Named after the Arabic word for ‘moon’, Comoros is a beguiling volcanic archipelago between the coast of Mozambique and the island of Madagascar. As an important Indian Ocean trading post for Arab, Persian, African and European traders from the Middle Ages onwards, the island is a heady crossroads of world cultures that is unlike any other destination in Africa. Besides its fascinating history, this Comoros travel guide also highlights the archipelago’s famous golden sand beaches backed by towering baobab trees and turquoise waters that conceal some of the world’s most biologically diverse coral reefs.
Moroni: An Arabian dream in the Indian Ocean
Situated on the main island of Grande Comore, Moroni is the unhurried and romantic capital city of Comoros. A world away from the hectic capital cities of the African continent, Moroni has a distinctly Arabian pace of life that reflects the Middle Eastern traders who settled on the island in the 10th century. The city’s evocative center is the labyrinthine medina, which is crisscrossed by cobbled alleyways that are lined with intricately carved doorways, ornate mosques and charming Middle Eastern-style cafes, complete with men in traditional dress sipping on fragrant teas and smoking shisha. What Moroni lacks in blockbuster attractions it more than makes up for with its vibrant blend of African and Arabic cultures.
Mohéli: A nature lover’s paradise
Despite being the smallest island in Comoros, Mohéli is undoubtedly the most enchanting. Encircled by dazzling golden sand, the island is one of the archipelago’s least populated meaning that the beaches remain tranquil year-round. If visitors can tear themselves away from the world-class beaches, Mohéli is famed for its tropical hikes through jaw-dropping volcanic scenery, which can be explored with the help of local Comoros tour guides. The island is also home to the Parc Marin de Mohéli, the archipelago’s only national park, which was designed to protect the remote region’s vast population of sea turtles. Visitors can be near-guaranteed to see turtles nesting, hatching or swimming in the spectacular coral reefs. What’s more, between July and October each year roughly 1000 humpback whales migrate to Mohéli from Antarctica to breed with local hotels organizing tours of their nursery areas.
Mayotte: One of France’s last remaining overseas territories
France annexed Comoros during the 19th century and while Grande Comore, Mohéli and Anjouan gained independence in 1975 Mayotte has remained as a French territory. With a much larger population than the other islands of the archipelago, Mayotte is often considered out of step with the region’s image as a tropical paradise. However, the surrounding Indian Ocean remains pristine with dazzling coral reefs with local lodges providing world-class snorkelling and scuba diving tour guides. What is more, Mayotte is dominated by Comoros’ most iconic feature, the conical volcano Mont Choungui, which is crisscrossed by well-maintained hiking trails. Beyond the island’s natural beauty, Mayotte is also home to a large expatriate community with the picturesque town of Mamoudzou packed with an array of fantastic bistros that serve traditional French classics with a tropical twist and delightful shops.
Anjouan: The pearl of Comoros
Anjouan is the remotest and most beautiful of the islands of the Comoros archipelago. Famed for its spectacular beaches that are straight out of the pages of Robinson Crusoe, the island is a real-life tropical paradise where the trees are laden with coconuts, bananas and other exotic fruits. Anjouan rose to prominence in the Middle Ages thanks to Arab traders who established numerous spice plantations due to islands fertile volcanic soil. While the plantations are no more, the fragrant aromas of cloves and ylang-ylang still define Anjouan, as the spices remain integral to the island’s distinctive cuisine. What’s more, the island is one of the Comoros best destinations for hiking with the jungle-clad Mount Ntingui providing stunning vistas of the archipelago and the chance to see an array of colourful birdlife.
Petite Terre: The Comoro’s hidden gem
Situated just off the coast of the French island of Mayotte, Petite Terre is one of the smallest islands in Comoros. Despite only being home to two villages, namely L’Abattoir and Pamandzi, the island is one of the Comoros geological wonders. The center of the small island is Dziani Dzaha, a perfectly circular volcanic crater that is filled with enchanting green-hued water, while the coastline is peppered with rugged outcrops of volcanic rock, which have formed jaw-dropping arches and sea stacks. The island’s two villages are known throughout Comoros as one of the best places to sample French cuisine with most of the ingredients, such as frogs’ legs and crab meat, sourced from Petite Terre’s rock pools and volcanic lakes.
Mount Karthala: the world’s largest active volcano
Towering above the jungle-clad landscape of Grande Comore is Mount Karthala, the world’s largest active volcano. Reaching the dizzying height of nearly 8000 feet, the volcano has erupted once every eleven years on average since early 1800, and last did so in 2005. For visitors wishing to add a touch of adventure to the Comoros experience, the mountain can be climbed with the help of expert tour guides from Moroni who know the most spectacular trails and the best places to camp, as the ascent takes around two full days. Once at the summit, Mount Karthala offers jaw-dropping views of the surrounding Indian Ocean and gives visitors a thrillingly close look at the bubbling crater.
Planning a visit? Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:
Comoros is an Islamic country; hence adherence to local customs and traditions is advised.
The commonly spoken languages are Comorian and French with some Arabic and English. It’s definitely a good idea to brush up on your French if you would like to interact with the locals.
Travel infrastructure on sleepy Comoros is not as well set up as the Seychelles or Maldives. Travel between islands is usually done by boats; there are flight options though they get cancelled very frequently. On land, taxis and minibuses are the prevalent options.
“Over the past decade, Ross Cameron has travelled extensively across Europe, Southeast Asia, North America, North Africa, and the post-Soviet space. As someone who has a real passion for these regions of the globe, he is able to offer an expert opinion that highlights the best off the beaten track destinations.”
Image details and licenses
Comoros cover photo: https://flic.kr/p/hDAdMw (David Stanley, CC BY 2.0), Mohéli: https://images.app.goo.gl/ENK4abg7zQfLcnh68 (Daimm269, CC BY-SA 4.0), Anjouan: https://images.app.goo.gl/N2m4dDNvSFoH3Cv78 (Haryamouji, CC BY-SA 3.0), Petit Terre: https://images.app.goo.gl/yKfEcYd9njGo94p17 (Mart.wain, CC BY-SA 4.0), Mount Karthala: https://flic.kr/p/6YEA65 (Daryl Wallace, CC BY-SA 2.0)