Abandoned in 1997 Montserrat's capital Plymouth has been compared to a modern-day Pompeii. Buried deep in ash and volcanic debris, including boulders up to the size of houses that once stood here, the once thriving business and commercial centre of the island now resembles a dust covered lunar landscape through which deep canyones have been gouged. Plymouth lies within the exclusion zone and access is not possible. It can only be viewed from Garibaldi Hill and by boat.
The Soufriere Hills Volcano is constantly monitored by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory which is the most modern in the world. As well as monitoring the volcanic activities, the MVO provides information on the volcano to the general pulic. The Centre is open from Monday to Thursday from 10:15am to 03:00pm.
For those with a keen interest in the volcanic activity, tours skirt the southern exclusion zone, following the rather rough road across Belham Valley to the Daytime Entry Zone. The Belham Valley once used to be the Golf Course and one can see a number of buildings which are covered in volcanic mud and ash two floors high.
If you want to learn something about island history (or if you are seeking connection with ancestors who may have lived on the island), head south to Olveston where you can examine there cords at the Montserrat National Trust’s Oriole Complex. The Natural History Centre begins with pre-Columbian history and follows island development through colonization, the era of sugar plantations and slavery, lime mining and recent seismic events. Oral history recalls early pioneers and family history. The library is a store-house for historical records about the island’s delicate ecosystems.
You have two choices if you want to see the Exclusion Zone. One is to go around the island by boat. The other choice, which was the one we made was a helicopter tour. Our tour took off from Antigua about 10:05 heading to Montserrat. We were over the old airport by 1020.
The pilot was saying that he was going to take us over to the old capitol but then he said - Hey there's a pyroclastic flow that is fresh. I took a short video of it which I uploaded here. It was coming down and turning the sea water to steam and the buildings that had been there were burning and marked by smoke plumes. So we couldn't get over to the old capitol because of ash in the air. We couldn't see the top of the volcano because it was in a cloud, and we didn't see any red lava or anything - it was all grey.
But the flow of ash was very dramatic and we got some good pictures.
The pilot tried a couple of ways to get over to the old capitol but was blocked each time by dust clouds. By 1050 we were on our way back to Antigua and we were back on the ground by 1100 and by 1120 we were walking back down the dock to the ship.
This tour is 45 minutes in duration and costs $ 240 U.S. per person. We paid less than that because it was a charter from the ship. There is a weight limit of 230 pounds per passenger for the six passengers that they take.
If all you want to see in Motserrat is the destruction caused by teh volcanic eruptions in 1994, then best to jump on a helicopter from Antigua and spend 45 minutes flying through the exclusion zone to see all you can. Whilst it is possible to travel to Montserrat from Antigua (boat / copter), once there you'll not be able to get that close to the volcanic areas. Suggest you use Caribbean Helecopters based on Antigua.
Get as close to the volcano as you dare. It is in the Exclusion Zone which is usually open daily from 6 AM to 6 PM.
This volcano is still active, but has not erupted since, I believe, August 1997.
More information is available at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory in Mongo Hill on the north end of the island.
Many visitors are interested inisland stamps. Collectors are especially fond of the pre-1997 issues that are still offered for sale, as the island issues its own stamps.
THE VOLCANO IS THE MAIN ATTRACTION. THE TRICK IS TO TRAVEL AS CLOSE TO THE VOLCANO AS YOU CAN WITHOUT GETTING SWAMPED IN A PYROCLASTIC (SP?) FLOW!