Mayotte

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Introduction to Mayotte

The Comoros islands are wrapped in a fragrant blend of ylang-ylang oil, Arabic aesthetics, African warmth and French chic. Not only this, but they have a colourful history of sultans and soothsayers, plantation owners and eloping princesses.

There are cobblestoned medinas with higgledy-piggledy lanes and old world charm; ports bristling with white sailed dhows; tropical moons rising over white beaches and the sun setting over the ocean in a riot of reds and oranges worthy of a Fauve.

But despite all these charms Comoros and Mayotte remain the least frequented and least travelled of all the islands in the region. This may have something to do with the islands' reputation as a backwater, or it just might have something to do with the political coups, civilian riots and secessionist plots that come and go with seasonal punctuality. Not for nothing has Comoros been nicknamed Coup-Coup Land.

Full country name: Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros; Territorial Collectivity of Mayotte

Area: 2,605 sq km

Population: 811,385

Capital City: Moroni

People: Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, Sakalava

Language: Arabic, French,

Religion: Sunni Muslim (86%), Roman Catholic (14%) (Comoros); Muslim (99%), Roman Catholic (1%) (Mayotte)

Government: independent republic (Comoros); Territorial Collectivity of France (Mayotte)

GDP: US$400 million

GDP per capita: US$650

Annual Growth: 3.5%

Inflation: 2.5%

Major Industries: tourism, perfume distillation, vanilla, cloves

Major Trading Partners: EU, USA, South Africa, Kenya

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Traveler Facts

Visas: A visa is required for all visitors to Comoros. You must have onward plane tickets. Thirty-day visas can be obtained upon arrival, but can only be paid for in euros, and there are no money-changing facilities at the airport. Nationals of countries that need a visa to enter France will require a visa for Mayotte. Except for a handful of non-EU European countries, everyone else must have a visa.

Health risks: malaria

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +3

Dialling Code: 269

Electricity: 220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Most of the events on Comoros are connected to Islamic holy days. Ramadan, the traditional period of fasting for the Islamic world, differs from year to year. Id-ul-Fitr which marks the new moon, and signals the end of Ramadan, is also a time of celebration. Mayotte celebrates both Muslim holidays and the European holidays of Bastille Day, on 14 July, and Christmas Day.

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Best time to Visit

The wet season between November and April is not a particularly healthy time to visit Comoros. If you don't die from dehydration or sheer frustration at the oppressively humid conditions, you might find yourself caught in a monsoonal wind (kashkazi), or cyclone. The best time to visit is in the cooler months between May and October. This also avoids Ramadan at the end of January/beginning of February, when the collective Comoran temper can suffer from the double whammy of continual fasting and oppressive heat.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Comoran franc in Comoros, euro in Mayotte

Meals

Budget: CF in Comoros, € in Mayotte4-8

Mid-range: CF in Comoros, € in Mayotte8-16

High: CF in Comoros, € in Mayotte16-25

Deluxe: CF in Comoros, € in Mayotte25+

Lodging

Budget: CF in Comoros, € in Mayotte8-20

Mid-range: CF in Comoros, € in Mayotte20-60

High: CF in Comoros, € in Mayotte60-80

Deluxe: CF in Comoros, € in Mayotte80+

These figures apply to Comoros. Mayotte is considerably more expensive, with the cheapest accommodation starting at US$60 a day, and snack-type meals beginning at about US$4. The tourist industry on Comoros is woefully underdeveloped, and the Comoran franc is still hogtied to the euro. This makes basic accommodation both overpriced and underwhelming, and the islands one of the more expensive destinations in the region. If you can camp, or find a modest pension, and are willing to exist on pastries and cheap Comoran food from the local cafes, you can get by on as little as US$25 a day. Staying at self-contained bungalows and dining on European dishes in restaurants will set you back about US$70 a day. If you go the whole paradise enchilada and stay at the boutique resorts with swimming pools, casinos, private beaches, dining rooms and lah-di-dah service, you'll be looking at upwards of US$350 per day.

The Banque Internationale des Comores (BIC) is an efficient bank that exchanges all currencies, but the best currency to carry around and exchange is the euro. There are several branches of the BIC in both Moroni and Mutsamudu, but the only bank on Mohéli is the bank-in-a-satchel, which flies in and out of the island every second Monday. Don't get caught there without cash because it might be a long time between withdrawals. Except in upmarket hotels and restaurants that exchange money at vastly inflated rates, credit cards are next to useless.

In Mayotte, money can be changed at the Banque Française Commerciale Océan Indien in Mamoudzou or Dzaoudzi. The more upmarket restaurants, and most hotels, travel agencies and car hire firms accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Diners Club credit cards. If you have the right kind of card, you can even withdraw money from an automatic teller machine. And you'll need plenty of it if staying in Mayotte for any length of time.

Bargaining is something of a tradition in Comoros (less so on Mayotte), and the idea of a fixed price is as strange as a three dollar note, but there is an etiquette that goes with the bargaining. The process should be unhurried and conducted in a spirit of mutual admiration for your opponent's bargaining prowess. Hostile or agitated offers will only increase the price of the item. Tipping is not the norm except in the more Frenchified environs of Mayotte, but tipping staff for good service is appreciated.

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Attractions

Anjouan (Ndzuani)

Anjouan is a poster child of the Indian Ocean. With its forests and rivers tumbling down to the ocean and fields of exotic essential oils - ylang-ylang, jasmine, basilic, palmarosa and orange flower - scattered throughout the island it really could be an advertisement for tropical island living.

In reality though it retains a typical island lifestyle Anjouan is the most densely populated of all the islands, and is effected by deforestation and soil erosion. As one Peace Corps volunteer put it, 'If you don't remember what you had for breakfast, just ask anyone on the street'.

Grande Comore (Ngazidja)

As well as being home to the capital Moroni, (or Port-aux-Boutres), Grande Comore is studded with grassy plains, the remnants of a rainforest, and Mt Karthala, an active volcano still belching and burping away. Palm trees, beaches of black lava or white sand, and young coral reefs fringe its shores.

The west coast of the island is lined with chi-chi resorts where suites and casinos, ambient bars and Frenchified restaurants are the go. The coastline on the east side of Grande Comore is wilder and more untamed than on the west. A camping trip round the east coast is always a good idea.

Mayotte

Mayotte remains a French territory. Although Mahorais seem quite happy to enjoy the financial and political advantages being French affords, Mayotte is not just a petite French, it's petite, petite, and if you scratch the surface of a Mahorais you'll find more Comoran than French underneath.

Mayotte consists of three islands: the largest, with the capital city of Mamoudzou, is Grande Terre; Pamandzi, or Petit Terre, is far smaller than the big island. The smallest, the rock of Dzaoudzi, is little more than a poor man's Rock of Gibraltar connected to Petit Terre by a highway.

Mitsoudjé

Mitsoudjé is a good place to pick up those unique hand-carved bargains that you cannot get at the supermarket back home. The town produces decorative doors, shutters, boxes and furnishings, but you can also pick up smaller items such as candleholders and small plaques.

Mohéli (Mwali)

Mohéli is the smallest, wildest and least visited of all the Comorian Islands, and the hardest to get around. Even the interior rainforests, white beaches, and blissed out solitude don't make up for what Mohélians perceive as a lack of industry, consumer goods, development and government attention.

The capital of Mohéli is Fomboni but it's more a sleepy backwater than a bustling metropolis. Nothing much happens in the city and foreigners are still rare enough to elicit curious attention and cries of mzungu (the Comoran word for a European or light-skinned visitor).

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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