When I decided to visit the Comoros, naturally, I started trying to research as much as I could about the country. I shouldn’t really have been surprised, but the amount of information for travellers available is really very minimal. So, as an effort to help any other travellers who are researching a trip to the Comoros, here are 17 things that you absolutely need to know before visiting!
It’s impossible to get lost
Google Maps has barely touched down on Comoros and as a result, many streets don’t even appear to exist on a map, however, you’ll never get lost. There is literally just one main road on the main island of Moroni that circles the entire island, which makes exploring pretty damn easy. Also, if you are ever in a pinch, just seek out the help of a local – they will always do their best to help you get where you need to be!
Infrastructure is pretty appalling
If you have travelled through South and Eastern Africa, you kinda get used to infrastructure not being quite as developed as what you’d be used to back home, but the Comoros is seriously lacking. Roads on Moheli can barely be called roads, instead being made up of enormous potholes. Rolling blackouts are so common that the power is out more than it is on. Hotels, restaurants and taxis are few and far between, ATMs seem to be perpetually out of order and the airports are some of the worst I’ve ever seen.
This complete and utter lack of infrastructure can prove frustrating at times, but in the end, it isn’t the end of the world, and things will usually work out in the end.
It is more expensive than mainland Africa
Because hotels, guesthouses and restaurants are so far and few between, those that do exist are almost always totally overpriced for what they are. If you have been travelling through other parts of Africa for $30/day, it is still possible in the Comoros, but you’ll find yourself roughing it far more than you would elsewhere.
Internet access is surprisingly good
With infrastructure on the whole being pretty awful, the quality of internet access was a huge surprise. We purchased a sim card from Telma for around €20 and were rewarded with 20GB of data which was almost always covered by 4G – not bad! If you are going to be in Comoros for more than a few days it is definitely worth getting a sim card, as the free wifi provided by hotels is usually frustratingly slow.
You’ll need a visa
I really struggled to find any information about visas for Comoros online. Luckily, our AirBnB host in Moroni was able to let us know what the fees would be ahead of time, if he hadn’t done so I would have not made a point to obtain some Euros and we would have ended up a little stuck!
Basically, a tourist visa will set you back €30 and you’ll need to pay in cash on arrival, there are no credit card facilities and no ATMs within the arrivals hall.
Euros aren’t the official currency, but they are accepted everywhere
The offical currency is the Comorian Franc, but the Euro is accepted basically everywhere, and these two currencies keep a sort of permanent exchange rate, much like the relationship between the US Dollar and the Tanzanian Shilling.
For example, €4 is equal to 2,000 francs. As a general rule of thumb, whatever the number is in Euros, half it and add three zeros.
People speak French and Comorian, very few speak English
I will admit, not speaking French definitely impacted the ease with which we were able to travel. Most Comorian people can speak fluent Comorian and varying levels of French. The majority speak little (if any) English. This did complicate things on several occasions, and if it weren’t for a wonderful Comorian guy who had lived in New York and spoke English, I would have had no way to prevent our plane from leaving without Dan.
Said airport issue is a whole story in and of itself! Keep your eyes peeled for my 2018 Travel Highs + Lows post to learn exactly why our plane tried to leave without him.
Crime is basically non-existent
Despite widespread poverty, crime just isn’t an issue in the Comoros. People in this island nation are pretty content with their lives as is, which means that you can afford to be more relaxed here than you would in other parts of Africa. Walking around at night is totally safe, your biggest concern would be trying to avoid all the potholes! I also routinely left all my valuable electronics (Macbook, drone, camera gear) sitting in plain sight in our beach bungalow and I never once worried that they’d be stolen.
It has the 6th lowest number of annual visitors for tourism in the world
With such low numbers of foreign visitors, the total lack of infrastructure starts to make sense! Despite this making travel a bit more complicated, it does mean that when you travel to the Comoros you will most certainly find yourself off the beaten track; and in the modern day with such obvious signs of excessive tourism in many places around the world, such remoteness is worth its weight in gold.
Expect lots and lots of seafood
With Comoros being an island nation, it makes sense that seafood is the cuisine of choice here! Even if you aren’t a lover of seafood, it is certainly worth embracing, as the fish you get here is certain to be some of the freshest that you’ll ever eat.
Humpback whales visit annually to give birth and raise their babies
During the months of August to October, a few hundred humpies flock to the waters around Moheli to raise their young. This was definitely a draw card for me, but after swimming with whales in Tonga, I must admit that for many reasons, Tonga was a far superior experience. However, if you find yourself in Africa (or if Tonga is simply too remote to get to) then it is definitely worth making the trip to Comoros for.
The scuba diving is truly world class
Most of the foreigners we encountered in Comoros were there to dive, and after doing our PADI Open Water course in Moheli, it really isn’t hard to see why. Though Mombasa is one of the most popular diving spots in East Africa, I have heard multiple times from experienced divers that Comoros is even better!
The country owns a grand total of four aeroplanes
…and these can be commandeered by any time by the Comorian military, which is something that we found out firsthand! Basically, when flying in the Comoros, be prepared that cancelled and delayed flights are far from uncommon, and it pays to give yourself the buffer of any extra day on the mainland of Moroni to ensure that you can make your international flight.
The UV rating is through the roof
I literally spent ten minutes in the sun without reapplying sunscreen after emerging from a dive (not an exaggeration, ten minutes is a generous estimation) and ended up looking like the saddest lobster you’ve ever seen! It is now two months later and I still have the tan lines to prove it!
The UV factor is incredibly high in Comoros and the ozone layer is very thin above this country, so you’ll have very little protection. Also, buying sunscreen is borderline impossible once in the country, so make sure that you bring a plentiful supply of (at least) SPF 50+ sunscreen, and make sure you are diligent about reapplying.
Poverty is widespread
Comoros is one of the slowest developing and poorest nations on the planet, with the majority of Comorians living well below the poverty line. However, despite this poverty, Comoros has a much higher life expectancy than many other African nations, and people seem very happy.
The country is primarily Islamic
…and has many customs and values associated with Islam.
You’ll find many women covering their hair in Comoros, and if you venture to public beaches (as a female) you will definitely need to cover up. It is also polite to cover your shoulders and not flaunt excessive amounts of skin in public, and it goes without saying that if you choose to visit a mosque you will need to don a headscarf.
Comorian people are some of the nicest that you’ll ever meet
Despite the country having many flaws and high rates of poverty, Comorian people are just so unendingly friendly. They will always be on hand to help you if you need it, and even if you speak different languages, people will still be willing to help. I have travelled to a great many countries now, and I really believe that Comorian people are some of the most genuinely nice people that I’ve ever met.
If you travel to Comoros, you’ll likely do so for the whales or the diving, but I can guarantee that it will instead be the people who leave a lasting impression.