By Gayle M. Cottrill
Montserrat
Montserrat
Photo gallery
Often referred to as the "Emerald Isle of the Caribbean" because of its prominent Irish heritage, Montserrat is a small and quiet island in the Caribbean Sea with African and Spanish influences as well. There are plenty of beautiful sights to see, history to learn, and culture to explore in Montserrat. After the touristy experiences of other Caribbean isles, Montserrat can offer a calm getaway.

Near the village of Gerald's is the John A. Osborne Airport (TRPG), where you can get flights to and from the busier island of Aruba. If you're feeling a little more adventurous and can plan it with the weather, you can access the island by ferry from Aruba as well, but the flights are more consistent. EscapeWizard.com can help you book your flights today if you just follow this link (www.escapewizard.com/flight.php). And even though it's a small island, there's still several days worth of activities, if not more. Take advantage of EscapeWizard.com's hotel booking service and find the perfect place to stay by just clicking the following link (www.escapewizard.com/hotels.php?flag=htl).

One of the most exciting things you'll see in Montserrat is the Soufrière Hills Volcano. Lying dormant for centuries, the Soufrière Hills Volcano seemed to be harmless until seismic activity began in the early 1990s. In 1997, the volcano erupted and buried the capital city, Plymouth, in ash, creating an exclusion zone and what locals like to call a "modern day Pompeii." Even the old airport had to shut down. Still active today, you can view the volcano from various parts of the island and learn more about the history of the fiery mountain at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. You can even learn about how scientists track and record seismic activity and keep the island inhabitants safe.

Montserrat is home to unique wildlife that is protected and maintained by the Centre Hills Project. You can explore miles of nature with nine hiking trails that range from light to extreme excursions. You can hike them all if you're feeling ambitious, or pick and choose and take the labeled shortcuts. EscapeWizard.com recommends hiking the Dry Waterfall trail to see the 100-foot waterfall during the rainy season, Blackwood Allen will take you through an old agricultural village, Oriole Walkway offers sweeping views of the island, and expert hikers will enjoy the strenuous Katy Hill Trail System.

There are beautiful coral reefs along the coast of Montserrat that offer perfect diving and snorkeling adventures. There are even places where new coral has been growing since the Soufrière Volcano erupted in 1997 and the cooling lava left jagged rocks and pillars that are now home to vibrant, colorful sea creatures. Whether you are an experienced diver or a new one, you can rent gear and go on guided dives or take diving lessons. If you prefer to explore the sea on top the water, you can rent kayaks, too, and explore the black sand coasts.

The island's beaches are black because of volcanic activity, but there is one exception: Rendezvous Beach, located at the northwestern top of the island. Reachable by kayak, boat, or by hiking over a ridge from Little Bay, visitors can enjoy the secluded quiet beach and relax on the sand or snorkel just off shore.

If you're looking for buildings to tour, the Montserrat Cultural Centre in Little Bay makes a great addition to your trip. It was the brainchild of the Beatles' producer, Sir George Martin, which includes an auditorium, recording studio, gift shop, and wall of fame. You can tour the facilities free of charge.

While the sites are there year round, the St. Patrick's Festival only happens once a year, during the week and a half leading up to the holiday in March. With the heavy Irish influence on the island's history, it's no surprise Montserrat celebrates for days. If you can make it happen, EscapeWizard.com highly recommends visiting the island during the festival and partaking in the music, contests, fisheries, sports, drinks, hikes, performances, and all the grandeur that comes with days of festivities.

But if you can't make it for St. Patrick's Day, you can plan to be around for other celebrations like the Calabash Festival in July, or celebrate the island's African history with the Cudjoe Head Celebrations in August, train to run in the Volcano Half Marathon, or travel during your Christmas and New Year's break and join Montserratians as they return to the island for a weeklong festival carnival.

In the down time between festivals, the small island of Montserrat is a serene, quiet travel destination, much like how the Caribbean might have been before it was colonized. There are a lot of breathtaking sights to take in as you travel by foot, boat, or flipper. And any vacation isn't complete without a taste test of local food. Montserrat boasts restaurants that use locally grown fruit and herbs like soursop, tamarind, gooseberry, and West Indian cherries. Don't forget to try the national dish: Goat Water (which is really a goat stew). And with the colored past of Montserrat and its surrounding island cousins, there are plenty of restaurants and shops that serve all sorts of ethnic and cultural foods.

On your next trip to the Caribbean islands, don't miss out on the sights and experiences that await you in Montserrat. Let EscapeWizard.com help you book today! Just click on the links above to get started.