Long known as the Caribbean’s Emerald Isle for its Irish heritage and lush rainforests, Montserrat welcomes visitors with a green shamrock-shaped stamp in their passport. In fact Montserrat is the only Caribbean island that observes St. Patrick’s Day as an official holiday, with musical concerts, masquerades and other traditional activities.

The volcano is the star attraction, most easily viewed from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Tours are conducted by scientists several days a week. The ruins of Plymouth are today a ghost town under a blanket of ash. Daytime access to the former capital is possible with a police escort, arranged through hotels or the tourist office.

Volcanic activity continues on and off, but Montserrat’s northern third remains a safe landing, with the volcano monitored round-the-clock by a team of scientists that keep the island’s current 4,700 residents aware of Mother Nature’s inner rumblings. In summary, Montserrat makes for an unusual holiday.

Montserrat also offers many of the Caribbean’s traditional activities. Most of the beaches are of the blacksand variety, but tawny Rendezvous Bay can be reached by a trail over a bluff or by hiring a boat. Lime Kiln Bay is a prime snorkeling location, and there’s also good diving. An expanding network of hiking trails accesses rainforests, old banana plantations and views from sea cliffs. Local forest rangers help visitors track the threatened Montserrat oriole, the national bird, and other rare species.

AIRPORTS/FERRIES/GATEWAYS/FLYING TIMES: Airport: Geralds Airport. Gateways/Flying Times: WinAir flies via Antigua and St. Maarten. WinAir Code Share and Interline Partners (which allows checking of baggage directly through) are: Delta, US Airways, Continental, Northwest, and United Airlines. Antigua: 25 minutes. St. Maarten: 1 hour 30 minutes.

CLIMATE: Winter and summer temperatures average between 24 and 32 Celsius (76 to 88° F). with constant breezes from the sea and mountains. The annual rainfall is about 1,250-2,000 mm or 50-80 inches, well distributed throughout the year, with a wetter season from July to November.

DINING: There are a handful of full service restaurants and a number of small welcoming eateries that serve hot tasty meals using locally grown produce and herbs – anything from lobster burgers, freshly grilled fish and saltfish (salted cod) with ground provision to pastas and fresh salads. If you really want to ‘go local’, ask for a sample of ‘Mountain Chicken’ better known as Frogs Legs, or Goat Water, the traditional national dish, a thick tasty stew with chunks of goat meat, eaten hot with a crusty bread roll.

LANGUAGE: English is the official language, which is often spoken with an Irish brogue, a heritage left by the early Irish settlers.

NIGHTLIFE: There are some small nightclubs and a host of roadside bars, better known as “rum shops”, where people gather informally to hang out or “lime”, have a drink and perhaps relax over a game of dominoes, especially on Friday nights. With limited evening culture. There is no closing time and most bars stay open “until…”
Salem, St. John’s, Cudjoe Head, Davy Hill and Festival Village in Little Bay are home to many of these bars.

Volcano Watching: The magnificent (and still active) Soufriere Hills Volcano is the island’s stellar attraction, and the only live volcano in the Caribbean that you can observe at close quarters in safety. After centuries of lying dormant the volcano rumbled to life in 1995 and buried the capital of Plymouth lying in its foothills, reducing the once-vibrant city to a deserted shell – the Caribbean’s own version of a modern day Pompeii. Diving/Snorkeling: For snorkelers and divers, the coral reefs on Montserrat’s North West Coast offers a variety of tropical fish and other exotic undersea life. Among the more spectacular dive sites are Little Redonda, a rock that reaches the surface from a depth of about 80 feet; the Pinnacles on the northeast corner of the island; and Yellow Hole, south of the Pinnacles, where there is the wreck of the 19th century steel schooner which sank in 1886. Nature and Adventure: The lush, forest Centre Hills is renowned for its biological diversity. The moist rainforest is home to many species of wildlife and most of the 34 species of resident land birds and migrant songbirds that inhabit the area. Birdwatchers will delight in a chance to spot Montserrat’s rare national bird, the Montserrat oriole, as well as the forest thrush; the shy bridled quail dove, the mangrove cuckoo, the trembler and purple throated carib. Other regional endemic species that may be found are the mountain chicken, which is actually a type of frog, and the galliwasp, which is half-snake, half-lizard. Hiking: There are numerous hiking trails through the lush vegetation that offers stunning views of land, sea and coastline. Biking: is another great way to discover the island’s hidden charms. Cycle along at your own pace, admiring the breathtaking views of the ocean, and the dramatic sweep of green hills, which many visitors say are very much like the Irish countryside.

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