As Seen in…
Places to visit in Comoros and on our Comoros tours
Why visit Comoros?
Situated to the north-west of Madagascar, these unobtrusive pearls of the Indian Ocean are relative newcomers on any traveller’s agenda. Taken from the Arabic word for ‘moon’, the Comoros Islands cover a mere 1,600 km² and three of the four landmasses that make up the archipelago are an independent nation, formed from ancient volcanic action.
Locals may disagree, relating that mythology here teaches that a passing spirit dropped a jewel into the sea and the raging inferno that ensued raised the islands. Indeed, even today Mount Karthala on Grand Comore is classified as active. The pleasant tropical climate probably first attracted visitors in the 6th century A.D. as Austronesians from south-east Asia came by boat and began to settle. This was hugely bolstered by the Bantu expansions of the first millennia which brought many more to these shores. By the 11th century, a central village was established on each island and trading with Madagascar and Arab sailors grew, hence many on Comoros claim ancestry from the Yememi people.
The origins of Islam’s success in the country are equally wrapped in layers of truth: local mythology speaks of an emissary sent to Mecca who, upon finding the Prophet Mohammed had died, returned resolved to convert the islanders; more likely is that the faith came from traders who plied routes from Arabia to Zambia exchanging silks and spices for gold. By the arrival of the Portuguese in 1503 the trade had transformed into slave based wealth.
By the 1790s the dominant power of Madagascar was raiding for slaves across the archipelago and in 1865 censuses recorded a sobering 40% of the islanders as enslaved. Full colonialization came in 1841 with landings initially on Mayotte: following negotiations with Madagascar, the remaining islands were ceded to the French and the Comoros played a key role as a trading post for vessels that came round the Cape to and from India, adding to their wealth as they themselves sold on the ylang-ylang, vanilla, sisal, coffee and cocoa from the plantations they established. French administration from Madagascar followed until the complexities of Independence referenda on all 4 islands which left Mayotte in French hands and the remainder of the region as self-governing and unified. Today’s 832,000 population still is largely agriculture and fishing based, with significant export of spices, though the notion of tourism is firmly on future agendas. Comoros has made great steps towards environmental protection, seen in the National Marine Park at Mahéli which protects sea turtles who lay eggs on the Itsamia beaches, dugongs and the precious coral reefs.
Yet the trickle of visitors is still small: to anyone who has gazed down at the ‘bottomless’ cobalt core of Grand Comoré’s Lac Salé where trees tumble down near vertical slopes against the backdrop of the encircling ocean’s sultry swell, or who has snorkelled amidst breaching humpback whales, passing through from their Antarctic feeding ground, or who has watched the disc of vermillion sun dip into burnished bronze seas from the fortress above Mutsamudu, igniting the peeping minarets in golden light, the reasons are utterly baffling.