Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A Helicopter Tour of Montserrat's Lost City.


Ever since I was a kid I've heard about Montserrat and the huge volcanic eruption that destroyed the main city of Plymouth, burying it under layers of rock, pyroclastic flows, and ash. Montserrat used to be your typical Caribbean island, popular with tourists due to it's proximity to Antigua, and the fact it's an overseas territory of the UK, meaning no visas needed for British citizens! The  Soufriere Hills volcano was inactive, and the main city of Plymouth had been built on historical lava deposits that were hundreds of years old. And then after hundreds of years of inactivity, the volcano awoke, and destroyed everything in it's path...




A lot of young people may not know much about the volcanic eruptions in the 90s, but I still remember my uncle flying out there with the UK Search and Rescue team, and showing me the photos when we learnt a little about it in secondary school geography a few years later. After seeing the photos of the eruption so fresh all those years ago and hearing the stories from my uncle (Hey Uncle Dave, if you're reading this!), I knew I had to go to Montserrat while I was in Antigua and see it for myself and see how it had changed since then.

It's amazing how quickly nature works, and how quickly mother nature has reclaimed a once vibrant capital city. Buildings and homes that were once full of life now look like something from a movie, only the roofs visible, amongst a forest of lush vegetation, and in some cases the roofs are missing and you can see the insides of the buildings and the possessions of its previous human inhabitants. 

Originally I wanted to get the ferry over to Montserrat, but then I found out that you can't actually get close to the Exclusion Zone (the city and villages that the volcano destroyed) if you go by foot, the only way to see it close up is by helicopter. The most you can see is from a specially designed lookout. But I wanted to get up close...so I booked a helicopter tour. I umm'd and ahh'd over this for days, mainly because it was pretty pricey, but in the end decided to just go for it. After all, experiences like these are priceless, and I'd never been in a helicopter before, so, ya know, that was pretty cool.

I flew with Caribbean Helicopters, and including the taxi ride there and back, and with the exchange rate as it was, it cost me around £200 for a 50minute tour (if you want to go on the ferry for the day it's about $50 I think?). You're supposed to take your passport with you, even though you don't land, but I forgot mine. I was panicking so much but luckily they didn't ask to see them (don't risk it like me though!). After a quick briefing session we walked out to the helicopter and were told where to sit. I was the only person by myself so was lucky enough to sit right next to the pilot! 



We flew over Antigua and on to Montserrat, which took about 15minutes. We started by flying over the volcano, which we couldn't really see the top of as unfortunately it was a really overcast day...




Then we flew low over Plymouth and the Exclusion Zone, as the pilot told us more about the eruption and how it impacted the island and it's residents. All of the residents who lost their homes were offered the chance to move to the UK, and I was actually sat next to a woman on my flight from London to Antigua who had done this. She was originally from Montserrat, but moved to London after the volcanic eruption and was flying to Antigua to sell English food, and to see her family who had chosen to relocate to Antigua rather than the UK.

It was fascinating seeing the ruined city, and I tried to find a good mix of taking it all in, and getting photos (on two different cameras - hence some of the photos have very different 'looks' to them), and some video. I got quite a bit of video so will put together a vlog and post it next week! Anyway, I'll leave you with the photos now....




After about 20minutes flying around Montserrat we headed back to Antigua and the beautiful turquoise oceans...




If you can afford to do it, definitely go for the helicopter ride! It's something I'll never forget, and I'm so glad I did it. If you are on a budget head over on the ferry, you can still see the Exclusion Zone and volcano from the lookout point, and it's a pretty cool day trip if you're sick of those Antigua beaches ;)

This is the last of my Antigua posts - thank you so much to everyone who's been following my trip! I really hope you've enjoyed the posts and that they give you an idea of the sort of things you can do on this beautiful paradise island.


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My trip to Antigua was in partnership with Elite Island Resorts and Hayes and Jarvis, with my accommodation and flights complimentary. This does not effect my opinion in any way and as always I am 100% honest in my reviews. You can book a holiday to Galley Bay in Antigua via Hayes and Jarvis.
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4 comments

  1. It's quite haunting looking at those photos of the exclusion zone, I can't imagine what it must have been like for that woman to see the place she used to call home covered in solidified lava. A little creepy and really quite sad! xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua : Food | Travel | Italy

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  2. Loved your Antigua posts, C! Looks like an amazing trip! What an experience - I've always wanted to fly in a helicopter! xx

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  3. What a fascinating trip - I had no idea you could do anything like that. It must be so strange seeing the exclusion zone too, almost as if it never existed before the eruption.

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  4. What an incredible experience! I'd love to fly in a helicopter one day.
    It's so strange to see so many abandoned houses...

    Anne-Sophie ~ City Cookie

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