Montserrat was a quaint, Caribbean island visited by celebrities and wealthy tourists up until 1995. 1995 was a life-changing year for the people, culture, and landscape of Montserrat as this was the year the Soufriere Hills volcano suddenly erupted completely destroying the capital city of Plymouth (with ash, not lava flow) and subsequently bringing Montserrat’s economy to a complete standstill.
Another eruption in 1997 again sent residents running and eventually population was more than halved as residents relocated across the Caribbean. The exclusion zone, where no one is allowed to pass without police permission, covers half of Montserrat, including the formal capital city.
Luckily we were able to visit this area as we were on a special tour given by Montserrat natives who worked in Plymouth at the time of the eruption. One of our guides worked in the 1st floor of an office building. She was able to show us the 2nd floor of that building-now on the ground floor, due to the ash burying the building.
In parts of the city formerly known as Plymouth, over 60 feet of ash now lay on top of the roads, buildings, and homes.
A former 3 story building:
A lot of Plymouth is only rooflines now. It was very surreal. A whole new section of land was formed adding many acres to the shoreline. From where we took these photos was all new land. 25 years ago I’d be standing in the ocean here:
Our tour guide took us through an old hotel on the hillside on the outskirts of Plymouth that was abandon without too much damage. Someone could film an apocalyptic movie here without doing to much to the set.
On the day we visited Montserrat, the Soufriere Hills volcano was smoking quite a bit, more so than normal per the guides. It smelled super-bad and sulphiric. The worst thing about the exclusion zone was all the dust, which is really ash. It was stirred up and so fine. Those with breathing difficulties were given masks. Our shoes had ash on them for days.
Tourism on Montserrat is coming back but very, very slowly. Montserrat activities are few and usually beach related. Back on the habitable side of the island, we visited Woodlands- a black sand beach that was awesome and not crowded and took a dip to cool off.
We also had some rum punch from the local beach stand. Tasty!
Toes in the black sand:
Really besides visiting the exclusion zone and beaches there is not much else to do in Montserrat now. The volcano is still active, being monitored so a full-scale restoration of the island is not necessarily in the works. However, Montserrat is an amazing place to visit for a day and so unlike any other islands in the Caribbean.
At Runaway Ghaut if you drink from the waterfall, local legend says that someday you will return to Montserrat. I drank! (does that make me brave or crazy to drink water from the side of the road?) I guess I’ll be back someday!
If you ever get the chance to visit here, do it! Go on a guided tour of the exclusion zone (the only way to see it at the moment) to get the full effect of the devastation of the eruptions of 1995 and 1997. The guides’ stories of running away, losing their homes, jobs and way of life is something genuinely amazing to hear. While Montserrat activities are not in abundance, the volcano plus the beautiful black sand beach will keep you active yet relaxed.
Reader Question: Do you remember hearing about the volcanic eruptions in Montserrat? I think I remember reading about it in the newspaper years ago.