Country guides Caribbean
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 Soufriere 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 Soufriere 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 beaches; and the nature walks 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.