Nothing says adventure quite like Comoros. This little-known outpost (pronounced “Co-MORE-oh”; the s is silent) in the Mozambique Channel teems with wildlife and is waiting to be explored. Comoros isn’t for the fainthearted; it’s no stay at the Ritz, but white-sand beaches and the opportunity to venture off the beaten path make traveling to Comoros the experience of a lifetime.
The recent history of the archipelago has unfortunately been riddled with unrest. Since the former colony gained independence in 1975, 20 coups or attempted coups have been staged. The political situation has stabilized following democratic elections in 2002. Even though peaceful demonstrations can still quickly turn violent, Comoros has begun to see an increase in foreign investment and tourism.
1. Volcanoes: The name Moroni translates as “in the heart of the fire“; that is because the city is so close to Mount Karthala, an active volcano. Although all of the islands are volcanic, Karthala is the only active volcano and is said to be the world’s largest. Only a day’s hike from Moroni, it has a crater accessible to travelers. There is a shelter at the top where visitors may rest for the night.
2. Ancienne Mosquée du Vendredi: Known in English as the Old Friday Mosque, this building overlooks the shallow harbor of Moroni and is a popular tourist destination. The white building contrasts dramatically with the dark volcanic rock at the bottom of the harbor.
3. Diving: Fantastic diving is to be had in the clear water off Comoros. Galawa Beach, on Grande Comore, has an excellent diving school, and Mayotte is surrounded by a coral reef that is now home to many exotic species of fish.
4. Beaches: The beaches in Comoros are superb, with white sand and clear water. Each island has a few good ones, but the beaches on Mohéli are considered the best.
5. Dziani Boundouni: While on Mohéli, visit this sulfurous crater lake, located in the middle of the island and a day’s hike from Fomboni, the capital of the island.
6. Native Wildlife: The wildlife of Comoros makes for a splendid sight. Famous for their prized turtle shells, the islands now protect the distinctive green turtle. The best place to see them is the marine reserve on the southern side of Mohéli. Comoros is also home to many distinctive birds and insects that are now threatened with extinction.
7. Istandra: Just outside Morini is this small village that was once the capital of the islands and boasts royal tombs, a fortress, and an amazing beach.
8. Local Boats: Dhows are a type of Arab sailboat that was seen around Comoros more often in ancient times. Travelers can still see them under construction on the beach at Fomboni.
9. Anjouan: The island of Anjouan has some of the best examples of Swahili architecture, with its 17th-century homes and carved doors. The island is also known for its lush vegetation and breathtaking waterfalls.
10. Folk Dancing: As a country where people still observe rich traditions and customs, Comoros is also known for its folk dancers. The energetic dancing can be seen throughout the islands but especially in Istandra and Mistamiouli.
11. Perfumes: Comoros’s largest export is perfume essences and the fragrant spices that are used for making them. Vanilla, cloves, and ylang-ylang are among the top. Try to go on a tour of one of the distilleries where the essential oils are processed; a local might even be willing to make you a custom perfume. Many of the distilleries are located in Bambao.
Comoros is tropical with relatively constant and stable weather. It has two seasons: the wet season is warmer and lasts from December to April. Temperatures usually reach around 85 degrees Fahrenheit (18.5 degrees Celsius) during the wet season. The dry season is cooler, with lows dipping to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and lasts from May to November. The warmest month is usually March. Because of its proximity to the equator, Comoros isn’t particularly vulnerable to cyclones.
Visas: American travelers to Comoros are required to have a visa and a ticket to leave Comoros. Visas can be obtained at the Comoros mission to the United Nations in New York City. The more common practice, however, is to obtain a 24-hour transit visa when one is entering Comoros. Travelers are then required to go to the visa office in Moroni the next day to change their visa status.
Transportation: An international airport sits just outside the capital, Moroni. Taxis are available to take travelers around in the cities and into the rural parts of Comoros; there are no buses or trains. Visitors can also rent a vehicle with a driver. Many of the roads are not paved; we recommend using a four-wheel-drive vehicle, especially in the rainy season. Dubious road conditions and free-roaming livestock make car travel slow, and sometimes it may be easier and quicker to travel by boat. Ferries and planes operate between the islands. Gasoline shortages may cause occasional difficulties.
Because of violence during recent demonstrations, it is best to avoid such gatherings and large crowds. Despite having been relatively placid the past few years, the political situation in Comoros is fragile and subject to rapid change. Generally keeping a low profile and traveling light is your best strategy. Foreigners in Comoros haven’t been the targets of violent crime, but be on guard for pickpockets and petty thieves.
Use good judgment. U.S. travelers should register with the embassy in Madagascar and frequently check the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website for travel alerts and travel warnings before departing.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has created a security ratings system called the Ibrahim Index, wherein scores are based on each country’s quality of government. Before traveling to Comoros or anywhere on the continent, check the index and do your research.
The history of settlement in Comoros goes back as far as the first century A.D. Throughout history, various groups from the African coast, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, Indonesia, and Madagascar have controlled the islands. Moroni was founded in the tenth century as a trading outpost. During the 19th century, France established Comoros as a colony and attracted French citizens, investors, and companies. The economy was transformed to the plantation model, and to this day about one third of all the land on the islands is devoted to plantations.
In 1973 an agreement was made to allow Comoros to become independent in 1978, but in 1975 the parliament declared independence from France. Delegates from Mayotte refused to participate, and a later referendum showed that the majority of the island wished to stay French. Less than a month after independence, a coup, partially sponsored by the French government, ousted the president. A few months after that, another coup took place. A succession of military coups, armed rebellions, and secessionist sentiment prevailed until 1999, when Azali Assoumani took over in a bloodless coup. Azali helped establish a democratic and federalist government; he stepped down from his post in 2002 to run for the presidency and was elected. He was replaced in 2006 in the first peaceful transition of power in the history of the islands. In 2008 one of the islands, Anjouan, was invaded by forces from the African Union and Comoros to depose Mohammed Bacar, a military leader who had assumed control of the island in 2001 and staged fake elections in 2007.
1. Comoros is located in the Mozambique Channel, off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. The country is made up of four islands. Three islands constitute the Union of Comoros, while the fourth, Mayotte, rejected independence and is still under French control.
2. Moroni is the capital city and the largest, with a population of just over 60,000.
3. Comorian is the most commonly spoken language, but a different dialect is spoken on each island. Most of the country also speaks Arabic, and a large portion speaks French. All three are official languages of the Union of Comoros, while French is the official language of Mayotte.
4. The majority of the population practices Islam, and there is a small Roman Catholic minority. The legal system combines French and Islamic law. Many practices that are common in Western culture are outlawed in Comoros, such as the drinking of alcohol. While there is religious freedom, no proselytizing is allowed.
5. Many countries do not have an embassy in Comoros;, the U.S. embassy, for example, was closed in 1993. The ambassador to Madagascar now represents the United States in Comoros and the British High Commission in Mauritius represents the United Kingdom. When traveling, you’register with the embassy that represents your native country in Comoros.
6. Each island has an airport. There is air and ferry service between the islands; the FAA has not evaluated the aviation authority of Comoros for safety, however.