Comoros has endured 20 coups or attempted coups since gaining independence from France in 1975. In 1997, the islands of Anjouan and Moheli declared independence from Comoros. In 1999, military chief Col. Azali seized power. He pledged to resolve the secessionist crisis through a confederal arrangement named the 2000 Fomboni Accord. In December 2001, voters approved a new constitution and presidential elections took place in the spring of 2002. Each island in the archipelago elected its own president and a new union president took office in May 2002.
One of the world's poorest countries, Comoros is made up of three islands that have inadequate transportation links, a young and rapidly increasing population, and few natural resources.
The islands of Comoros have been settled by a succession of diverse groups from the coast of Africa, Persian Gulf, Malay Archipelago and Madagascar. Swahili settlers first reached the islands as part of the great Bantu expansion that took place throughout the first millennium.
In 933 CE, Al-Masudi refers to Omani sailors, who call the Comoros "The Perfume Islands" and sing of waves that break rhythmically along broad, pearl-sand beaches, the light breezes scented with ylang-ylang, a component to many perfumes.
From the 11th to 15th centuries, trade with the island of Madagascar and merchants from the Middle East flourished, smaller villages emerged, and existing towns expanded.
Portuguese explorers visited the islands of the archipelago in 1505. By 1506, the Portuguese landed on the islands and began to challenge the Bajas (Bantu Muslim chiefs) and Fanis (lesser chiefs).
Tropical marine; rainy and hot season (November to May).
Volcanic islands, interiors vary from steep mountains to low hills
Highest point: Le Karthala (on Grand Comore) at 2,360 meters.
Everyone requires a visa to visit to the Comoros, which is issued on arrival. A normal visa costs Euro 30. It can be paid in Comorian francs, US dollars, or Euros. A visa lasts 45 days ; it can be extended, but ordinarily the authorities will not do so unless you have a good reason.
Domestic flights between islands are provided by Inter'Air Iles (also known as Inter Iles Aviation).
There are freighters that leave from Zanzibar and Madagascar for Moroni. These are cheaper than flying usually, but take longer and departure dates are less reliable. Passenger boat movements & prices to Madagascar from Anjouan can be found at www.sgtm.com. In the past there used to be direct ferry services linking Mayotte with the rest of the Comoran archipelago. Those were suspended by French authorities due to safety negligence.
Contact and flight schedules are subject to change depending on the number of passengers (especially on the route Moheli - Anjouan it can be a last minute decision if there is a direct flight or you need to fly via Moroni)
A return flight between the islands costs around €90). On Grande Comore all flights depart from Hahaya Airport (about 30 minutes drive from Moroni).
It is possible to rent cars on Grand Comore for approximately €30 (or KMF 15,000) a day. Share taxis act as the de facto bus service around the islands. They are hailed by the side of the road while shouting your destination if the driver slows down for you. If he has a passenger already going there, he'll pick you up. Fares around town are CF250 (50 euro cents) & CF500-800 between towns. It is CF500 to the Hahaya airport also CF500 if you carry on as far as Mitsamiouli.
Passenger boats for 200+ leave about 4 times per weeks between Moroni, Grand Comore & Mutsamudu, Anjouan for 30-35 euros second/first class taking 5 to 6 hours. Boards with boat departure times (very approximate!!) & prices are posted outside ticket offices around the port in Moroni & along the Corniche in Mutsamudu.
Speedboats leave for Moheli from Chindini, Grand Comore & from Mutsamudu in front of Hotel Karama.
SGTM has comfortable boats going from Moroni (Grand Comore) to Mutsamudu (Anjouan) to Dzaoudzi (Mayotte). Check their website for updated schedules and prices (in French).
French is the language of administration and education, and Arabic is the language of religion. Comorian (also known as Shikomor) - a Bantu language closely related to Swahili - is the language of the people. It is spoken by nearly 97% of the population. Comorian is confined almost exclusively for oral use - in the few cases where it is written, it is written either in the Arabic script or the Latin script. Although the Latin script is more widely promoted, literacy in the Arabic script is higher.
Most Comorians speak Comorian as a first language and French as a second. Some can also speak Arabic.
Each island has its own dialect. The greetings below are not necessarily direct translations.
Greetings nearly always follow this pattern:
Note that any series of words with habari in it requires a response of salaama. Shikomor has various extensions of the habari greeting to indicate time of day, such as habarizaho or habarizasobwuhi.
Other necessary words:
For more sights, vist the website of the Tourism Office.
Handicrafts are not usually of good quality, though women of Mayotte as well as a few women in Grand Comore make quality baskets. One can buy CD's (burned), colorful cloths that women wear (500 KmF for a numbawani and 750 KmF for a finer shawl), beautiful scarves (2,000 KmF), and other imports.
Most handicrafts and tourist curios for sale at Volo Volo market in Moroni are made in Madagascar, and sold by Malagasy expatriates in the market. Local crafts are hard to find, but some are available at CNAC in Itsandra. Unique Comorian gifts can be found in other parts of Volo Volo market. Consider locally grown spices and essential oils, homemade lamps and vegetable peelers, or products made from coconuts.
Do not buy shells from vendors on the beach.
Because the Comoros are isolated islands, prices tend to be more expensive than the rest of East Africa. The cheapest hotels or bungalows in Moroni (the most expensive lodging region of the Comoros) may cost €20 or as little as 10 if you bargain hard. On the other hand, Hotel Moroni may cost hundreds. Imported goods are cheaper on Grand Comore than Moheli, but fruits and vegetables are cheaper, if less available, on Moheli. Meals in a brochetterie (cheap restaurant that serves fried meat and bananas, manioc, taro, or breadfruit) may cost up to 1500 KmF (3 euros) on Grand Comore and as little as 250 (.50 euro) on Moheli. Cakes (sweet bread) sold by women on the street generally cost around 50-100 KmF each. One could get by on around 6,000-10,000 KmF (12-20 euros) per day for food and lodging.
Visitors are advised not to eat any of the local food unless it has been cooked through. It is easy to find grilled chicken and beef at street vendors along main roads especially in the evening . "Mataba" , a local rice and cassava dish, is extremely popular and easy to find locally as well.
Fruit is in abundance seasonally , including mangos, jackfruit, lychees, guava, oranges , and especially bananas .
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. Most merchants will supply black plastic bags so that no one will notice you bought alcohol...except that they only give black bags to customers buying alcohol.
European restaurants will serve alcohol, too.
In a pinch, you can probably find a friendly local who will welcome you into their home for the night. Ask if they prefer you to pay them for food and/or lodging. Sometimes people are welcoming you as an honored guest and it would be odd to pay.
Learning facilities on the islands, like most facilities, are underdeveloped. There are several schools on the island of Grand Comore, and one college. These are all severely lacking in resources and funding.
The third poorest country in the world, workers can expect to earn around $1 - 1.5 a day for basic employment.
Cyclones possible during rainy season (December to April).
Le Kartala on Grand Comore is an active volcano.
Civil war possible; Anjouan island most at risk (clashes between rebel and African Union forces).
Malaria is no longer prevalent in Comoros due to an experimental treatment given to all residents, however it is still advisible to sleep under a permethrin-treated mosquito net and take an anti-malarial while visiting. All visitors should wear mosquito repellant during the day because dengue fever is a problem seasonally. Additionally visitors are advised to treat their water or buy bottled water to avoid typhoid fever. Grand Comore and Anjouan have the best medical infrastructure and you can be tested for common diseases in most major towns. If you get a fever, it is wise to get tested, especially if the fever does not respond to paracetemol or does not go away. Moheli has a hospital in Fomboni and one that recently re-opened in Nioumachoua but may occasionally be accessible.
Healthy food is not difficult to find. Eat many fruits and vegetables as well as rice. During some time of the year vegetables might be only available in small quantities in Moheli. A healthy and delicious local dish is madaba (pounded and boiled manioc leaves). But madaba takes hours to prepare, so you may not find it in restaurants. If you are fortunate enough to stay or eat with a local family, you might get to try madaba. Vegetarians should be aware that on Grand Comore locals put fish in the madaba, while on Moheli they do not. Women may experience cessation or alteration of their menstrual cycle due to poor nutrition if they stay in the Comoros for several months or longer.
Although the Comoros are a rather liberal Muslim country, it is disrespectful for women to expose their shoulders, much of their chest, knees, and especially stomach and lower back. Wear shirts or shawls that cover these areas. Locals will not expect foreign, non-Muslim women to cover their heads. When swimming, local women are fully dressed. Foreigners are not expected to do this, but shorts and a swimming shirt is more respectful than a bikini or topless swimming. Men should wear shorts below the knee, though this is less offensive than a woman doing so. Public affection between men and women is not acceptable, though one may rarely see a Comorian man and woman holding hands briefly (in the nightclubs some locals seem to ignore Muslim convention).
Non-Muslim religious proselytizing is illegal, as is giving Bibles to locals. Locals are very tolerant and friendly towards non-Muslims, but avoid appearing as if you are trying to convert them.
Drinking alcohol in public is disrespectful, though it occurs in nightclubs. Restaurants generally do not serve alcohol unless they cater to foreigners.
To greet an elder, you say "kwesi". The elder says something like "mbona, mkana baraka" to which you respond "salaama".
It is a big mistake to hand out candy to children on the street. Since locals are unused to tourists, this rarely occurs and they are usually just happy to talk with you, children included. Once tourists begin handing out gifts and money, locals will see Westerners as rich and free with money, destroying many opportunities for a human connection with them. Children will harass tourists for candy and money (they occasionally do now). Tourists who do this are showing themselves to be disrespectful of locals (by assuming that money/candy is what they want from tourists and by putting that in between them rather than making an effort to get to know locals) and ignorant of the consequences of their actions.
Since, allegedly, it was discovered that a Western man, resident of Grand Comore for 14 years, had been making pornographic videos and photographs, as well as violating children on the islands, the residents are quite averse to being filmed or photographed. Individual reactions may vary upon being photographed, but visitors must be advised that taking unauthorised photographs of the locals will, at best, offend an individual and, at worst, cause irrational and potentially violent reactions in the subject.