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The beautiful island of Montserrat has a distinctly explosive history that has drawn intrepid travellers to its awe-inspiring shores. It seems quite clear the earth is trying to rid itself of this small Caribbean island, as its recent history is a list of major natural disasters.
A hurricane swept over the island in 1989, damaging 90 percent of the buildings.Following a hurricane in 1989, Montserrat's volcano, the Soufrière Hills, erupted in 1995 after staying dormant for hundreds of years.
It erupted again two years later, covering the capital city, Plymouth, in ash and mud, while limiting the 39 square mile (101km) island to a much smaller, inhabitable safe zone in the north of Monserrat. Most of the 12,000 inhabitants got the message and emigrated.
For those that stayed, tourism on the island is slowly growing and curious visitors are now eager to take tours of the active volcano where an ominous dome over the volcano's crater rebuilds and periodically collapses sending great plumes of ash into the air. Much of the island is within the 'volcanic exclusion zone' which was previously inaccessible; however, Montserrat tourism now conducts guided tours into the ashen wasteland in the south.
Despite the destruction caused by the Soufrière Hills, the volcano has also made some fascinating changes to the natural environment. Divers can see unique coral formations that have grown healthier from the volcano's substrate; sun lovers can relax on soft, volcanic sand at a number of ; and the and hikes have lush vegetation from the fertilised soil. As a result, Montserrat is looking to establish itself as a major player in global ecotourism.
The country often refers to itself as the Emerald Isle, an homage to its Irish settlers escaping religious oppression. The Caribbean is an unlikely place to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but the national holiday highlights Monserrat's unique charm. Unlike Columbus, who sailed right past the islands, visitors to the Caribbean should make this a place to explore. Flights from Antigua and some surrounding islands arrive daily.
Pivoting around a volcano, bordered by beautiful black sand beaches, and criss-crossed by rugged hiking trails, Montserrat is a unique island getaway in the Caribbean, both thrilling and serene all at once. Immediately following a volcanic eruption in 1997, most locals left the country and Monserrat fell silent. However, people are slowly returning to Montserrat.
Today, intrepid travellers relish its rugged trails and, while most of the southern part of the island is a restricted zone, you'll find some daring spots for photo-ops with the Soufriere Hills Volcano close in the background. Verdant paths wind through endangered flora set among orchards, willows, and fascinating wildlife, all contained by some of the most pristine and quiet beaches in the Caribbean.
These are not the traditional bleached Caribbean beaches found in movies and, rather, dense vegetation leads out to quiet stretches of dark sand dipping into choppy waves. Montserrat is also a diver's paradise as coral bursting with colour lies beneath the water's surface.
The Soufriere Hills Volcano is at the same time Montserrat's greatest tourist attraction and its most dangerous natural feature. After a long period of dormancy, the volcano erupted again in 1995 and has been erupting ever since - laying waste to the capital, Plymouth, and causing nearly two-thirds of the local population to evacuate the island.
Still, for tourists to Montserrat (many of whom come for the express purpose of seeing the volcano), Soufriere Hills is a magnificent sight, an unforgettable glimpse of nature at its most powerful and elemental.
Tourists can view the volcano from many sites, but the best ones include from the top of Jack Boy Hill, which overlooks the former site of the airport before it was buried; from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, which provides some good interpretive information; and from the top of Garibaldi Hill, which entails a trip through the spectacular Bellam Valley.
Whichever way you choose to view the Soufriere Hills Volcano, you are almost guaranteed to be treated to the sight of it venting ash and steam, and the very lucky will also get a sight of rock falls and the glow of flowing magma.
For a Caribbean island, Montserrat is blessed with a truly interesting collection of beaches. Thanks to the Soufriere Hills Volcano, which dominates the topography of the island, Montserrat's beaches have all been given a different character and visitors are urged to explore them all.
The volcano's chief contribution has been in the creation of black and grey-sand beaches, which makes for a surreal beach experience. The best of these include Woodlands Beach (featuring the blackest sand), Little Bay Beach (the best for swimming), and Lime Kiln Beach (which offers fantastic swimming and snorkelling opportunities).
The island's only white-sand beach, Rendezvous Beach, is remote, and only accessible by boat or a tough trek. However, the rugged trail to Rendezvous Beach is rewarding and chances are that you'll have it all to yourself.
Montserrat might not be the most sophisticated of tourist destinations, lacking in creature comforts such as gourmet eateries and trendy night clubs. But what it lacks in this respect, it more than makes up for in natural bounty.
Lovers of the great outdoors will be in heaven in Montserrat, an island which is criss-crossed by hiking trails each more spectacular than the last. Most of these trails begin in the Centre Hills, and wind through areas of lush vegetation teeming with bird life. Keep an eye out for Montserrat's national bird (the Montserrat Oriole) and the national flower (the Heliconia).
For the very fit, the pick of the trails must be the Rendezvous Beach Trail, which leads from the Silver Hills past the 17th-century ruins of the first Irish settlement on the island, before a challenging climb and descent over Bantin Ghaut leads down to Rendezvous Beach, Montserrat's only white-sand beach.
The climate in Montserrat is typically humid and hot, being tropical. However, Montserrat becomes slightly cooler from December to April, during their dry season and winter. Visitors can expect high rainfall and increased temperatures from April to November. Summer also brings hurricanes and tropical storms; so it is generally better to visit during the winter months.
English is the official language.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 60Hz. They use two-flat-pin plugs and three pronged plugs with two flat pins and one round pin (Plug types A and B).
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Montserrat. No visa is required for stays of up to six months.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Montserrat. No visa is required for British citizens and British Overseas Territories citizens for stays of up to six months. British passport holders with other endorsements should confirm entry requirements before travel.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Montserrat. No visa is required for stays of up to six months.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Montserrat. No visa is required for stays of up to six months.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Montserrat. No visa is required for stays of up to six months.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Montserrat. No visa is required for stays of up to six months.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Montserrat. No visa is required for stays of up to six months.
All foreign passengers to Montserrat must hold return/onward tickets, the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country. Note that visa exemptions are for a maximum period of six months, although extensions are possible, by applying to the Immigration Department. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
The most common ailment for visitors is traveller's diarrhoea which is easily avoided by following basic food procedures. Drink only bottled water, or boiled, disinfected and filtered tap water, eat only hot foods, and don't eat street food or uncooked/unwashed fruits. It is recommended to get an update on an MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, a diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, and to get vaccines for hepatitis A and B, typhoid, varicella (chickenpox), polio, and a yearly flu shot. Those travelling from a yellow fever zone will be required to produce a certificate of proof of receiving a yellow fever vaccine. People who are likely to come into contact with animals should consider a rabies vaccine. Taking along a set of basic medication and insect repellent is necessary because visitors are at risk of dengue fever. All medication should have a doctor's letter in explanation of medical problems and medications required for treatment. There are adequate medical facilities, but expect to pay in cash regardless of whether or not you have medical travel insurance.
A five percent bonus over and above normal service charges illustrates appreciation for excellent service at restaurants. Porters are given $1 per bag and cleaning services are often tipped at $2-3 per night. Taxi drivers will expect a ten percent tip and it is a good idea to arrange a flat rate from the start. All tour guides appreciate gratuity, which should be between 10-20 percent, at your discretion.
Crime against tourists is rare, but basic travel precautions are still necessary. For example, if there is no safe in the hotel, it is better to carry your valuables with you than to leave them in the room. The biggest safety concern in Montserrat is not from the locals, but from the environment.
While the Soufriere Hills Volcano is active and dangerous, the last major activity was in 2010. As a result of the volcanic activity, a third of the island is considered safe and inhabitable. It is advisable to stay out of the other two-thirds. Only explore it with the explicit permission and guidance from local authorities. Travel insurance with provision for emergency evacuation is highly recommended (both for natural disaster or medical emergencies).
By all accounts, Montserrat might be one of the easiest places for western travellers to visit, with many tourists reporting that they felt like they couldn't have offended the locals they encountered, even if they'd wanted to! While, of course, this theory shouldn't be tested by visitors to the 'emerald isle of the Caribbean', travellers can look forward to a pleasant mix of typically European manners and customs, and a laid-back, relaxed and accepting social atmosphere. Visitors should be aware of the dangers posed by the Soufriere Hills Volcano, and make sure they stay out of restricted areas. Ask permission before taking photographs of locals, although more often than not, they will indulge your request with a suitable pose.
Travellers to Montserrat 18 and older may bring up to 200 cigarettes,50 cigars, or 200g of tobacco, 40 ounces (1.14 litres) of liquor, six ounces (168g) of perfume, and gifts valued to EC$500 ($180).
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