DETAILS: Montserrat

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The official currency on Montserrat is the East Caribbean dollar, but the U.S. dollar is readily accepted across the island. Note that many establishments don't take credit cards. There is one ATM, at the Royal Bank of Canada in Brades.

GETTING THERE: To get to Montserrat, you must fly to St. Martin or Antigua and take a 19-seat prop plane on Winair ( to Gerald's Airport. I flew on Continental from Reagan National, via Newark, to Antigua for $480 round trip; the round-trip fare to Montserrat was $147. There's a departure tax of $21.

WHERE TO STAY: I stayed at Gingerbread Hill (813-774-5270,, a lovely three-unit guesthouse in St. Peter's. For $125 a night, my two-bedroom/two-bathroom villa included a full kitchen, a living room and an alfresco dining area with a panoramic Caribbean view. For $35 extra a day (including insurance), owners Clover and David Lea rented me a car with automatic transmission. A new eco-cottage on the property is $65 a night.

Numerous companies rent villas by the week, including Montserrat Enterprises (664-491-2431,; check with the tourism office (see below) for a list of companies and private homeowners. Tropical Mansion Suites (888-790-5264,; from $119 double), which has 18 rooms with balconies and a restaurant, sits high above the sea in Sweeney's and is the island's sole hotel.

Backpackers can bunk at the Hot Rock Hostel (664-491-9877,; $26 a night), bare-bones lodging not far from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory in Salem.

WHERE TO EAT: I kept it simple, buying food from small grocery stores and eating dinner in my villa, mainly because driving the winding roads at night -- and on the left, at that -- gave me the willies. I dined out at lunch to sample the local fare, rarely spending more than $12 or so for a meal, including a beer. I missed trying the national dish of goatwater, or goat stew, but anything from the sea was usually simply prepared and full of flavor.

Most restaurants are unassuming affairs, comprising an inside dining area with ceiling fans and a porch or patio with tables and chairs -- and I'd go back to all of them. I enjoyed the fish and chips at Gourmet Gardens (Olveston), the "fish burger" at the Attic (Olveston) and the stewed chicken wings and the pan-fried kingfish at La Colage (St. John's). Near Gingerbread Hill, I nabbed the last two rotis (wraps filled with curried chicken) at the People's Place, a popular roadside stand. Ask locals for directions to the eateries, as many are off the main road.

WHAT TO DO: Book a tour and get to know the island better. Sunny Lea, the 29-year-old son of Gingerbread Hill's owners, gave me a fascinating six-hour tutorial for $40, including stops I never would have found on my own. (See Gingerbread Hill above for contact details.) At the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (, a free lookout provides a great view of the lava dome. For $3.75, go inside and watch a film on the eruption and check out the interpretive displays and video kiosks.

Snorkel and swim at any number of beaches, including the black-sand beauty at Woodlands Bay. The isolated Rendezvous Bay has the island's only white-sand beach; for $15, the Green Monkey Dive Shop ( can help you get there via boat. The company also offers boat tours off the coast of Plymouth, sunset cruises and diving expeditions. Look at the plans for the island's new capital at the Montserrat Cultural Centre ( Hike and bird-watch in the rain forest with a guide from the Montserrat National Trust (664-491-3086, from $15).

INFORMATION: Montserrat Tourist Board,664-491-2230,

-- J.D.

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