This is Part B in a two part series, so if you haven’t read Part A then I recommend that you do so before continuing. Part A gives you an introduction to the region as well as a little history and detail on the french overseas territory of Mayotte. If it’s only the Union of The Comoros that your interested in then thats fine, continue on.
Where do you even begin to describe a destination like the mysterious tiny island nation of the Comoros (or the Union of the Comoros using its correct long form name). Firstly I should start by explaining exactly where this most minuscule of nations is found on the globe. If you draw a line between the top of Madagascar and mainland Africa. You will find the Comoros islands.
In all my travels and wanderings over the past 20 years, I have visited over half the nations on earth. So I can speak from experience when I say that the Comoros is a world away from the well worn tourist trails of South East Asia and now even those found in South America. Even with its close proximity to its more frequented neighbor of Mayotte. The Comoros certainly give you a feel, like your a modern day explorer.
There are four main Islands that make up the Comoran Island group. Three of which combine to form the sovereign country of the Union of The Comoros. With the forth being the French overseas territory of Mayotte. On this particular journey, we only made it as far as Grande Comore within the Union of The Comoros. The largest in size as well as in political clout of the three islands that make up the Union. The other two islands are named Moheli and Anjouan and lie a little to the south of Grande Comore.
The Comoros Has A Rich Political History (Both Modern and Ancient)
An extremely poor country steep in Islamic culture. The Comoros has a rich history of Arab traders, Persian Sultans and Portuguese pirates. It also has a checkered and more recent past of insane politics. That has seen the Union encounter no fewer than 20 political coups in the past 25 years. Although they seem to have settled their differences of late, and things have now begun to calm down somewhat.
Traveling to this far flung exotic destination isn’t for everyone. It can be hard going at times and despite it’s poor economy. It can still be an expensive destination for a western traveller. There is basically no tourist infrastructure here, and virtually no tourists. I’ll repeat that again. There are virtually no tourists in Comoros. We only spoke to one other couple traveling the region. With the only other foreign people we met being business people, aid workers and a couple of French military guys on a group training mission with the Comoran Army (who at first though we were spies for the Australian government, seriously).
It’s safe to say that, if you want to get away from it all then Comoros is your type of destination. And if you get here soon and out of season like we did. It’s quite possible you could be the only travelers in the whole country. A bizarre concept in the modern world we live today thats for sure.
The Comoros is about as far away from the complexities of modern western life as you can get. But if your on the run from Interpol then I suggest you pick another tropical hideaway. As the Comoros was a complete polar opposite to the lax security found in neighboring Mayotte. Upon entry to the nations capital airport. We were finger printed, had high resolution photos taken of us, as well as our digital signatures recorded. All this technology was quite bizarre for a very poor country, and I’m sure if you dug a little deeper there’d be a story or two behind who supplied it.
The Comoros Was a Very Safe Country To Travel (Except For The Roads)
Despite the poverty, the people were warm and friendly and the Comoros is a very safe country to travel. If you do visit, you will need to respect the strong Islamic culture here. That means long pants for both men and women, with women wearing long sleeves as well. This is not enforced and the Islamic culture here is a very tolerant one. But it will gain the respect of locals and may open a few doors for you along the way.
One thing you’ll notice during your time here is the sad state of many of the cars and trucks on the road. Most vehicles here are literally death traps, poorly maintained by bush mechanics, with all types of Mr fix-it solutions holding them together. The roads are also in grave disrepair, hence the state of the vehicles. Drivers duck and weave all over the road dodging pot holes, and looking for that small section of the road that will not destroy their vehicle any further.
So forget marked lanes and lines on the roads there and accidents are all to common place in the. With the number of burnt out and wrecked cars dotted around the island were simply staggering, and completely disproportional to small population of just over 700,000. The number of vehicles here with broken windshields was also uncanny. So my guess is that replacement auto glass just doesn’t find its way to the Comoros.
The Comoros Has a Recent History of Violent Volcanic Eruptions
The geology of the island group is volcanic, with a shore line that has sporadic but extremely beautiful white sandy beaches in between miles of sharp jagged lava fields. Mt Karthala is the dominant high point of Grand Comore, and stands at a height of 2369m. We made the climb of Mt Karthala in a very strenuous 15 hour round trip (not recommended, and two days would have been better).
Mt Karthala is one of the worlds most active volcanoes. Having erupted on average, once every 11 years over the past century. The evidence of these eruptions is easily seen whilst touring the island. With many black lava flows, highly contrasted against the lush tropical vegetation that makes up most of the islands interior. These lava flows are a reminder of Mount Kathala’s violent past. Like rivers of destruction, they cut their way through everything in their path before finally reaching the ocean. Solidifying and expanding the islands shoreline slowly over the millennia.
Self Driven Car Hire Is Not Available In The Comoros
Unlike Mayotte, there’s no hire car economy here, So if you want to explore the island on your own. Your best bet is to hire a locals car that will automatically come with its driver. Like most things in the Comoros. The cost of the car and driver were not cheap when you compare it to other nations. Especially when the cars are in such bad shape. But if you want to explore then this is your only real option on any normal time frame. Local busses do cover the island but are extremely sporadic and it seems hitch hiking in the Comoros is a national sport from my observations.
The poverty of this island nation can be seen whilst making your way around the island. As I mentioned previously the vehicles are in a very bad state indeed and many of the buildings are constructed from pieces of lava held together with a minuscule amount of cement or concrete. Paint is obviously a luxury item in the Comoros with many buildings outside of the capital having their exteriors breaking down and discoloured from the harsh weather due to no render or cement.
Other Things To See and Do On Grande Comore
The old town of Grande Comore and the nations capital Moroni is a nice place to stroll around. There are a few old Mosques along the old sea walls worth checking out, with some dating back to the 14th century. As you’d expect, the Mosques are some of the more well preserved buildings on the Island. With just over a week on Grande Comore. I felt we got a fair look at what it had to offer due to it’s very small size. If you had more time and really want to loose yourself. Then the other islands of Moheli and Anjouan are only an overnight ferry or a short flighty away.
The Comoros was a real flashback to my early travels of the likes of Northern Pakistan or Iran. That feeling of being in a place where very few other western people come. No real hassles were presented to us. Which is great for my desire to travel to places that few others seek out, but no good for the local population. We were asked by a few local people as to why nobody comes to Comoros. I had no real answers for them, but suspect that one of the main reasons is that the Comoros does not fall on any major air routes.
With no natural resources to rely on. The main exports of the Comoros are Ylang Ylang (a plant extract used to make perfume) and Vanilla. Therefore this place is in dire need of a tourism economy. Comoros has plenty to offer in the way of tourism, if they were just given a chance. So lets hope others like us, will make the journey to this remote part of the world. But I feel until a major air route flies through here. Sadly the tourists they so badly need will be few and far between for many years to come.
Your Thoughts and Comments?
Would you consider a trip to the Comoros if you were already traveling in the Eastern or Southern regions of Africa? Or maybe you’ve already been there.