Country guides Africa
Halfway between Madagascar and Mozambique, off the east coast of Africa, lies Comoros. This volcanic archipelago of four islands (though technically Mayotte belongs to France) does not receive the same attention as its island neighbours, though it is not immediately apparent why. Picture-perfect beaches, turquoise waters hemmed in by coral reefs, fantastic sunsets, and air scented with the tropical perfume of vanilla, nutmeg and ylang-ylang are just some of the delights awaiting intrepid explorers.
A history of political instability has left the islands with one of the poorest and most undeveloped economies in the world, and since independence from France in 1975 the political atmosphere on the islands has been volatile, with something like 20 coups, but this instability seldom causes trouble for tourists.
Ngazidja (Grand Comore) is the largest and the most westerly island, dominated by a large active volcano, Mount Karthala. It is also home to the capital of the Comoros, Moroni, a charming town with narrow winding streets and several beautiful mosques. The sparsely populated island of Mwali (Moheli) is the smallest and least developed, with pristine tropical forests and secluded beaches. The most spectacular island is Nzwani (Anjouan), the archipelago's main producer of perfume essences including jasmine and ylang-ylang.
The end of maritime trade, together with the shrinking demand of its major exports such as essential oils and spices, has resulted in these 'Perfumed Isles' becoming the 'Forgotten Islands' of the Indian Ocean. However, the islands offer a fantastic holiday for those seeking a destination where nature and scenery hold the biggest appeal. There are also superb diving opportunities in an underwater wonderland of corals and fish, with a variety of animal and bird life unique to the islands.