comoros

Travel & Tourism

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.

What to Do in Comoros

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.

When to Go

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.

Getting In and Around

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.

Safety and Security

Concerned about your safety as you plan travel to Comoros? We at Africa.com, together with our friends, family and colleagues, travel extensively throughout the continent. Here are the resources we consult when thinking of our safety in Comoros:

• UK Government Comoros Travel Advice Guidance

Africa.com comment: Very timely and frequently updated. Perspective assumes that you ARE going to travel to Comoros, and seeks to give you good guidance so that you understand the risks and are well informed.

• Mo Ibrahim Personal Safety & Rule of Law Score for Comoros

Africa.com comment: An annual ranking of the 54 African countries based on their relative personal security as determined by a highly qualified staff of an African foundation, funded by a successful African philanthropist. See where Comoros ranks relative to the other 54 nations in Africa.

• U.S. State Department Travel Advisory on Comoros

Africa.com comment: Can sometimes be considered as overly conservative and discourage travel altogether to destinations that many reasonable people find acceptably secure. On the other hand, they have the resources of the CIA to inform them, so they know things that the rest of us don’t know. See what they have to say about Comoros.

Local Advice

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.