Fancy visiting a Caribbean island that still retains its rustic charm? Then Montserrat is the place. Arriving from the popular and developed island of Antigua, Montserrat seems to take you back in time, and most importantly, slow down your pace of life too. Colourful shops line the sides of streets whilst shop keepers wait patiently for their customers; conversing with neighbours and occasionally bellowing out a beautiful loud laugh. Black sand beaches adorn the coast where families take a quick dip in the ocean, fighting the powerful waves that relentlessly draw them back in. Local oriole flits between dense jungles, hiding away from enthusiastic hikers. Montserrat is quiet, calm and relaxed compared to its neighbouring island of Antigua and that is what makes this Caribbean island so unique.
The disastrous eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano in 1995 is the main reason why Montserrat is unpopular on the tourist front. The eruption of the once dormant volcano tore through the island, destroying two thirds of its lands and completely devastating the capital city, Plymouth, which led to many of the residents being evacuated from the island. Since then, tourism has not been quite the same. Don’t let this active volcano put you off from visiting such a serene spot, just because it has once awoken, does not mean your safety is in jeopardy. With new advancements in technology, the Montserrat Volcano Observatory are able to monitor its movements and activity, making the safety of the people of Montserrat, paramount. One can visit the old city of Plymouth, covered under a bed of grey ash, where desolate buildings stand, eerily missing roofs or windowpanes. Wandering through abandoned hotels and office buildings, used mattresses remain as a reminder of the life that once lived here. A tour around the Montserrat Volcano Observatory gives you an insight into the useful technologies that are adopted here and for those who are a little more daring, tours on the volcano itself are a plenty.
But Montserrat is so much more than the remnants of a rumbling beast’s destruction. Birdwatching for the local oriole is in abundance (if you get the opportunity to see one) and hiking through its various nature trails into the jungle is extremely popular and liked by all. If you prefer to be basking in the warm rays of the Caribbean and hearing the soothing sounds of the sea rolling in, then pick one of its numerous beaches to enjoy a rum punch on. Woodlands Beach for its secluded charm (perfect for a wedding might I add), Rendezvous Bay for its white sand beach (the only one on the island) and after a rugged hike you’ll be pleased to make it to its shores, or Little Bay for its popular dining choices.
Immerse yourself underwater with a diving lesson from the Montserrat Diving School or a snorkelling boat trip. Snorkelling may not reward you with the breath taking views one might find in Asia or Australia, but you do get a glimpse of what life is like for those under the sea.
What really makes Montserrat so special though, is the genuine warmth and charisma behind each person. Even at 5am queuing into immigration for the ferry, locals and I still managed a warm (although weary) smile at one another and danced around each other’s bags and bodies politely. I had the pleasure of interviewing two wonderful characters of Montserrat for an upcoming film about the island (it’s in the making, I promise!)
Overlooking the island and with rewarding views of the smooth sea, Hill Top Coffee House and Restaurant welcomes any who knock on its doors with scrumptious waffles and an encyclopaedic knowledge of Montserrat and its community. What I love about this place is its attention to detail, its pure dedication to uphold history in its doors. Furnishings and signs from the devastated Plymouth hang from its walls and music albums from the numerous iconic musicians who recorded albums at George Martin’s AIR Studios gleam for attention. The result is a whirlwind of pictures, posters and objects from what makes Montserrat so unique and what keeps it alive, Hilltop is well worth a visit.
Incredibly close to Hill Top is People’s Place which ironically, really is for the people. John runs this restaurant and bar and is Montserrat’s very own celebrity, whom locals from all over the island come and visit for his award winning goat water stew which bubbles on a pot outside. His flirtatious humour and gaping smile will make you instantly feel at ease whilst he cracks open a local Carib and shares his pearls of wisdom.
I initially came here for my best friend’s wedding, which was a stunning ceremony on the beach and left most of the wedding party in floods of tears, (me included!) But over time, I began to fall in love with the island of Montserrat, its welcoming culture and ease of life. Next time you want to escape from the claustrophobic chaos of city life, be sure to think of Montserrat and its rustic charm.