This tiny island is one of the region’s best-kept secrets — its black sand beaches, coral reefs, soaring mountains and rainforest-covered hills, not to mention rare, endemic plant and animal species, make it a paradise for nature-lovers.
A rpeort from the Montserrat Tourism Division for National Geographic.
Introducing Montserrat — a dramatic island in the Caribbean dominated by the smoking Soufrière Hills volcano and home to an abundance of nature. Its small population (a little under 5,000), rare wildlife and paradisiacal setting make it the ideal getaway, and a new remote worker programme — offering those capable of working from home a year-long, visa-free entry — may soon entice more visitors to the British Overseas Territory. The island, which both the Native Americans and Carib Indians have called home, was uninhabited by the time Columbus sighted it in 1493 and named it after a Spanish abbey. In 1632, Irish Catholics from nearby St Kitts became the island’s earliest settlers, and this, together with its resemblance to the outline of Ireland, gave Montserrat the nickname ‘The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean’. Here are the seven activities you shouldn’t miss when visiting this unique island.
1. Check out its sandy beaches
Little Bay Beach offers a highlight of any Caribbean coast: relaxed beach bars to while away the hours while dining on fresh fish, sipping on cocktails and watching the sun drop below the horizon. It remains the island’s most popular seaside enclave. Protected by craggy cliffs, this sweep of sand is perfect for a paddle. A little more seclusion can be found at Rendezvous Bay, Montserrat’s only white beach, and although it can only be reached with a steep, 20-minute hike, or via kayak, it’s well worth it. For those that want to continue the adventure, it’s also an ideal spot for diving or snorkelling.
2. Hike the twitcher’s trail
The Montserrat oriole is a charming, yellow-bellied forest bird that lends its name to the Oriole Walkway Trail. During the course of this well-maintained, 1.3-mile-long hike, you’ll likely see and hear a variety of different birds and get an incredible view of the island from the top of Lawyers Mountain (at a height of just over 1,500ft). Keen birdwatchers should be sure to pack their binoculars and, if you tackle the trail guide-free, make a pre-walk pitstop at the Hilltop Café for insider tips on the local terrain and a little sustenance to set you up for the hike.
3. Observe turtles laying their eggs
The black sand of Woodlands Bay Beach doesn’t just attract sunseekers, but turtles too. Leatherback, green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles all lay their eggs here — as well as at various other coastal spots around the island — between April and September. The action takes place at night. The turtles dig chambers (which can take longer than an hour), into which they’ll deposit their eggs before returning to the sea. Things hot up from September when, following the nesting season, the tiny hatchlings begin to emerge. Each year, the turtles can travel thousands of miles back to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs in turn. Be sure not to disturb the turtles or block their path to and from the water. Visitors are also advised to hire a guide before going to see the turtles.
The black sand of Woodlands Bay Beach attracts both sunseekers and turtles.
4. Visit the Bat Cave
The Bat Cave at Rendezvous Bay is actually a pair of caves that are home to a colony of Antillean fruit-eating bats. One cave plays host to female bats and their offspring; in the other are the males of the species. The bats here can grow up to seven centimetres long at full maturity and are partial to a wide variety of snacks, from pollen to papaya. Make sure to book a tour guide before you visit to get the most out of this trip.
5. Discover rare species on a birdwatching tour
The forest reserve area of Centre Hills was, unlike the southern highlands, mostly unaffected by the worst of the volcanic eruptions of the 1990s. As well as the oriole, the island’s national bird that’s endemic to Montserrat, this area provides a welcome habitat to the Montserrat galliwasp (a type of lizard) and the confusingly-named mountain chicken, which is, in fact, a type of large frog. Amid the native forest, and steep, ghaut-covered terrain, other birdlife to keep watch for include bridled quail-doves, purple-throated caribs, Antillean crested hummingbirds and Caribbean elaenia.
The oriole is the island’s national bird and is endemic to Montserrat.
6. Explore the botanic garden
The island’s botanic garden is overseen by the Montserrat National Trust. Spend an afternoon walking among aromatic and medicinal plants, and make sure to take a turn in the orchid house, where on display you’ll find orchids endemic to the islands’ hills. One of the friendly volunteers here will gladly lead you through the garden and explain how the native plants are cultivated. Don’t miss a stop at the onsite museum and a visit to the gift shop where you can buy your own exotic spices.
7. Take a relaxing hilltop yoga session
Garibaldi Hill offers one of the best views of the puffing Soufrière Hills volcano, around which are miles of exclusion zone. Meanwhile, Bransby Point provides a spectacular view of the ghost town of Plymouth, which was destroyed in the disastrous eruptions of the 1990s. Hastily abandoned homes and buried government buildings litter this portion of the island, and a yoga session at either spot will be unlike any other experience.
For more information, visit visitmontserrat.com