The Comoros are an island nation off the coast of East Africa, in the Indian Ocean between northern Mozambique and northern Madagascar.
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.
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. An normal visa costs USD$10. It can be payed in Comorian francs, US dollars, or Euros. A visa lasts 2 weeks; it can be extended, but ordinarily the authorities will not do so unless you have a good reason.
There are freighters that leave from Zanzibar and Madagascar. These are cheaper than flying, usually, but take longer and departure dates are less reliable. To catch these you must find the boat captain at the harbor and discuss prices. If you bargain very hard, you may get passage for €100.
Contact and flight schedules are subject to change. Find here more information:
A return flight between the islands costs between €75 (Air Services Comores) and €85 (Comores Aviation). On Grande Comore all flights depart from Hahaya Airport (about 40 minutes drive from Moroni).
It is possible to rent cars on Grand Comore for approximately €30 (or KMF 15,000) a day. It is also possible to take taxis (standard fare from the airport to Moroni approx: €15) or attempt to hitch-hike. If hitch-hiking (especially as a Caucasian tourist) some fee may be demanded. As the locals have no access to public transport and children have to walk to and from school, tourists with a car may wish to consider aiding hitch-hikers. Petrol costs less than €10 per bottle.
The island of Grand Comore has no public transportation system and no buses. Hitch-hiking is the most common mode of "public" transport.
There is a boat that runs from Chindini, on the southern coast of Grand Comore, to Hoani, on the northern coast of Moheli. These boats are small fiberglass fishing boats with boat and engines in variable condition. They should be taken only on days when the sea is calm, as passengers have been forced to off-load baggage into the sea and rumor has it that some boats have been lost. However, these boats are generally safe to take on calm days. The price is 8,500 KmF as of March 2008 (roughly €15), though opening quotes will be 15,000 KmF for foreigners. There is an additional 500 KmF council departure tax which may or may not be legitimate.
More convenient are large ferries (two or three per week) from Moroni to Foumboni on Moheli. Prices are posted at 8,000 KmF, slightly negotiable.
There is also a boat that runs from the east coast of Grand Comore to Anjouan. It is a larger, safer ferry boat.
The official languages are French and Arabic. Most Comorians speak their own language known as Shikomor (Comorian), which is a set of Swahili dialects, 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:
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. One speciality available on the island is the jackfruit, a large, green fruit (about 1.5 - 2 feet in length) with a taste resembling lychee.
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 a 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, including cerebral malaria, is prevalent in the Comoros. Sleep under a permethrin-treated mosquito net and take an anti-malarial. Grand Comore and Anjouan have the best medical infrastructure and you can be tested for malaria 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.