Although it’s most famous for ongoing volcanic activity courtesy of the Soufrière Hills volcano, the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat is making a comeback in a big way. Here’s what you need to know to go scuba diving in this tiny Caribbean gem.
The once-dormant Soufrière Hills volcano burst back to life in 1995, subsequently burying much of the southern portion of Montserrat, a tiny island in the Caribbean’s Leeward Islands. Although volcanic activity has been ongoing since then, it’s quieted down considerably since 2010. Both topside and underwater tourism are starting to come back in a big way. Known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean for its similarity to coastal Ireland, Montserrat boasts striking mountain views, black-sand beaches and a lush landscape. But what lies beneath the surface is equally impressive. Boat and shore dives offer reefs teeming with life. Even better, Montserrat is still under the radar for many travelers, so dive boats are usually uncrowded and operators can customize dive plans to suit individual desires.
How to Get Here
The island’s original airport was buried under an eruption of lava in 1997. Today’s visitors must first fly to V.C. Bird International Airport in Antigua, and then hop a 20-minute flight to John A. Osborne Airport, built in 2005 near the village of Gerald’s in the northern part of Montserrat. There are several flights per day. You can catch a 90-minute ferry from Antigua as well, depending on the season.
When to Visit
You can dive year-round, but the best time to visit Montserrat is from June to November. Winter is equally lovely but swells can make conditions challenging, especially for newer divers.
Best Places to Dive
Albeit unintended, Montserrat’s volcanic eruption largely gave the island’s underwater environment a chance to recover from the stresses of human interference over the last 20 years. And with visibility that often exceeds 80 feet (24 m), it’s hard to pick a favorite dive site. The fun part is figuring out which one along the island’s 13 miles of coastline you like best. The island is surrounded by a shelf, covered in volcanic sand and rock. It slopes down from the coast to about 60 feet (18 m), making most sites suitable for novice divers. Sites like Bat Caves, Little Redonda and Gates of Paradise offer a bit of a challenge for more experienced divers, but no matter where you splash in, you’ll likely spot a variety of sea turtles, stingrays, dolphins, pipefish, nurse sharks and moray eels.
Montserrat’s beaches are a draw for most visitors, but a few stunning strands are extra-special. Trants Beach, one of the world’s newest beaches, formed as a result of a volcanic eruption in the mid-90s. Equally beautiful is remote Rendezvous Beach, the island’s only white-sand beach and accessible by boat or a short hike.