Helicopter to Montserrat

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On my recent trip to the Caribbean I visited nine new countries and the highlight was undoubtably my helicopter trip to Montserrat. Montserrat is a British overseas territory located in the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. The former capital city of Plymouth was completely destroyed and two-thirds of the island’s population forced to flee abroad by an eruption of the previously dormant Soufriere Hills Volcano, beginning on July 18, 1995. The eruption continues today on a much reduced scale. The damage being confined to the areas around Plymouth including its docking facilities and the former International Airport; which has since been replaced by a very small airport where the remaining 4700 residents have been relocated to on the “safe” north side of the island.

Today the few remaining residents are very limited in their options for leaving the island. The only choice is a small plane to nearby Antigua or a chartered boat. Likewise the options for getting to Montserrat are extremely limited for travelers. However, the only option that seemed marginally viable to me was to charter a helicopter from Antigua to get a birdseye view of the devastation the volcano has left on the island.

From the east side of Antigua I was able to charter a helicopter with a Canadian pilot for about 75 minutes to check out the island of Montserrat. It was certainly one of the best and most rewarding experiences I have had traveling and I have never seen anything like it. Viewing the volcano and the devastation of the former capital is what I imagine Pompei must have looked centuries ago when it was covered by Mount Vesuvius.

Plymouth was desolate. There were no signs of life and a volcanic dustcloud over the city. All of the buildings, houses, stores, etc. were completely destroyed and abandoned. The skeleton of the city remains and it was amazing to fly just over the top of it-literally about 20 feet above the ghost-town. The only sign I recognized was a Texaco logo that was faded but discernable for the lone gas station they had on the island-it was spooky but awesome.

Hovering above the volcano was awesome as well. From above you could see the volcano clearly still active and spewing out noxious fumes which is why the residents had to completely relocate to the other side of the island. All that remains is the surreal sight of the dried lava and mud that remain down the sides of the volcano and throughout the surrounding areas. The old airport was half covered and is really neat to see where the lava stopped flowing.
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The rest of the island is beautiful as a Caribbean island should be. The water is still a striking blue, the trees are still a brilliant green and the residents are still happy but the island will never again be the same and will most likely never get back what it has lost. It is simply too dangerous with the volcano still active.

However, for the resourceful and adventurous traveler-the rewards are lifelong and amazing. I highly recommend taking the helicopter to Montserrat if you happen to be on Antigua-the price is worth it and the views you will see are indescribable and certainly unique in this world.
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Comments

  1. Incredible pictures and I recall in 1995 when the eruption took place…I hope to have the same experience you did, it sounds amazing

  2. I had no idea this had happened as close to us as the Caribbean in the last decade or so…wow!

  3. WOW, that sounds incredible and mustve been some ride

  4. I’m a TCC aspirate (only 62 places), but planning a megatrip to Caribbean and central America. I didn’t realize that a helicopter trip counted for TCC since I thought you had to land. Since this counts I just booked my own heli trip from Antigua. Thanks for this shortcut — it’ll save me some money.

  5. Hey Don, they’ll land for a short time if you ask them to, plus you can just fly around the old part of the island where all the destruction from the lava is. They also fly around the rest of the island too. The pilot I had was really cool and did whatever I asked him to do. I’d imagine it’s still the same and is a really cool way to see Montserrat. Otherwise the new airstrip is on the other side of the island and as far as I know you cannot enter the destroyed area from the ground.

  6. Thanks for that quick response. I didn´t realize they could land. Do you clear customs when you land or do they just set down and then take off again?

  7. I like to get passport stamps so hope they stamp when the heli lands. The Montserrat stampe is supposed to be uncommon.

  8. No I didn’t get stamped nor did I try to get one. As far as I know the only way that’d happen is if you flew there on those little puddle jumpers and went thru customs but I am not positive. They have an odd relationship with their neighbors so I’m not sure. In hindsight I wish I had gotten one but I have some killer pics which will suffice. Good luck!

  9. The stamp of Montserrat is one of the most original I have in my passport since it’s a green clover due to the Irish heritage of the island. The only island of the caribbean to have a national holiday for St Patricks. An update on the volcanic exclusion zone, the north part of what used to be forbidden access is now open for daytime access by car (4WD recommended) since 2011. Very special atmosphere to drive throughout a modern time Pompei. Cheers

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