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The Comoros archipelago marks where the Indian Ocean turns into the Mozambique Channel. The uncertainty of its geographic identity (is it part of the ocean or part of the channel?) is representative of the island group's wider issues with instability. When in the 1960s the Comoros achieved independence from colonial ruler France, Mayotte (one of the archipelago's four islands) opted instead to maintain its French allegiance, a move which divided the island group but granted Mayotte a much more favourable future than the newly formed Comoros republic was to experience. Coups frequent Comoran history pages.
Maybe it's this instability which has stunted the growth of Comoros tourism. In any case, the Comoros do not enjoy the popularity of nearby island destinations. But if you can cope with the political situation, the islands actually offer a fantastic holiday. Expect the usual collection of brilliant beaches, stunning sunsets and picture-perfect inland forests and rivers.
The islands of Comoros became populated by a succession of diverse groups from the coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf, The Malay Archipelago, and Madagascar. Swahili settlers first reached the islands as a part of the greater Bantu expansion that took place in Africa throughout the first millennium AD. Arab merchants first brought Arab Islamic influence to the islands. One most likely fact is that Arabs traded for slaves in Africa, increasing the spread and dominance of Arab culture. As their religion gained hold, large mosques were constructed. By the nineteenth century, the influence of Arabic-speaking Sunni Persians from Shiraz, Iran, dominated the islands. The Shirazi traded along the coasts of East Africa, and the Middle East, establishing settlements and colonies in the archipelago.
Portuguese explorers first visited the archipelago in 1505. In 1793, Malagasy warriors from Madagascar first started raiding the islands for slaves, and later settled and seized control in many locations. France first established colonial rule in the Comoros in 1841. The Comoros (or Les Comores) was officially made a French colony in 1912, and the islands were placed under the administration of the French colonial governor general of Madagascar in 1914.
Agreement was reached with France in 1973 for Comoros to become independent in 1978. The deputies of Mayotte abstained. Referendums were held on all four of the islands. Three voted for independence by large margins, while Mayotte voted against and remains under French administration. On July 6, 1975, however, the Comorian parliament passed a unilateral resolution declaring independence. Ahmed Abdallah proclaimed the independence of the State of the Comoros and became its first president. The next 30 years were a period of political turmoil and since independence from France, the Comoros experienced more than 20 coups or attempted coups.
The Comoros is formed by Ngazidja (Grande Comore), Mwali (Mohéli), Nzwani (Anjouan), and Maore (Mayotte), the major islands in the Comoros Archipelago, as well as many minor islets. The archipelago is situated in the Indian Ocean, in the Mozambique Channel, between the African coast (nearest to Mozambique and Tanzania) and Madagascar, with no land borders. At 2,235 km2, it is one of the smallest countries in the world. The Comoros also has claim to 320 km2 of territorial seas. The interiors of the islands vary from steep mountains to low hills. Ngazidja is the largest of the Comoros Archipelago, approximately equal in area to the other islands combined. It is also the most recent island, and therefore has rocky soil. The island's two volcanoes, Karthala (active) and La Grille (dormant), and the lack of good harbors are distinctive characteristics of its terrain. Mwali, with its capital at Fomboni, is the smallest of the four major islands. Nzwani, whose capital is Mutsamudu, has a distinctive triangular shape caused by three mountain chains, Sima, Nioumakele, and Jimilime, emanating from a central peak, Ntringi (1,575 metres). The islands of the Comoros Archipelago were formed by volcanic activity. Mount Karthala, an active shield volcano located on Ngazidja, is the country's highest point, at 2,361 metres. It contains the Comoros' largest patch of its disappearing rainforest. Karthala is currently one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
There are 4 major islands that make up the Comoros Archipelago as well as many minor islets. These are the 4 major islands.
Moroni is a good base for a climb up the Karthala Volcano (2,361 metres), which boasts spectacular views of the still active crater. You can gaze inside and see the smoke rising. The volcano erupted quite recently, about three years ago. With the access road and the climb, you should allow several hours for the climb. An early start is advisable. Take plenty of water and perhaps some fruit with you.
The hard and sleep climb from Lac Dzialandzé up to the normally cloud-covered summit of 1595meter high Mount Ntingui is tough but rewarding. As it is the highest point on Anjouan, on a rare clear day, you will have stunning views over all four of the islands of the archipelago that makes up the Comoros.
The Arab Quater is made up by the neighbourhood around the port and the Ancienne Mosquée de Vendredi (old Friday mosque). It is a medina with narrow streets lined with buildings dating back to Swahili times. It much looks like the better known Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar although it is much smaller. Still, it is just as good and sees far few travellers. Especially the carved Swahili doors found on many houses are worth the stroll.
The Comoros have a warm and humid cliimate, with some relief of the heath by breezes from the Indian Ocean. Temperatures generally are around 30 °C during the day, and still above 20 °C at night. November to April is slightly warmer, May to October a bit cooler. Rain is present during all months, but is more and heavier from November to May. August to October is the driest period and temperatures are fine as well, making this the best time to travel the Comoros. Hurricanes are possible from December to February, so it is best to avoid this time.
Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport (HAH) near the capital Moroni is where all international flights arrive and depart. International destinations include Comores Aviation flights to and from Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and Nosy Be in Madagascar. Yemenia flies to Sana'a and Dar es Salaam and Nairboi is served by Kenya Airways and Mombasa with African Express Airways.
There are no official passenger service to and from Comoros but there are quite a few options to travel on cargo ships. For example, it is possible to travel to and from Madagascar and the Comoros by boat. You will need a lot of time and patience but it's doable. You might even be able to you find a ride on a yacht as a crew member. It's a tough journey so be prepared and take seasickness pills with you.
Mombasa (Kenya) and Zanzibar (Tanzania) are the main places to look for cargo boats to Madagascar or the Comoros if you are coming from eastern Africa. It’s also sometimes possible to find passage on a yacht heading from South Africa, Réunion or Mauritius and in extreme cases all the way from France to Mayotte or Madagascar. But that's only for the sea enthusiasts who want to avoid flying at all costs (or time).
Comores Aviation provides services between the islands. Air Services Comores provides fligts as well.
Only on the main island (Grande Comore) there are rental cars available, but it is relatively expensive. Although most roads are paved, some interior roads can be slippery after heavy rains and animals on the narrow roads can make things even worse. Traffic drives on the right and you need an international driving permit.
The way to get around is by shared taxi, the taxi-brousses. Services are frequent in some places, but less frequent in the more remote places or outer island.
There are regular cargo and passenger services between the islands, but services are slow and uncomfortable, but cheap. Moheli and Anjouan are the main links from Grande Comore.
A transit visa for a maximum of 24 hours is free. Everyone requires a visa to visit to the Comoros, which is issued on arrival. A normal visa costs €61. It can be paid in Comorian francs, US dollars or Euros. A visa lasts 45 days, and whilst it can be extended the authorities are not likely to unless you have a good reason. All visitors must report to the immigration office in Moroni or Mutsamudu for an additional passport stamp. Failure to do so will lead to problems upon departure.
See also Money Matters
The national currency is the Comoros Franc (KMF) = 100 centimes. Notes come in denominations of KMF10,000, 5,000, 2,500, 1,000 and 500 and coins in denominations of KMF20, 10, 5, 2 and 1, and 20 centimes
The Euro is widely accepted. If you use Euros for a payment, any change will be given in Comoran Francs.
By some reckoning, this is the third poorest country in the world and workers can expect to earn only about USD1-1.5 a day for basic employment.
Learning facilities on the islands, like most facilities, are underdeveloped. There a several schools on the island of Grand Comore, and one college.
The official languages are French and Arabic. Most Comorians speak their own language known as Shikomor (Comorian), which is a group of Swahili dialects, as a first language and French as a second. Some locals also speak English.
Visitors are advised not to eat any of the local food unless it has been cooked through. One speciality available on the island is the jackfruit, a large, green fruit (about 50 cm in length) with a taste resembling lychee.
There are several good hotels on the islands, but in general the choice is rather limited. Facilities on Anjouan are basic. Visitors to the island usually stay in Mutsamudu. Mohéli has few facilities for tourists. On Grande Comore there are a few hotels of an acceptable standard in or near the capital Moroni.
Alcohol is readily available in Moroni from Indian and Chinese merchants near Volo Volo. Castle beer from South Africa and cheap boxed wine from France are common.
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering Comoros when you have been in a yellow fever country within 7 days of entering Comoros.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Comoros. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue sometimes occurs as well.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Crime levels are low, but you should take sensible precautions against pick-pocketing and mugging. Avoid walking alone at night on beaches or in town centres.
As a result of its colonial history and the ongoing political debate regarding the separate status of Mayotte, there are regular reports of demonstrations and there is anti-French sentiment throughout Comoros. Remain vigilant, maintain a low profile while moving around and avoid any crowds or political gatherings. Monitor local media to keep up to date with local developments. Avoid taking pictures of official buildings.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to the Comoros is: 269
To make an international call from the Comoros, the code is: 00
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