Haphazardly scattered across the Indian Ocean, the mysterious, outrageous and enchanting Comoros islands are the kind of place you go to just drop off the planet for a while. Far removed from the clutter that comes with conventional paradises – sprawling hotels, neon discos – the Comoros are so remote even an international fugitive could hide out here. In particular, the island of Mohéli, boasting the sleepy town of Fomboni. Anjouan is the beautiful sister among the already good looking cluster of islands, it does paradise so well, it actually lives up to all the clichéd expectations any traveller could possibly muster – Palms, bananas and the scent of ylang-ylang and cloves borne on the breeze.
Rich in Swahili culture, and devoutly Muslim, the charming inhabitants of Comoros come from a legendary stock of Arab traders, Persian sultans, African slaves and Portuguese pirates. The four developed islands offer everything from relaxing on white-sand beaches by turquoise seas to hiking through rainforests on the lookout for giant bats. Grande Comore, the largest of the islands, boasts the largest active volcano in the world, Mt Karthala, which last blew its lid in 2005, flattening villages. The aftermath, though has created a spectacular desert landscape on the mountain, and walking and trekking here is particularly good. Also on Grande Comore, timeless Moroni is oozing with old-time Arabian flair. Mayotte, is the only island of the four still a part of France, and while some love the whitest of white beaches, others find it a little too 'French'.
Nicknamed ‘Cloud Coup-Coup’ land because of their crazy politics, the three independent islands (the fourth, Mayotte, is still a part of France) have experienced almost 20 coups since gaining independence in 1975! In fact, a Comorian president is lucky if there’s time for his official portrait to be taken before armed men are once again knocking on the door. In the last decade, however, the quarrelsome tiff-prone independent islands agreed to put their differences aside and fly under the joint banner of the Union des Comores.
Holidaying in the Comoros isn’t for everyone; travel will kick your arse at times. But it teaches lessons in patience, humility and resilience. Everything moves mora mora (slowly slowly) and tourism facilities are far from plush. Islam, and all its traditions, is evident everywhere. Women are expected to show modesty and cover up, and alcohol is a no-no for both sexes.
But if your idea of the perfect holiday is less about drinking rum punch in a skimpy bikini at a swank resort, and more about long, lazy days sipping tea and talking politics with the locals, then a safari in the exotic Comoros will probably be the kind of unpredictable, swashbuckling adventure you’ve been craving.
Comoros Islands: tropical charm off the beaten path
Here’s a challenge for you: could you place the Comoros Islands on a map? Named after the Arabic word for ‘moon’, Qamar, this poetically named but little-known archipelago is located between Madagascar and Mozambique. It was an important trading post for Arab, Persian, African and European traders from the 15th century onwards.
Comoros destination guides
Under the radar: forgotten destinations of the world
They sit nestled in oft-forgotten parts of the world, but don’t miss these low-profile wonders. Suriname Resting atop South America’s eastern shoulder, Suriname is a former Dutch colony turned ethnic melting pot, where indigenous cultures mingle with British, Dutch, Chinese, Indian and Indonesian influences.
Madagascar & Comoros: travel books to read before you go
This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Madagascar & Comoros guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip. Maverick in Madagascar, by Mark Eveleigh, is a quirky tale of the author’s travels on foot down Madagascar’s northwest coast and the infamous western ‘Zone Rouge’.