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to the areas around Plymouth including its docking facilities and the former International Airport; which has since been replaced by a very small airport where the remaining 4700 residents have been relocated to on the “safe” north side of the island.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.
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.