The Comores archipelago lies at the entrance to the Mozambique Channel, some 300 miles north of the tip of Madagascar and about the same distance from the East African coast. Geographically, the Comores comprise four islands: Grande Comore, Anjouan, Moheli and Mayotte. Politically, the first three are part of the Federal and Islamic Republic of the Comoros having declared their independence from France in 1975, while Mayotte chose to remain French as a Collectivité Territoriale. This allows the Mahorais to enjoy a legal minimum wage established by France, which is six times the average wage of that of the independent Comoros, as well as surfaced roads, schools and a program to control malaria. Still, Mayotte remains very much a colonial backwater. A detachment of the French Foreign Legion is permanently based at the rocky fortress of Dzaoudzi, Mayotte's military and administrative center located across the channel.
Sea horse-shaped Mayotte is the oldest and most southerly of the Comoros. It is split into Grande Terre, the large central island, and the tiny islet of Pamandzi where the airport is located. Mamoudzou on Grande Terre is the island's only town and the major port. A ferry service connects Mamoudzou with Dzaoudzi, the latter of which is sometimes referred to as France's "Rock of Gibraltar." Less mountainous than the three other Comoros islands, agriculture is the basis of the local economy in Mayotte. Ylang-ylang plants cover one third of the arable land. Other crops grown for the domestic market include rice, maize, manioc (cassava), sweet potatoes, bananas and citrus fruits. Tourism is still only a minor component of the local economy. Travelers who have discovered this remote and tropical hideaway will experience a laid-back lifestyle, unspoiled natural beauty and deserted beaches for swimming, snorkeling and diving.
The ship is scheduled to anchor. Guests will be taken ashore via the ship's tenders to Mamoudzou on Grande Terre island. The town center is a short walk from the pier and can be easily explored. A variety of vehicles is usually available for taxi services if you wish to venture inland or to one of the beaches. Many are converted small pick-ups with benches in the back. There are few cars with air conditioning.
Take a stroll into the animated little town. It has a market offering an astonishing variety of wares, from fruit and vegetables to everyday utensils, fabrics and handicrafts. A few shops carry French imports, but they are very costly. The local currency is the euro.
Restaurants are geared towards French tastes, serving omelettes, seafood and meat dishes. There is very little in the way of typical local dishes. Baguettes are sold everywhere, in the town's bakeries and from road stands in the countryside.
The beach closest to Mamoudzou is 10 miles away at Trevani. Other beaches are located farther north or in the distant southern part of the island. N'Goudja on the southwest tip of the island is said to feature Mayotte's best beach for snorkeling and diving. Just north of the beach is Mount Choungui, an extinct volcano.
Private arrangements for independent sightseeing may be requested through the Tour Office on board, but are subject to the availability of vehicles and guides and require advance notice.