Comoros - our experience Sep 2012
Replies: 5 - Last Post: Mar 20, 2013 10:38 AM Last Post By: tbodders
Nov 2, 2012 11:23 PM
Comoros - our experience Sep 2012Greetings travellers,
I see there's been no Comoros posts since my last one - shows you how few people go there now!!! We did see other foreign tourists there sometimes. I didn't have a guide book and wasn't too sure what it would be like, so I want to write something to reassure others who are thinking of going there, now that I've been on the inside.
We only went for four days, just to Grand Comore, so are not nearly as experienced as others giving those great tips on the Comoros. So here's just a few things of our experience.
We did manage to book the Les Arcades hotel online through the Comoros Tourism Online (see my post on before I went to Comoros below). Flew return Air Madagascar from Tana (you can go straight through from Mauritius on a Tuesday if you get Air Mauritius for the leg to Tana, then change). We got picked up at the airport by them and taken to the hotel, where there was a lovely English-speaking man at reception.
The airport, BTW, was like any developing country airport (and quite lucky not to have been taken out by the most recent lava flow), but had the most high-tech visa, with photos and fingerprints for 30 Euros on arrival, done by the policewomen - even got a laugh out of them. No hint of the experience of the guy who said he was promptly thrown in detainment for his whole stay (maybe he went there during a coup...)!
So, the Les Arcades was fine, had a simple room with hot water, flushing toilet, working aircon, two single beds pushed together and some furniture. Was the standard of a regular hotel in an Indian city. There were a few people staying there, but most of it was empty. Pool was empty, but must have been something in its glory days. Only had one towel so bought another one and toilet paper.
Comoros is about twice as expensive as Mauritius. Ended up being 130 Euros for a day tour with English-speaking guide (I suspect we got ripped off...), but when you're only there for 4 days and have wanted to see the place for the last 15 years, it's cheap at any price!!
Did a day tour in a little Renault on bad roads across the centre and around the north of the island. Absolutely spectacular!!!!! Loved it, loved the scenery and loved just being there. The reason I wanted to go to the Comoros is because I read the book "A Fish Caught in Time" - the story of the discovery of the coelacanth. I just wanted to see the place, but our guide Ibrahim took us to the ylang ylang and vanilla factory (managed by some relative of his I think), which was a bit ho hum with a small museum, but we went along with it. Then there's a little shelter in the garden with a tank at the end. The man lifts up the lid and I stick my head in and what should be in the tank but two real live dead coelacanths!!!!! Just like that!!! I took a photo and asked if I could touch one, and he said yes, I could, so I touched one on its lobey left fin!!!! My head was spinning with the excitement (or maybe because of the formalin fumes which were making my eyes water). The fish had white mould spots on top, as the tank was becoming dry of formalin and they were half-exposed. The man said that he was trying to get some experts (from South Africa??) to come and preserve them? for display (I don't speak French, I was coming to grips with the concept that I had just touched a coelacanth, like something out of the book, and I was probably affected by the formalin fumes, so I didn't grasp it all). My boyfriend had the sense to give him some money to help preserve it/buy some formalin. I didn't know what else to do - will try and get on the coelacanth website and see if they can ship some formalin or ethanol and preserve them properly. Even the one in the tank in the museum had its fins sticking out above the liquid! If you're travelling to Grand Comore, you can't take formalin on the plane because it's a dangerous good, but maybe if everyone took their allowance of ethanol and went up to the perfume factory and tipped it in the tank...?...
So, moving on, apparently you can't do a day trip around the south of the island because the roads are "too bad". We did a day in Moroni walking around to the port, through the Arab quarter (narrow winding cobblestone streets, awesome!) and to the museum etc. There are ATMs just up from the museum, near the post office (even successfully posted postcards!!!), which generally spat out money for our VISA and MasterCards. Though the hotels and tours want cash, so bring PLENTY of Euros. The best place we found to eat was an Indian Cuisine place directly across the road from Les Arcades.
The people in the Comoros are just laid-back and friendly. Someone at the taxi-brousse stand explained to us that there is no crime - no theft - in Grand Comore - there is no jail - because if someone steals, they cut off their hand. I think he was serious. The population is devoutly Muslim and I believe they wouldn't attack or steal from a tourist (just ask exorbitant prices at the market!!). So I think the Comoros (with the excetion of Mayotte) is a very safe place to travel. The only danger I felt was at the speed at which the taxi-brousse driver took some of the roads.
I wanted to see the Comoros' species of lemur, and at the Itsandra Beach hotel, apparently "a man used to bring a lemur to the beach" - must have had a pet one they brought for people to see in the tourist days. Didn't see one in the wild, but Comoros had boab trees, which is pretty cool. Tried to get onto internet there but the French server locked us out. Our Australian Telstra phones wouldn't work either.
There used to be a big tourism industry there - lots of hotels which are now closed down. There were some political coups and people don't go there anymore. The roads are terrible, and there is virtually no tourism infrastructure. Rubbish is dumped on the beach or anywhere. But, it is one of the most wonderful, memorable places I have ever travelled, unspoiled by tourism in comparison with Madagascar (we didn't get robbed in Comoros, and no kids constantly asking for sweets, just wanted to smile and wave).
So, if you want to go to Grand Comore, go. Don't be put off - you will be perfectly safe there, and might even just have a treasured travel experience shared by a very few. The people there would love the opportunity to have tourists there again to help the economy. If you love tropical volcanic scenery (mostly still forested!) and are obsessed with coelacanths, this place is for you!!
Nov 3, 2012 5:09 AM
Nov 3, 2012 8:02 AM
Nov 5, 2012 8:01 AM
3Glad you made it to Grande Comore! It's been our home for the past 2.75 years - and we're heading back to continue community development among farmers.
I just wanted to comment on some of your trip - for further explanation of how things work here.
The story about the guy being retained in the airport is almost surely a hoax. The same person has posted a similar story concerning another country. The people here can sometimes be suspicious thinking you are CIA or something, but not to the point the man described in his post. We know the lead policeman at the airport and he'd never let something like that happen (and he speaks English fluently). Glad you had a good experience there too.
In regards to giving money to locals, I'm not going to say you were right or wrong. Just make sure you are being culturally appropriate. After living there for 2 years, we've learned the whens, hows, etc. of the culture. These people are so hospitable, friendly, ingenious, and amazing, so we don't want to in any way corrupt that.
If you want a nicer hotel with all the amenities, etc., you can't go wrong with the Itsandra Hotel. Warning: it's VERY expensive. They have a "private" beach, a nice restaurant, small playground for kids, opportunities for seadooing, boat riding, and much more.
As for crime, you are right. I comment on that a lot - about how little violent crime there is there. It's amazing! However, theft is common and there actually is a "jail" (not one you'd ever want to stay in :) ). I've yet to hear of a thief getting their hand cut off lately, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. That's the law for Islam, but rarely put into practice there. A thief may get beaten and put in prison, however - that happens only if they get caught or for honor. Pickpockets exist, but not like so many other countries in Eastern Africa. Crime truly is very low there. The only time you really see violence is at a soccer match! So I agree. You are safer in Comoros than in any other country we've been in. We've been in Eastern African countries, Southeast Asian countries, Western European countries, and North American countries and never felt safer than in Comoros. Glad you concur!
By the way, a tourist office for Comoros located close to the Chamber of Commerce and Customs (across from the soccer field) opened up this year. We haven't had time to check it out, but you may want to check it out. I believe the Chinese built it (just like the new airport you flew into - should have seen the old one we flew into back in 2007 when we came for a 2 month visit!).
Came back again to see Karthala, black parrots, Jurassic Park views on the island of Moheli, the largest bats in the world (getting up to 2 meter wingspans), black volcanic beaches, and much more. It's a BEAUTIFUL place. If the infrastructure there existed, it would be a tourist trap. For the sake of the culture's beauty and the environment, I hope it doesn't become too much of a trap. ;)
Nov 9, 2012 7:21 PM
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