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Montserrat - Unique Caribbean Island

Looking for an unusual Caribbean adventure? Something no other island can provide? Try Montserrat! You can combine the traditional Caribbean attractions of scuba diving in pristine waters over spectacular coral reefs and hiking through lush green forested hills with the added adventure of viewing a live volcano and learning how the eruptions in the 1990’s impacted the island’s (and the surrounding sea’s) flora and fauna.

You may not have heard much about Montserrat, or maybe have never heard of it at all. Even before the Soufriere Hills volcano came back to life and erupted in 1995, the island was somewhat of a well-kept Caribbean secret. It had all the advantages of a beautiful tropical isle without the imposition of excessive tourism. The grey to black sand beaches don’t tend to create the postcard images that most tourists associate with tropical paradises. But don’t let that fool you! The water is just as clear, the coral reefs are just as teeming with life, and the sun is just as warm. But there are fewer people. You truly can have that solitary stroll on the beach at sunset or the romantic interlude with minimal intrusion. That’s one of the primary reasons that back in the 1980’s it was a favorite haunt of famous rock musicians who valued their privacy, enjoyed the tropical beauty, and simultaneously took advantage of the first-class recording studio opened by Beatles producer George Martin in 1979.

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Brades Town View from Baker Hill, Montserrat
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Montserrat has been called “The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean” due to the lushness of its vegetation and its resemblance to the Irish coastline as well as its historical ties with Ireland. For those who don’t want to just “hang out on the beach”, there are numerous hiking trails that range from easy to challenging and wander through the island’s hills and “ghauts” (deep ravines) from sea level up to peaks of 1000 ft. You can admire spectacular views of the coastline as well as fascinating views of the active volcano and the havoc it created in the old capital of Plymouth – now abandoned and under miles of mud and ash (a modern-day Pompeii).

Tropical bird-watchers can enjoy searching for numerous unusual species including the rare and critically endangered national bird, the Montserrat Oriole. And those who enjoy spotting other forms of wildlife can watch out for the rare galliwasp (often described as half-snake, half-lizard) or for the mountain chicken (which is actually a type of frog!). Back on the beaches if you visit during turtle nesting season (August to September) you may be lucky enough to see three of the world’s seven species of sea turtles (the Green Turtle, the Hawksbill, and the Loggerhead).

And then, of course, there’s the volcano itself. This volcano was dormant throughout recorded history, and those of us who visited the island before 1995 had the opportunity to climb to the top through dense rain forest vegetation for spectacular views of the island and surrounding seas, with no hint of what was to come. You can learn about the unexpected reactivation in 1995 of the Soufriere Hills volcano at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory’s Interpretation Centre. The Observatory continues to monitor the volcano’s activity and helps educate visitors on the impacts of volcanic phenomena on island life. Prevailing winds protect the currently inhabited side of the island, allowing visitors to enjoy the Caribbean lifestyle there and then take a boat trip around to view the Plymouth harbor remains and lava flows.

The downside of Montserrat? Since it's never been highly commercialized it's never had the plethora of tourist resorts to stay at. And the volcanic eruption in 1995 destroyed most of what there was. So there are limited options on where to stay, but due to low volumes of tourism the rates are also more reasonable than at many Caribbean islands.

So what are you waiting for? If you’re an adventurous type that also likes to avoid crowds, book a trip to Montserrat! And if you don’t want to actually stay on the island, there are also day trips provided by operators on the island of Antigua, which is only about 30 miles away. But remember… don’t let the “crowds” know about it!

Note: no promotional consideration was provided or paid for this article.

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