If you can avoid it, stay clear of the States. LAX was a mess.. Dilapidated buses that arrive every 30 minutes, if you`re lucky, to get you around to your gate.. Gross bathrooms.. Customs at Miami on the way back was beyond frustrating! It took us 2.5 hours to get through, as there was a huge line, and there is no line for connecting flights, just 7 for US citizens, and around the same for visitors. None of them were moving, as they scan the fingerprints and take the picture of every 2-3 people (maybe they were the people visiting the States), so it took about 10 minutes to process 1 person, on average! Ridiculous.. Would have been nice if they could have at least made a line for people catching connecting flights to places outside the States, you would think. We missed our connection as a result, of course, along with 200 other people, and spent an hour in the line for missed connections so they could re-route us through Dallas the next morning so we could at least make our next connection in Vancouver. We stayed in a hotel, midnight to 6am, dunno if that was worth it, but we needed whatever sleep we could get by then, for sure..
Anyways, on to getting there! When you get to Antigua, make sure you get in the line for connecting flights, and make sure BOTH sides of your custom form AND the bottom is completed! When you get through there and pick up your bag, head to the SVG or Montserrat Air counter, check your bags, then head to security and on to the gate waiting room. It takes a while, so make sure you have at least 2 hours before your connecting flight. When you get to the waiting room, pay attention to the loudspeaker, as flights times to Montserrat vary, and there is no information desk or anything like a posted flight schedule. Sometimes they can be as much as 45 minutes early, sometimes late by as much. Ours was late, and it was the last flight out. If it had been 15 minutes later, we would have been spending the night in Antigua, as it was dusk, and there are little to no landing lights at the airport in Montserrat.
We didn`t take the ferry, as we heard bad things (choppy ride, unpredictable sailing days and time)..
Where We Stayed: Gingerbread Hill, in the St. Peter`s district.
It is owned by Clover and David Lea, long-time residents of Montserrat. They have 4 suites on offer. There is a comprehensive 10 minute video on their website (http://www.volcano-island.com/ ) showing you all the suites from top to bottom. They also have a notebook in each of the suites with general info regarding Gingerbread Hill, and the island in general, which is a great help. You absolutely have to try the cinnamon buns Clover`s daughter Kristina makes.. Such a treat after a long day of hiking! She also does breads and cookies. There are fresh eggs to be had from their very own chickens, papaya was just coming in when we were there (Feb 15-29), but no mangoes (not in season, unfortunately), and of course plenty of coconuts! You have to boil water on the gas stoves for cooking and cleaning, but there is plenty of hot water in the showers. The kitchens in the Villa and Heavenly suites are very nice, and have all the small appliances you might need (blender, toaster, microwave, coffeemaker), and almost every conceivable utensil (no ice cream scoop, though LOL). There`s no worries about the tap water. Montserrat has the best drinking water of most of the islands of the Caribbean (much better than Antigua, for example), and even export it!. I brought a UV steri-pen just in case, but we soon got over that, and had no problems of any sort, nor have any other guests, according to Clover. No issues from drinking water or ice at any of the restaurants, either. Awesome views from the Villa and Heavenly Suite decks (a panoramic view from the upper deck of the Heavenly Suite). Plenty of novels, magazines, etc from past guests to read, and DVD`s (the tv in the Heavenly Suite is pretty small though, and the dvd player is finicky, not that you`ll be spending much time watching TV). It was quite windy the second week we were there, as it`s pretty much the highest point in the neighborhood. But it kept things nice and cool. There were no mosquitoes anywhere, even when we went hiking in the deep forest, which was nice.. It might be a different story in the wetter months, though. There`s a mosquito net in one of the closets, and most of the windows have screens. Just be aware it`s the tropics, so if you have your windows open, check your bed and boots before climbing in! All the bugs, spiders, and snakes in Montserrat are non-poisonous, but they ARE creepy (for us they are, anyways). We had a palm-sized orange spider on our bed-side table one night, and that was the end of the open windows! He was back the next night (we`d trapped him in a doily and shook him out over the deck), and got in through the sliding glass doors.. At least we figured he was the same guy.. If you`re lucky Jade, the Lea`s pet parrot will fly by for a visit (we were lucky, and fed him a banana). Maid service on Saturdays. They have 2 vehicles you can rent from them, and you can rent bikes as well, but I wouldn’t recommend it for travelling the main road. It’s very steep in places, and narrow, making it pretty dangerous when you add oncoming traffic to the mix. If you`re only on the island for a few days definitely get the tour from Sunny, David`s son, for $55 per person. If you`ll be renting a car, and will be there for a week or more, you`ll pretty much get to see the same things just puttering around yourself.. Sunny does have plenty of information on everything you see, though.. There was no noise at night besides the roosters (why are they crowing at 1 am?) and goats, and you get used to that, quick (and there`s ear plugs, if you don`t). Clover and David were the perfect hosts.. Never intruding, but never more than a phone call away, and always ready to help.
What we did:
Plymouth boat tour. $50 each gets you a 2 hour boat tour along the west coast of the island, from Rendevous Beach, all the way to the Plymouth Pier. The captain of the boat runs the Green Monkey Dive Shop, and has been on the island a long time, and is pretty much talking the whole time, filling you in on interesting bits (who owns that house, why they built a new airport instead of sea port, what the eruption was like, etc).
The Oriele Trail: The trail head could be marked a little better.. Go up to the sugar mill by People`s Place, then go up the concrete road with the gate at the top. Go up the left of the fence surrounding the watr tower. After that it`s pretty well marked with flagging tape. Awesome view to the North and South at the top!
The Cot Trail: This one you start at the top of the road past the collage (by the National Trust). It`s pretty well marked. Just keep going up the road, and don`t get off track going into the field where the sign showing you the trail is. Just look around in the field, then go back to the road and keep going up it. Very nice views of Salem, the MVO, and Woodlands.
Silver Hills Trails: Highest point of the North end of the Island. You start at Drummonds past the airport. A fairly steep 30 minute hike to the summit (mostly paved). Good views of the south end of the island. You can then go back down the way you came, or take the not-too-well marked path down to Rendezvous Beach.
Rendezvous Beach and Trail: There are 2 ways to get to the one and only white sand beach on the island. A 20-45 minute hike over the saddle of Rendezvous Bluff (depending on your fitness level, it gets steep near the summit on the beach side), or a 5 minute kayak ride from Green Monkey Dive Shop (http://www.divemontserrat.com/Kayaking.html). The best beach-combing finds we had of all the beaches we went to were at the north end of this beach, where it turns to a rocky beach.
The MVO: Take the car to this, as it`s a very steep and prolonged incline to get there. See my review on the site. Best quality shirts for souvenirs here (close second: Arrow`s Man Shop in Sweeney`s), and nicest postcards and photo books and DVDs about the volcano.
Woodlands Beach: The best beach on the island, as far as accessibility goes (gotta hike or kayak to get to Rendevous). You pretty much have the place to yourself on week days. Fresh water showers and change rooms, but the washrooms are never open, which we found odd.. So remember your TP and hand sanitizer, if you walked there! There`s a kitchenette inside the building with the locked bathrooms that is also locked, but apparently you can pay to have it open for a get-together or something. Not sure how much, or who you call. The Tourist Board, maybe. Quite a steep hike back up to the main road, if you`re walking..
Getting Around: If you only have a few days to see what little you can on the Island (I’m not knocking Montserrat, but it’s a small island, no mistake) you’ll want to rent a car, which can be had from a number of rental places for $35-45 US per day, after you pay the $20 at the police station for the international licence), but not for the faint of heart, especially if you’re used to driving on the right! The roads are quite steep, and while most Monserratians are good drivers, there are some hot rodders that will rip around corners. I knew 2 tourists who rented cars and promptly banged them up, so make sure you have adequate insurance! The rentals have red licence plates on them. My wife and I played it safe and walked everywhere, and when we got tired (which we did.. The roads are plenty steep in places, as I mentioned), we took the bus for $3 EC (0.90 US). They are little vans, basically, that show up on the main road every 15 minutes or so. They all have green H’s on their licence plates. You have to put your hand out, and signal them like you mean it! Otherwise they sometimes just think you’re waving to them, and will just wave back or honk, and drive right by.. You pay the fee after you get them to drop you off (no pull cords or anything, just ask them to stop). If you go this route, You want to get done what you wanted to do that day by about 4pm, as after that things start to shut down, including the buses. Apparently you can also signal regular people for a lift, as you would a bus, and get a ride from them for free, but we were too timid to try this. Even so, we did get offered rides about 5 or 6 times with no solicitation on our part (and 5 out of 6 times it was a native Montserratian who stopped and offered, and not the ex-pat Brits or fellow tourists.. Humph..
Where We Ate:
People’s Place (Fogarty Hill): Don’t let the whole-in-the-wall facade fool you, this was by far our favourite place to eat, and not just because it was a quick 10 minute walk from our villa (Gingerbread Hill). Very good chicken legs (falling off the bone, and perfectly spiced), and chicken roti, and one of the most (if not THE most) reasonably priced places to eat on the island (dinner for 2 with drinks will run you $20-22 US). The desserts are good (hopefully they have coconut tart for you!). Make sure you reserve a meal early, even if you are eating there, as they are mostly sold out of stuff by 4pm. They serve the national dish, goat water (a thin stew) on Fridays and Saturdays. We didn’t have a chance to try this, but I’m told they use a lot of cloves, if that helps you.. The food part shuts down around then, but you can get drinks till about 6-7pm. Very friendly service! John, the owner and cook is quite a character, salt of the Earth.. This place is a favourite of the locals (who are SO friendly.. Nice to chat with them while you wait).
Tina’s Restaurant (Brades): Not much of a view from the patio (road construction on the other side of the road (Feb ’12), but the food is decent (if nothing special). Try the sorel, a drink made from a local fruit of the same name. Occasionally they have lobster (not when we were there).
The Attic (Olveston): A very nice place with the best burgers on the island. The Attic special has a generous beef patty with a fried egg on top of it. The chicken roti is very good as well, lots of chicken, not mostly potato, like some places. Nice covered patio. It`s usually very quiet, but there was construction on the main road (Feb ’12) and traffic is being detoured through the secondary road going past the restaurant. The service is friendly, if not fast (NONE of the restaurants are.. Everyone`s on island time LOL. So order ahead and make it clear it`s to go, if you`re in a hurry). Good desserts. Try the local fruit drinks they have on offer (just not Tamarind.. It`s sour, so they like to put a lot of sugar in it, so it`s super sweet). They serve coffee as well, which is pretty good!
Olveston House (Olveston): The vacation home of famous Beatles producer Sir George Martin, this is one of the nicer places to eat, and the prices understandingly a bit higher, but still quite reasonable (compared to the Gourmet Gardens, across the street, for example). The menu is decidedly British (we had roast beef with Yorkshire pudding), and very good. Try the cheesecake! Best dessert on the island. One of the favourite haunts of the British ex pats. There is a very nice covered patio with a view of the pool and garden. It doubles as a bed and breakfast for 11 months of the year, whereupon Sir George kicks everyone out for when he comes. Not sure what month that is.
Gourmet Gardens (Olveston): We weren’t impressed. See my review on the site, but long story short, make the 3 minute walk to Olveston's..
Groceries: If you think you can save money by getting groceries and cooking at home, you might be unpleasantly surprised.. While some things are cheap (beer 4-5 EC, $1.50-180 US), others are quite expensive ($21 EC - $7.60 US for 2 L of milk, box of corn flakes $23 EC). So just keep it in mind that it could well be cheaper and definitely less fuss (no dishes to clean, for one) to go out to eat for lunch or dinner at one of the more reasonably priced restaurants or take-out places (and most restaurants do take out, can make it to go). Not many (if any) take credit cards, so make sure you bring plenty of cash with you. There is beer and hard liquor in every grocery store and most restaurants, but not much in the way of wine.. For that you have to either go for dinner to Ziggy`s, or the Royal Palm Club (which we didn`t), or get it from the Stationary store in Brades (yes, the stationary store), which we didn`t, either. We also brought our own coffee beans, as we`re snobs that way, and we heard there wasn`t any whole beans to be had, but the instant stuff wasn`t bad, when we had it at the Attic.
King`s (St. Peter`s): One of the smaller grocery stores, but open until 9pm all week.
Ashok`s (Cudjoe Head): Bigger than Kings, better selection. You can get Indian take-out from here.
Ram`s (Olveston): Open at odd hours, and never when we needed it. No posted hours, and if you ask the people outside, they will tell you it opens ``ìn a while`` (ah, Island time).. But it is the biggest of the three, and the best selection can be found here.
There are 2-3 others, but we didn`t try them. Not sure why all the grocery stores on the island are run by Eat Indians..
ALSO NOTE: I’ve reviewed all the places I talk about here on the Trip Advisor, with pictures. Site. Just click on my profile to see them all. If you have any other questions just PM me, or post hereEdited: 11:53 pm, March 06, 2012