Not so long ago, Montserrat was a stunning if slightly behind-the-time Caribbean island, soaking up the rays and the tourists in a truly special, laid-back holiday haven. These days that's all in the past, with a huge volcanic explosion in 1997 turning the island into little more than an ash field, and leaving tourism dead in the water.
Only the northern third of the island remains inhabitable, and is host to the remaining population of less than 5,000 (down by over two thirds since the eruption), who spend their time herding goats and building new homes over the no longer so green hills. It’s a solitary existence, and one that might appeal to escapist travelers, but certainly no longer the distinctive taste of the Caribbean that it once was. If you choose to come here now, it's almost certainly for a taste of the backwards life, or to help with the ongoing clean up operations.
To take a look at what’s left of the old Montserrat, take a cruise down the coast to the ‘exclusion zone’ (volcanic activity dependent), and absorb a mere taste of the incredible landscapes that forged such an impressive location, followed by a panorama of ashen scars that overwhelm and shock. Drift up to the observation point at Jack Boy Hill and, if you’re lucky (or unlucky…) you can watch house-sized boulders crash across the old airfield, leaving a steaming trail of molten lava in their wake; a haunting site when you think of the consequences, and one you’ll never forget.
The biggest draw of Montserrat now is to become part of the country’s rebirth, and just bringing your tourist cash to the island is a start. Volunteer projects are slowly helping to rebuild what’s left, and offer plenty of opportunities to get involved. Of course, there’s no guarantee the volcano won’t blow its top all over again, so for all the excitement involved in the slow-but-sure redevelopment, Montserrat is never a completely safe place to be.