Montserrat was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage, but not settled until the early 17th century by a group of Irish rebels who were captured by the English and shipped off to this remote part of the world. The Irish character of Montserrat was further reinforced by additional Irish settlers fleeing religious persecution from nearby St. Kitts. In 1644, Montserrat was conquered by the French. The English recaptured the island in 1668 and has retained it ever since, aside from a brief occupation by the French in 1782. Montserrat during the 18th and 19th century was transformed into an agricultural plantation worked by imported slaves. Unfortunately, the rugged terrain made it unsuitable for profitable farming. Though fruits and vegetables are found everywhere, the lack of scale made the experiment unsuccessful and has left the island largely undeveloped.
Unfortunately, Montserrat experienced devastating volcanic eruptions in 1995 and in 1997. The disaster destroyed the island’s capital, Plymouth, which is today submerged in ash and mud. Two-thirds of the population left Montserrat, and only about 4,500 people still live there today. This unfortunate event has destroyed the cultural attractions in Plymouth that once included medieval churches and historic museums.
Today, the main attraction of Montserrat is its still active volcano, Galway’s Soufriere, which is located in the southwest coast. It rises more than 3,000 feet high. There is a lookout point that offers views of the hot sulphuric springs bubbling inside the volcano and venting its fumes. Chances Peak is the highest point of the volcano. It can be climbed, although not easily. It is advisable to hire a guide as it can get hazardous. The hike takes several hours, but offers incredible views on a clear day.
The other notable attraction is the Great Alps Waterfall in White River Valley. It can be reached by taking a one-mile hike through a rainforest. Its waterfall is only 70 feet but tumbles in cascading fashion over mossy ravines and into a shallow pool of water that many visitors enjoy swimming in. Another waterfall, the White River Falls, is farther up the White River Valley.
On the northwest side of the island, you’ll find Rendezvous Beach. It is actually the only white sandy beach on the island. It is a perfect spot for a nice romantic picnic, but can only be reached by boat.