East Caribbean dollar using a currency symbol of $. Often, accommodations are priced in the much more valuable US$, so the designation EC$ is useful 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

Items for sale in shops are generally 'expensive' compared to US and European standards.

If there are is a shop here that takes card/has EFTPOS, we haven't found it. Also as a bonus, the ferry service only takes cash!

There are only two ATMs on the island, but the Bank of Montserrat cannot withdraw from international accounts (not even UK). As with the rest of the Caribbean the Royal Bank of Canada charges a flat fee of US$4.50 to withdraw, so if you want to avoid fees or being in a cashless state, stock up in your previous ECD currency country!

Eat

Most establishments are casual. Some bars on the beach are okay with folks walking right in sand and all.

Most meal choices consist of chicken or seafood, with most having a red meat option, though the type of meat various greatly. 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.)

There are no international fast-food chains on Montserrat.

Drink

Sleep

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. Beware of hidden "service charges", as a few properties have been known to tack on an extra 10% in addition to the room cost and taxes.

Prices do not include the 7-10% tax on accommodations unless otherwise indicated.

Stay safe

Montserrat volcano damage

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 Soufrière Hills Volcano Hazard Zone on the south end of the island is generally not permitted, for safety reasons. The Montserrat Volcano Observatory (mvo.ms) publishes current risk assessments and exclusion zone limits.

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

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

Connect

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.