Montserrat offers 30 excellent dive sites, each with a rich assortment of marine life, including spotted drums and copper sweepers, and perhaps a large sea turtle. At the rim of the island's marine shelf, where relatively shallow waters suddenly drop off to great depths, divers can plunge into 21m-deep (69-ft.) waters to see mammoth sponges along with large star- and brain-coral reefs.
A particularly well-managed dive and watersports operation is the Green Monkey, which operates from a wood-sided shack adjacent to Festival Village at Little Bay (tel. 664/491-2628; www.divemontserrat.com). From its premises, Midwest-born Troy Deppermann and his wife, Melanie, conduct PADI- approved snorkeling and dive trips with a conscious eye toward safety and the transfer of information about life below sea level. On their premises is a cubbyhole-size bar, which maintains a thriving business completely independent from anything to do with underwater explorations. On island their most visible competitors are Emmy and Andrew, who operate the well-respected Seawolf Diving School (tel. 268/783-3466; www.seawolfdivingschool.com). Prices at both outfits are roughly comparable: One-tank dives cost $55, two-tank dives cost $88, and one-tank night dives go for $70. Snorkeling equipment can be rented for $35, but it's a lot more fun and informative to participate in a supervised snorkeling trip, by boat, to nearby Rendezvous Bay, site of a teeming offshore reef, for $45 per person.
An active volcano can itself be a point of interest. The Soufrière Hills Volcano in the still-restricted southern part of the island is eerily fascinating, but by no means should any novice visitor to Montserrat venture into this region. The only deaths suffered during the island's volcanic explosions occurred on June 25, 1997, when 19 people were farming in an area that had been declared an exclusion zone.
Nevertheless, much to the regret of amateur volcano watchers, the government is very strict about discouraging anyone from visiting, under virtually any circumstances, the southern two-thirds of the island, which includes, regrettably, the once-bustling capital of Plymouth. Not only does the southern zone lack electricity and running water, but the government also wishes to prevent squatters from settling on land abandoned by the many homeowners who evacuated the island. The exclusion zone has also been deemed unsafe for transit on foot and, in multiple instances, in conventional vehicles or even all-terrain vehicles equipped with four-wheel-drive.
Montserrat isn't known for its white-sand beaches. Most of its beaches have black volcanic sand, and they lie on the northern rim of the island, the part not threatened by volcanic activity. Many observers have noted that the beaches have actually improved, becoming bigger, sandier, and wider since the volcano deposited millions of tons of sand, ash, and debris upon them. The best beach on the island -- and the only one with white sand -- is Rendezvous Bay, which is accessible only via water taxis that depart from both Little Bay and the nearly adjacent Carr's Bay, or after a half-hour hike. If you want to walk, the routes to Rendezvous Bay are especially convenient from either Little Bay or the hamlet of Drummond's, adjacent to the airport. More readily accessible but less popular and hotter on bare feet are the dark-sand (a slate-gray color) beaches at Carr's Bay, Woodlands Beach, Lime Kiln Bay, Little Bay (near the arrival of the ferryboats from Antigua), and Bunkum Bay. The staff at Tropical Mansions Suites (tel. 664/491-8767) or the Vue Pointe Hotel (tel. 664/491-5210) can arrange day sails to these beaches.
A good place to learn about the volcanic catastrophe is the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (tel. 664/491-5647; www.mvo.ms), which is in Flemings, above the village of Salem, on the island's north coast. The observatory is accessible via a winding, rutted road, about a 25-minute drive from the ferry terminal and about a 30-minute jaunt from the airport. Some of the staff here are busy recording and analyzing the seismic information emanating from the volcano, and aren't usually available for conversations and dialogue. But on-site are a series of exhibitions, including videos that document life on Montserrat before and after the seismic explosions, and close-up video views of the almost unimaginable geologic forces that spewed mud and debris many thousands of feet into the air. Unfortunately, because of the instability of the terrain affected by the explosions, no tours, either by jeep or on foot, are allowed onto the regions of Montserrat that were ruined by the explosions.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.