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Despite picture-perfect beaches, turquoise waters hemmed in by coral reefs, fantastic sunsets, and air scented with the tropical perfume of vanilla, nutmeg or ylang-ylang spices, the islands of the Comoros do not receive the same attention and approbation as their neighbours. A history of political instability has left the islands with one of the poorest and most undeveloped economies in the world, and since independence from France in 1975 the political atmosphere on the islands has been volatile and insecure.

Located almost halfway between the island of Madagascar and Mozambique, off the east coast of Africa, the archipelago constitutes four major islands that were formed by volcanic activity. Three of these islands form the Comoros, while the fourth, Maore (Mayotte), is part of France, choosing to remain under French rule after the other islands voted for independence. This divide in the archipelago has been the cause of many tensions, and despite being administered by France, the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros claim Mayotte as its own.

Of the Comoros islands, Ngazidja (Grand Comore) is the largest and the most westerly island, dominated by a large active volcano, Mount Karthala. It is also home to the capital of the Comoros, Moroni, a charming town with narrow winding streets in the old Arab Quarter worth exploring and several beautiful mosques. The sparsely populated island of Mwali (Moheli) is the smallest in the group and the least developed, with pristine tropical forest and secluded beaches. The most spectacular island, the 'pearl of the Indian Ocean', is Nzwani (Anjouan), the archipelago's main producer of perfume essences including jasmine and ylang-ylang, and also the most populated island. Its ancient capital and seaport, Domoni, was a major trading centre in the 15th century along the mercantile routes of the Indian Ocean from Africa to Asia, which became obsolete with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.

The cessation of maritime trade, together with the shrinking demand of its major exports and economy mainstays such as essential oils and spices, has resulted in these 'Perfumed Isles' becoming the 'Forgotten Islands' of the Indian Ocean. But the islands offer a fantastic holiday for those seeking a destination where nature and scenery hold the biggest appeal: there is superb diving in an underwater wonderland of corals and fish, a variety of animal and bird life that is unique to the islands, and diverse terrain from volcanic craters to undisturbed beaches to explore.

Information & Facts


The slow pace of island life is a typical aspect of doing business in the Comoros, where nothing happens too quickly or professionally (French Mayotte is more Western in its approach to punctuality and efficiency). Dress is tidy, but fairly casual, and being an Islamic country, women are expected to dress conservatively. Women are traditionally subservient to men and do not hold key positions in business, so visiting businesswomen will find that they are not treated with the same respect as their male counterparts. Business is usually conducted in French, and sometimes in Arabic, but few people speak English. Business hours are generally 7.30am to 12pm and 3pm to 5.30pm Monday to Thursday, and Fridays until 11am (Islamic holy day). During the holy month of Ramadan very little business gets is conducted.


Located just south of the equator, the islands have a maritime tropical climate with a hot and humid wet season from November to April, and a cool, drier season between May and October. Rainfall and temperature vary from island to island, but generally temperatures average from 78°F to 86°F (26°C to 29°C) in the wet season and about 66°F (19°C) from May to October.


The international dialling code for the Comoros is +269. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). International calls made within the country require operator assistance. There is limited cell phone coverage, but this is growing. The Societe Nationale des Telecommunications provides a GSM 900 network. Internet access is scarce. A few hotels provide Internet.


The islands are largely Muslim and visitors should respect local traditions and sensitivities, especially during the month of Ramadan. Women in particular are advised to dress conservatively, covering shoulders and legs when away from the beach.

Duty Free

Passengers of 18 years and older can bring 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g tobacco, one bottle of alcohol and one bottle of perfume without paying customs duty.


Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round two-pin plugs and one with receptacle with male grounding pin, are in use.

Getting Around

Share-taxis are a common form of transport as are taxi-brousses. Between islands there are internal flights (not to Mayotte), and boat services connect the four islands in the archipelago. Ferries are the easiest and cheapest way of island hopping.


There is a risk of malaria throughout the year, and dengue fever outbreaks occur. Cholera outbreaks also occur, but are a low risk to travellers. Visitors should drink bottled or boiled water as a preventative measure. Medical facilities are limited and medications may not be available. Travellers are advised to bring their own personal medical kit and travel insurance should be comprehensive.


French and Arabic are the official languages. Comorian is the most widely spoken language however.


The official currency is the Comoros Franc (KMF), which is divided into 100 centimes. Its value is tied to the Euro and many major tourist establishments accept Euros as payment. In towns, foreign currency can be exchanged at banks on Ngazidja, but banking facilities are limited on the other islands. The Banque Internationale des Comores (BIC) is the only bank that will change travellers cheques. To avoid additional charges take travellers cheques in Euros. There is no bank on Mwali. Banks are open on weekday mornings only, from 7am to 12pm. The acceptance of credit cards is limited to a few upmarket hotels.

Passport Visa

Return or onward air tickets and all necessary documents for the next destination are required. Visitors are given a 24-hour transit visa on arrival and have to report to the immigration office within that time to purchase a visa. Fees vary depending on length of stay.


The islands are relatively crime-free, but visitors should be aware that muggers and pick-pockets will target those who look like they are carrying valuables. It is not advisable to walk around at night, particularly in the town centres. Cyclones are possible between January and April, and Le Kartala volcano on Ngazidja is active and erupts periodically. It is advisable to check on the situation before visiting that part of the island. Foreign governments currently advise against travel to Anjouan due to the unstable political situation.


Local time is GMT +3.


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