The beach of Montserrat © Rachel thecat
The beautiful island of Montserrat has a distinctly explosive history that has ensured its tourist potential has remained relatively undeveloped. 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. Then a volcano erupted in 1995 after staying dormant for hundreds of years. It then erupted again two years later, covering the capital city in 39 feet (12m) of ash and mud and limiting the 39 square mile (63km) island to a much smaller inhabitable safe zone. Most of the 12,000 inhabitants got the message and emigrated.
For those that stuck behind, a new tourism industry is rebuilding and visitors are now eager to take tours of the active volcano. 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' where islanders have determined it is unsafe to visit. This includes the old capital of Plymouth which is only viewable from afar. However the volcano has given tourists a great twist on typical tropical beach activities. Divers can see unique coral formations that have grown healthier from the volcano's substrates. Sun lovers can relax on soft volcanic sand at a number of beaches. Even nature walks have lush vegetation from the fertilized soil.
The country often refers to itself as the Emerald Isle, denoting links to its Irish settlers escaping religious oppression. The Caribbean is an unlikely place to celebrate St. Patrick's Day but the national holiday highlights the island's charm. Unlike Columbus, who sailed right past the islands, visitors to the Caribbean should make this a place to explore. Flights from Antigua and St. Maarten arrive daily.
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