Montserrat is a small leeward Caribbean island that sits betwen Antigua and Guadeloupe. It is a British crown colony with a strong Irish heritage that you can still enjoy during the Island's biggest holiday of the year - Saint Patrick's Day.
The Island is 7 miles wide by 11 miles long, with a current permanent population of about 5,000 people. Montserrat is known far and wide for its incredibly friendly people, pristine environment, clean drinking water, stunning beaches, the Montserrat volcano and best of all ... for being one of the few places in the Caribbean that is untouched by large-scale tourism.
Looking for a frenetic pace? You'll realize happily that it's missing when you hike our entrancing nature trails, or sip a tropical drink under a beneficent sun, or drive our winding mountain roads which rise into lush mountain rainforests and trace miles of hidden coastline. Our beguiling black-sand beaches (and the popular white sand Rendezvous Beach) provide a sense of tranquility and ample elbowroom whether you are by yourself or with that special someone. At night the stars reach down to share their magic, and there is always a cooling breeze from the tradewinds which centuries ago carried sailing ships across the sea from Europe.
Montserratians are among the most naturally hospitable people on earth and everyone you meet will want to make your encounter with the island and its unparalleled beauty an experience you will treasure.
Montserrat offers a beautiful array of natural wonders, from the bold colors of flamboyant trees, the brilliant red hibiscus, to the magical scent of blooming frangipani... All will become vivid memories you'll carry with you until the pull of the ‘Emerald Isle of the Caribbean' brings you back again and again. 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. Montserrat is also known for world class fishing, more than 30 pristine dive sites, rare and lovely bird-life - including the national bird, the rare Montserrat Oriole - and mouth watering local cuisine, especially the national dish ‘Goat Water' and the famous ‘Mountain Chicken'. The local customs are culture all add to the many pleasures of a visit to Montserrat.
Truly unique to the Caribbean, Montserrat has a well-known active volcano that scientists call one of the most interesting in the world. You must go see the volcano for a once in a lifeime experience! 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 Monserrat Volcano Observatory on the south-west side has an observation deck. Tours into the exclusion zone may be possible, depending on the volcano risk level; 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.
Montserrat was always considered a special place. It was an island where successful people and celebrities from all over the world built their luxurious retreats. No high rise hotels , no casinos, not even traffic lights mar the beauty of Montserrat's rugged mountain slopes covered with lush tropical rain forest. George Martin fell in love with the island when he first visited with his wife in 1977. The island exuded an over-powering sense of peace and amity - all the right ambience for the creation of great music. In 1979 George completed building AIR Studios Montserrat which for nearly 11 years became one of the most prolific studios in the world playing host to all the stars of the time, including; Paul McCartney, Dire Straits, Stevie Wonder, The Police, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Ultravox, Eric Clapton and Lou Reed, to name but a few.
Windsurfing instructor 'Danny' Sweeney has trained a lot of stars like Sting who tried his hand on this marine sport while recording Synchronicity in December of 1982. Sting figured if Danny could teach the old guy to do it, then certainly he could learn. After this Dire Straits' Alan Clark and Guy Fletcher also got hooked to windsurfing during the recording of "Brothers in Arms" in 1984. Other musicians like Simply Red's lead singer Mike 'Red' Hucknell and Canada's Neil Peart took up the sport in Montserrat. Windsurfing operations of 'Danny' Sweeney are still available on the beach at Old Road Bay offering windsurfing rentals and lessons. Danny, somewhat of a Montserrat legend, can take you fishing or provide gear for all kinds of ocean-going fun. Danny and his wife Margaret also operate a wonderful ocean-front restaurant - perfect for cooking the day's catch.
Then Montserrat was 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. The Air Studio closed in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo devastated the island. Next 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 catastrophically closing the airports and seaports in June 1997. The capital of Plymouth was covered by 40 feet of ash, and much of the south end of the island is now uninhabitable.
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.
In the Northern part of the island, that left untouched by the Soufriere Hills Volcano, the mountains are still covered with lush vegetation that can be explored on rugged footpaths under the guidance of certified tour guides. Some ruins of old plantations overgrown by the tropical vegetation make you feel as if you stepped into an Indiana Jones movie.
When you decide to visit Montserrat you will be rewarded with a unique experience. You can spend a day on a beach, almost by yourself and swim in crystal clear water of the Caribbean Sea. No speed boats, no jet skis will disturb you. The next day you may explore the tropical rain forest in the center hills.You can spend another day watching the volcano. You may hire a Taxi for a trip to Garibaldi Hill. From here you can look down to Plymouth, the old capital, which had the bad fortune to be in the way of major lava flows. A large part of the city has been destroyed. Plymouth is still considered dangerous. Access is not allowed. However, from time to time, the Montserrat Tourist Board organizes site seeing tours into Plymouth for a fee.
Montserrat's beaches, with their soft pearl-grey volcanic sand, are special. The only non-volcanic white sand beach is Rendezvous Beach, the furthest north, which is only accessible by boat or a stiff hike but is well worth the effort. Its remoteness gives it a special charm, and you may have it all to yourselves. Take along plenty of cold water to drink. All the beaches are on the west coast, and working our way down the coast.
Little Bay, near Festival Village, is popular for swimming, and you can watch boats coming in and out of the Port at the northern end. Beach bars are nearby, as well as the Good Life Restaurant, for a drink or snack.
Next we come to the secluded and lesser-known Bunkum Bay, a real treasure spot at the bottom of St Peters' lower road (and now boasts a beach bar); and the attractive Woodlands Beach, with a covered picnic area on the cliff above the beach. Watch out for rough waves - inexperienced swimmers and children should be closely supervised.
Then there's Lime Kiln Beach, a secluded and out of the way spot, and Old Road Bay, for years a favorite bathing beach. Here, the volcanic mudflows have moved the shoreline downwards so that what was once a jetty, sticking out into the water, is now landlocked on the beach. Jumping Jack's Beach Bar and Restaurant is nearby for your refreshments. You can also take a walk across to the isolated Isles Bay Beach.
Furthest south is Foxes Bay, where you can see what volcanic ash and hurricanes have done: the former bird sanctuary and mangrove swamp with tree trunks stripped bare (the birds have migrated further north), and the ruin of a former Rotary Club refreshment booth. However, all around are renewed green wooded surroundings.
Montserrat's beauty extends below the surface as well and there are a number of dives sites around the island both for novice as well as for experienced divers. For snorkellers and divers, the coral reefs on Montserrat's coast offer a variety of tropical fish and other exotic undersea life, such as spotted rays, sea turtles and sponges.
The dive-able area reaches from Old Road Bluff in the west to the North West Bluff, around the northern shore line towards Hell's Gate in the northeast corner of the island, and then along the eastern shore towards the border of the Volcanic Maritime Exclusion Zone, more than 20 km (13 miles) of coastline. Montserrat's volcano had an unexpected effect on our coral reefs and the underwater world is healthier than ever. The pyroclastic flows, which flowed into the sea in the south have brought huge rocky boulders into the sea, new substrates for reefs while the ash was quickly removed by tidal currents. Coral, fish, sponges, and all the other creatures had time to recover from the stresses of human activities. Their larvae drifted with the currents and settled in the reefs of the north. As a result, we see our dive spots teeming with more life than ever before.
The mountainous landscape of Montserrat hides many treasures, from lush rain-forests to fruit-laden trees of mango, papaya, coconut and banana. At only 39.5 square miles, and with a significant portion of the island uninhabitable in the Exclusion Zone, the tropical beauty of Montserrat is often best experienced on foot. The island features a number of walking trails suited to new and experienced walkers alike. Some of the trails are quite strenuous, so if you are not an experienced hiker and are going for the first time, we advise you to go with a guide. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing, and bring along a flask of cold water.
The majority of the island's trails run through the Centre Hills region and include:
This trail traverses the Centre Hills region, which is renowned for its biological diversity, rich habitat and vegetation. The moist rainforest is home to many species of wildlife and most of the thirty-three species of resident land birds and migrant songbirds inhabit the area. This trail is a tropical birdwatchers' paradise, with the chance to spot Montserrat's rare national bird, the Oriole, as well as the rare Forest Thrush, the shy Bridled Quail-Dove, the Mangrove Cuckoo, the Trembler and the Purple-Throated Carib. The area is also home to some unusual amphibians and reptiles, including tree frogs, anoles, ground lizards, dwarf geckos and iguanas. Other regionally endemic species that may be found are the mountain chicken, which is actually a type of frog, and the rare galliwasp, which is half-snake, half-lizard.
This trail allows hikers to explore some of Montserrat' heritage as it passes though the site of an 'oki' banana plantation nestled amongst the ruins of a family cottage several hundred feet above sea level. The hike through the lush vegetation offers breathtaking views of the surrounding villages including some of the Exclusion Zone. The trail ascends along a dirt track to the ruins of 'The Cot', the one time summer cottage of the influential Sturge family, which is situated in the Centre Hills. The track continues to a height of 1,000 feet above sea level where walkers are rewarded with outstanding views of the coast.
This trail through the Centre Hills incorporates some challenging steep climbs and deep valleys. The route traverses the Blackwood Allen stream where a variety of fresh water fish species can be found. A strategically placed viewing platform allows for panoramic views of the northern villages and the coastline below. The vegetation along the route includes an abundance of heliconia, Montserrat's national flower, amongst other attractive plants. There is also the chance to spot the island's national bird - the Montserrat Oriole. The trail runs from the Grand View Bed and Breakfast in Baker Hill to Mongo Hill.
Montserrat's ghauts (pronounced guts) are deep ravines that carry rainwater down from the mountains to the sea. Legend has it that people drinking the cool spring water flowing to the drinking fountain at Runaway Ghaut will be drawn to return to Montserrat again and again. This mini-trail offers the perfect route for a relaxing afternoon stroll or a family picnic in a remarkable setting.
Trails in other areas of the island include:
Silver Hills, situated at the northern tip of Montserrat, is one of the island's oldest volcanic centres. The defunct volcano presents a very diverse appearance, having been heavily dissected, faulted and eroded. The hike takes a circular route from Drummond, winding its way through dry forest, across open fields and over the Silver Hills, providing stunning views of land, sea and coastline. Many land and shore birds are found in this area, including the Red-Billed Tropicbird, the Mangrove Cuckoo and the Pearly-Eyed Thrasher. Pelican Point on the eastern coast is the only breeding colony of Magnificent Frigate birds on the island. The view from the Silver Hills provides an insight into how recent volcanic deposits in the south could appear with the passage of millions of years.
Rendezvous Bay holds unique status as Montserrat's only white sand beach, offering excellent swimming, snorkeling and diving in the most pristine underwater area on the island. This trail includes the contrast of a white and black sand beach, where hikers can cool down with a dip in the sea after a demanding route. The walk follows a steep mountain trail over a bluff, with the option to make the return journey by boat with any of the boat ride operators on the island. Since this trail is often difficult to negotiate, it is advisable to consult a Forest Ranger before setting off.
The lush, forested Centre Hills is renowned for its biological diversity and is home to the thirty-four (34) species of resident land birds and migrant songbirds that inhabit the island. Birdwatchers will delight in a chance to spot Montserrat's rare national bird, the endemic Montserrat Oriole. If your guide is one of the experienced forest ranger, he may imitate its call and signal to you when it is in sight. You may also be able to see the Forest Thrush, the shy Bridled-Quail Dove, the Mangrove Cuckoo, the Trembler and the Purple-Throated Carib.
Montserrat was populated by Arawak and Carib people when it was claimed by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage for Spain in 1493, naming the island Santa María de Montserrate, after the Blessed Virgin of the Monastery of Montserrat, which is located on the Mountain of Montserrat, in Catalonia, Spain. The island fell under English control in 1632 when a group of Irish fleeing anti-Roman Catholic sentiment in Saint Kitts and Nevis settled there. The import of slaves common to most Caribbean islands, mainly coming from West Africa, followed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and an economy based on sugar, rum, arrowroot and Sea Island cotton was established.
In 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, Montserrat was briefly captured by France. It was returned to the United Kingdom under the Treaty of Paris which ended that conflict. A failed slave uprising on 17 March 1798 led to Montserrat later becoming one of only four places in the world that celebrates St Patrick's Day as a public or bank holiday (the others being the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador). Slavery was abolished in Montserrat in 1834, presumably as a result of the general emancipation of slaves within the British Empire in that same year.
Falling sugar prices during the nineteenth century had an adverse effect on the island's economy and in 1869 the philanthropist Joseph Sturge of Birmingham, England formed the Montserrat Company to buy sugar estates that were no longer economically viable. The company planted limes starting production of the island's famous lime juice, set up a school, and sold parcels of land to the inhabitants of the island, with the result that much of Montserrat came to be owned by smallholders.
From 1871 to 1958 Montserrat was administered as part of the Federal Colony of the Leeward Islands, becoming a province of the short-lived West Indies Federation from 1958 to 1962. With the completion of Beatles producer George Martin's AIR Studios Montserrat in 1979, the island attracted world-famous musicians who came to record in the peace and quiet and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat.
The last several years of the 20th century, however, brought two events which devastated the island. In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo struck Montserrat with full force, damaging over 90 percent of the structures on the island. AIR Studios closed, and the tourist trade upon which the island depended was nearly wiped out. Within a few years, however, the island had recovered considerably—only to be struck again by disaster.
In July 1995, Montserrat's Soufriere Hills volcano, dormant throughout recorded history, rumbled to life and began an eruption which eventually buried the island's capital, Plymouth, in more than 12 metres (39 ft) of mud, destroyed its airport and docking facilities, and rendered the southern half of the island uninhabitable. Following the destruction of Plymouth, more than half of the population left the island due to the economic disruption and lack of housing. After a period of regular eruptive events during the late 1990s including one on June 25, 1997, in which 19 people lost their lives, the volcano's activity in recent years has been confined mostly to infrequent ventings of ash into the uninhabited areas in the south. However, this ash venting does occasionally extend into the populated areas of the northern and western parts of the island. As an example, on May 20, 2006, the lava dome that had been slowly building partially collapsed, resulting in an ashfall of about an 2.5 cm (1 inch) in Old Towne and parts of Olveston. There were no injuries or significant property damage.
Long referred to as "The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean" for both its Irish heritage and its resemblance to coastal Ireland, Montserrat today remains lush and green. A new airport, opened officially by the Princess Royal Princess Anne in February 2005, received its first commercial flights on July 11, 2005, and docking facilities are in place at Little Bay where a new capital is being constructed out of reach of any further volcanic activity.
The people of Montserrat were granted full residency rights in the United Kingdom in 1998, and citizenship was granted in 2002.
There is no shortage of good music on Montserrat. Just a five minute walk away, you can enjoy steel drum band concerts, local theatre, and trumpet music by Nancy Hildegaard - when not on island, Nancy plays trumpet at Whoopi Goldberg's restaurant in the US. Something tells us she must be good...
A short drive away, Montserrat boasts soca and highlife tunes played next to the beach - this beach bar/club is Montserrat's answer to wild night life. Wherever you are on island, music isn't too far behind. Visit our Steinway page for some interesting musical facts about the island.
Known as 'The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean' for its lush green landscape and strong Irish connections, Montserrat is the only country outside Ireland where St Patrick's Day is celebrated as a public holiday. The St Patrick's Week of Celebrations during March is a highlight of the island's event calendar, bringing together all the communities of the island through a series of festive activities that also attract international visitors. The Montserrat Christmas Festival in December is another key occasion, showcasing the creative talents of the Montserratians and blending together their diverse cultures. Visitors to Montserrat are invited to enjoy these events, along with a vast array of others held throughout the year.
St Patrick's Week is a weeklong celebration highlighting Montserrat's local culture and Irish heritage that culminates with St. Patrick's Day on March 17 : also a commemoration of the slave uprising on that very day in 1768. Events usually include a special service at the Catholic Church, a lecture, an exhibition, guided hikes in the forested mountains, the Freedom Run from Cudjoe Head to Salem Park, a St. Patricks Day dinner and a Junior Calypso Competition.
During the weekend the St. Patrick's Week celebrations is at Festival Village. Here there's a simulated Slave Village with traditional local food on sale (the time-honored 'Slave Feast'), along with a revival of traditional games from yesteryear like hand-made spinning tops, story telling, and a kite flying festival. Local culture and music are in focus and you'll be sure to see the Masqueraders perform masked street dancers in traditional costumes, tall head dresses and whips, prancing to the lively sound of fife and drum: a blend of African and European elements forged out of slavery. String band music, a traditional combination of instruments includes the banjo, 'boompipe', guitar, mouth organ, triangle, 'shak shak' and bass drum are also on show, along with steel band (steel drum) performances.
Visitors and residents of Montserrat witnessed the first Montserrat Calabash Festival in July 2006. The festival is named after the calabash since the fruit has long been identified as one of Montserrat's cultural items. The calabash tree, which sometimes grows to 30 feet, produces the fruit, has traditionally been used to produce an eating utensil, musical instruments and decorative items. This year's Festival will take place in July 2008 and a number of excitng events are planed. For further information e-mail Florence Joseph at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Montserrat showcases its African ancestry during Cudjoe Head celebrations that is held during the first weekend in August. The village of Cudjoe Head was named in the 18th Century after a slave by the name of Cudjoe who ran away from his master. He was caught and lynched at Cudjoe Head corner and his head was placed on a silk cotton tree to remind anyone considering running away what the punishment would be if they were caught. Festivities have grown to include a steel band performance, road race, and an exhibition of goods produced in the village. Additionally, the night before the festival, Cudjoe Head Eve, is now a time known for revelry and fun with a street festival that includes live music and vendors. This year, activities will include a five-mile bike race, a Run Cudjoe Run relay race, masquerades, string band and an exhibition that showcases the many talents of the community.
The Annual St. Peter's Parish Bazaar is held on the 1st Monday in August, referred to as August Monday. This event has been held for more than 50 years and brings parishioners, families and friends from across the island and even from overseas, together. The Bazaar is held on the grounds of the Anglican Rectory in St. Peter's and usually begins from 2:00 p.m. until. Attractions include games, variety stalls, goat water, chicken (fried and barbeque) cold drinks, ice cream and for the children the Bouncy Castle.
The Montserrat Fisherman's Cooperative hosts an annual local on-shore fishing tournament at the end of January. During the Labour Day weekend (first Monday in May) a local open tournament is hosted and in September, an International Tournament is usually held. Organised by the Montserrat Fisherman's Cooperative this International Tournament will be open to boats from all over the world and will offer attractive prizes. More detailed information pertaining to rules, registration fees, prizes will soon be posted on this site. In the interim boats interested in participating and other interested parties should contact the Montserrat Tourist Board.
Festival runs from mid-December until New Year's Day, and for many years this has been the climax of the year, when hundreds of Montserratians living overseas return to the island to reunite with families and friends and enjoy the festivities. Festival has many similarities with the carnivals held in other islands, and highlights the island's wealth of culture and talent.
There are calypso competitions, the Festival Queen competition, beauty and talent shows, and the parade of costumed troupes on New Year?s Day, as well as Masqueraders dancing in the streets. As night falls, excitement builds up at street 'jump ups' informal dancing in the street, with exuberant crowds following a truck playing loud music.
In addition though, there are a host of other shows and events either with a live band or sound system, which often include choral singing (not to be missed), drama, and the schools performing arts festival. You will see string bands and steel bands also playing at some of the shows as part of the performance, as well as locally made arts, crafts and other goods on sale. Get hold of a Festival program if you are here in December, or ask your host to find one for you. Then you can take your pick of what to see and do.
Tourism week is held during the latter part of the year, and showcases the best of local arts and craft, food, drink and other local products, as well as traditional culture and music. As well as highlighting our culture and products for the benefit of visitors, the week is also intended to raise local awareness about how much the island has to offer. A street fair, cultural show, radio and TV features are just some of the activities during this week.
Queen Elizabeth's official birthday is held during the first week in June, and the military parade is worth seeing. Parading at Salem Park you will see the Defense Force, Police Force, Fire and Rescue Service, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and Brownies, Pathfinders, Red Cross and other uniformed groups. Sometimes there's a visiting military band and this adds to the pomp and pageantry as the Police and Defense Force march in formation and show off their skills, and the Governor is on hand for a formal inspection of the ranks.
These may sound tame, but if one of them is on during your visit and you want to get a feel for local life, give them a try. Fund raising church fetes or bazaars include eats, drinks, sale of gifts, local products and preserves, loud music and games. Sometimes afternoon tea or dinner is served. They continue into the night, which is when the largest crowds turn up.
Several villages hold special days of activities once a year on a particular day. These include Salem, Cudjoe Head, St Peters, St John's and the new villages of Davy Hill and Lookout. Activities may include exhibitions, talent shows, sporting events, games, sale of craft items and gifts, as well as eats, drinks and liming (hanging out) to loud music in the street. Again, the biggest crowds are after nightfall.
Looking for good food? This tiny island has a wonderful selection of warm and hospitable restaurants. From pizza, to freshly-caught fish of the day, to take-out, there will be something to suit your taste. Montserrat is small enough that on certain days there is a 'place to be' - whether that is a fantastic beach barbeque ritual on weekends, drinks under palm trees on a Tuesday afternoon, or Wednesday night buffets with music.
The island of Montserrat is located approximately 480 km (300 miles) east-southeast of Puerto Rico and 48 km (30 miles) southwest of Antigua. It comprises only 104 km² (40 square miles) and is increasing gradually owing to volcanic deposits on the southeast coast of the island; it is 16 km (10 miles) long and 11 km (7 miles) wide, with dramatic rock faced cliffs rising 15 to 30 m (50-100 feet) above the sea and smooth bottomed sandy beaches scattered among coves on the west side of the island. Montserrat has been a quiet haven of extraordinary scenic beauty.
Montserrat has two islets: Little Redonda and Virgin.
The Soufrière Hills or Montserrat volcano is an active complex stratovolcano with many lava domes forming its summit on the island. After a long period of dormancy it became active in 1995, and eruptions have continued up to the present. The last major eruption was in July 2003.