How much of Africa do you really know and what defines your perception of this continent?
When I think about this magnificent root of human race, I can only marvel at nature’s gifts that dot its every corner and the products of human hands which leave one in agape.
On the Indian sea off the eastern coast of Africa, along a northwest-southeast axis at the north end of the Mozambique Channel, between Mozambique and the Island of Madagascar is one of such African wonders and nature’s gift; welcome to the Islands of Comoros! I love to be the Marco Polo of my time, so if you know so little about Africa and in fact about these Island, join me on this insightful Islands’ tour.
The Islands of Comoros is one of the least known destinations in Africa. The name is drawn from an Arab word, Qamar, meaning “moon”, this is why Comoros is often called the “Islands of the moon.” Comoros is Africa’s third smallest nation, mainly an archipelago of volcanic islands made up of four major islands: northwesternmost Grande Comore (Ngazidja); Mohéli (Mwali); Anjouan (Nzwani); and the contested southeasternmost Mayotte (Maore) which is still under French’s control.
If you use perfume and love ice cream, I bet you have probably made a contact with these Islands without knowing it. Also known as the Perfumed Islands, Comoros Islands are the world’s number one producer of the Ylang-Ylang essence, an essential ingredient in perfumes and the world’s second largest producer of Vanilla.
Getting to these Islands should not cost a lot of stress, if you do not find the Islands’ embassy in your home country to get a visa, do not worry. There is provision for visa on arrival on the Islands and this should serve you for 45 days. It costs about $30.
Getting a straight flight might also be a challenge; the easy way around it is by flying into Madagascar first before connecting the Islands. If you travel with Air Austral or Air Madagascar (the latter had suspended it service once), your stop at Prince Said Ibrahim airport on Grande Comore will officially announced to you that you have arrived on the Islands of Comoros.
The Islands are predominantly Muslim, though being a nation formed at a crossroads of many civilizations makes it notable for its diverse culture and history.
Blissful 20 to 30°C temperature defines Comoros’ tropical charm, with palms swinging in breeze almost all year round.
For every first time visitors or tourists, the islands’ volcanoes and turquoise waters are the main highlights of its attraction. Since almost everyone coming to Comoros Islands often arrive at the Grande Comore, it may as well be wise to kick off a tour of the Islands here.
Grand Comore hosts the islands’ capital, Moroni. It is the largest and most diverse of the islands; and the site of the largest active volcano in the world—the Karthala volcano, which has a lofty summit of 2360m that seems to be lost in equatorial clouds. Tourists often go on a two-day trek at Mt. Karthala, going through the thick forest to reach the lunar landscapes of the crater.
Up from Moroni towards the east coast, you will see two huge trails of volcanic rocks snaking down the slopes, souvenirs of past lava flows.
Close to these black rocks is the gorgeous beach of Chomoni, it is one of the many nice beaches you will see as you tour this Island. You will also see lavas, palm trees swinging their branches, great baobabs, and moody skies.
Ensure you get to the Dos du Dragon (Dragon’s Back) where a series of rock formations looking uncannily like the imaginary spikes on a dragon’s back will leave you gasping. It would be great if you scaled the Dos du Dragon itself, it is an easy walk from the roadside.
So much around town, it is time to concentrate on the Island’s capital, Maroni. The capital’s name is linked to Mt. Karthala’s volcanic activities. In Comorian, Moroni means “in the heart of fire.” The city’s old town (medina) is a narrow street lined with ancient buildings having old Swahili doors. This is where I wandered about the most on my first days, chatting with locals and sometimes playing dominoes or bao—a game played using board carved with 32 holes.
The most impressive structure along the waterfront is the Ancienne Mosquee du Vendredi. It is a two-storey building with elegant colonnades and a square minaret that was originally constructed in 1427. There is a new mosque next to the port too.
Moheli is where the only National Park is located. This is the smallest and most interesting of the Islands. Essentially a backwater compared to the other Islands, Moheli is relatively clean and natural. It is where you go to leave the planet for a while—as it is less populated except with donkeys. Snorkeling amid the colourful coral reef and exploring the dramatic craggy islet off Moheli’s golden shores won’t be a bad idea. Fans of sea turtles and marine mammals such as dolphins and whales will also love this Island.
At Dziani Boundouni, bird-watchers will have a full day fulfilling their dreams. Aside from the birds, rare mongoose lemur can also be sighted here.
Anjouan is the most populated of the Island. It is a beautiful place, perfect for hiking and exploration. Moya is one of the interesting places on this Island. It is a village overlooking a beautiful white beach. The beach is perfect for swimming, rock scrambling and passable snorkeling when the sea is calm. Domoni, the original capital of Anjouan, is another interesting sight. This is where you have a large population of the island’s craftspeople and shops for beautiful works including fine woodcarvings.
There is so much more to this Island than one can say or write about. Reduced to a few words, one will say the Comoros Island is the right Ecotourism destination. Nevertheless, your judgement will best be made if you visit this island. Why not make it your next holiday spot and share your experience with other tourists here?
Usifo Mike-Alvin is a creative writer with a knack for budget traveling and adventure. He travels across Africa and reports for www.afrotourism.com