You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Comoros. The country, a tiny group of islands off Africa’s eastern coast, between Mozambique and Madagascar, has a small population and a turbulent history. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the archipelago was a pirate haven, thanks to its remoteness and easy access to spice-trade sailing routes in the Indian Ocean. Then, following independence from France in 1975, the country gained the dubious distinction of “coup capital of the world,” with 30 such attempts in roughly three decades. Which understandably kept tourists (and development money) away.
These days, though, the islands are peaceful, blending Indian Ocean waters with warm Arab and African hospitality and a hint of French flair. The result is a relaxed culture set in an archipelago full of clear water, with empty beaches and volcanic peaks perfumed by clove, vanilla, and ylang-ylang, a tree now trendy in aromatherapy.
The least-developed of Comoros’ four islands is Mohéli. At just 112 square miles, Mohéli is home to a scattering of traditional villages that fully embrace the few tourists ambitious enough to come. (You must first fly to the capital, Moroni, then take a boat across a 10-mile strait.) The island’s crown jewel is its namesake national marine park, a 155-square-mile refuge, home to reef sharks, giant manta rays, dugongs (cousins of the manatee), and the legendary coelacanth, a critically endangered, 400-million-year-old fish that was thought to be extinct until it was discovered here in 1938. You can spend your days exploring the park’s beaches and rugged islands by kayak or outrigger canoe, or diving pristine reefs. On land, there’s a jungle hike to Boudouni Lake, a small, sulphurous body of water formed in an ancient volcanic crater, and bird-watchers can hunt for a glimpse of the endemic blue vanga or giant Livingstone’s fruit bat, which has a wingspan of up to four feet.
You won’t find nightclubs, shopping, or all the other tourist trappings. (The best place to stay is the 15-room Mohéli Laka Lodge.) What you will find is a beach destination that’s unlike any other.
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