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krisek Moroni - A travel report by Krys
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Moroni,  Comoros - flag Comoros -  Grande Comore
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krisek's travel reports

Comoros\' great little capital city. Moroni.

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Moroni, Comoros\' capital situated on the Grande Comore island may seem to be a bit run down, but it has a great potential to be one of more picturesque capital cities of the Indian Ocean.


Old harbour in Moroni
Old harbour in Moroni
Moroni's tourist infrastructure is seriously underdeveloped. And it does seem that welcoming visitors from around the world is not the authorities' main priority. The cost of visa, however was reduced from $100 to $50 when I visited and it was given on arrival at the Moroni airport. The town could do with a proper clean up, and the population could learn about not throwing rubbish in the streets, all possible type, size and smell. Particularly the plastic bags and baby nappies that always found their way to the ocean threatening the marine life.

Moroni was about 20 kilometres south from its main international airport. It was a relatively small city, but the borders between Moroni proper and the adjacent villages were hard to spot, so the entire agglomeration was larger than the paperwork would have suggested.

The main focal point of the city were the new harbour and the old harbour. THe new harbour was fully operational. Both cargo boats and passenger boats had their terminals there. Passenger boats were connecting Moroni with the two other Comorian islands and Mayotte. The old harbour was disused as two large shipwrecks blocked the entry. Only small fishing boats could squeeze in. The old harbour was flanked with a white and very photogenic mosque - Mosque de Venredi (the Friday Mosque).

Both harbours were in the lower town, where the old district was located. The upper town climbing on the hill in the easterly direction was where the main market called Volovolo was placed, main financial institutions (there was a large square called Le Parc, where a number of banks had their seats), most of which had working ATMs that accepted international visa cards. The small market was just an alley that connected the upper town with the lower town.

Moroni had no beach. The nearest beach was in Itsandra about 6 kilometres north of the old harbour, and about 4 kilometres from the Volovolo Market.

Favourite spots:
Place Badjanani in Moroni
Place Badjanani in Moroni
The old harbour was my favourite spot in the city. It also had Moroni's main sight - the Friday Mosque. It was in a terrible state however. Disused and littered with large and rusting shipwrecks. There was only one angle possible to take a photograph avoiding those wrecks.

Place Badjanani, adjacent to the Friday Mosque and also another mosque dating back to 1700s, was probably the only pleasant place in the city. It was obvious that the authorities made an effort to make it look neat. The square proved rather popular with the elderly men, who lingered on it between the prayers.

What's really great:
Local eatery in a tent in Moroni
Local eatery in a tent in Moroni
The fact that Moroni still seemed relatively undiscovered by tourism was somewhat appealing. The old town had an Arabic style maze of narrow alleys wide enough only to fit a donkey with a load, although no prominent sights. The population was on the other hand the main quality. The Comorans were friendly and welcoming. It was safe to walk about anywhere at any time of day or night, and no trouble would find you. This was, reportedly, unlike on the Anjouan island, where there was trouble and tourists did have to be rather careful when moving on foot during the hours of darkness.

Sights:
Another mosque in Moroni near the old harbour
Another mosque in Moroni near the old harbour
Apart from the Mosque de Venredi (Friday Mosque), Moroni did not have sights to write about. Seriously! The old town was run down and apart from a handful of mosques dating back to 1700s and 1800s there was nothing to look at. Even the government and ministry buildings were awful and in terrible state of disrepair. The harbour was littered with shipwrecks, a clear evidence of insurance scams. In the past, Moroni was a seat of a powerful sultanate, yet nothing remains from those times, there is no palace, no courtyard, no garden... I thought that maybe Moroni would grow on me, as sometimes places like this do, but it did not. I struggled to enjoy walking around it trying to identify a point of interest. The city was indeed animated, it had a couple of lively markets, but it was no different that any other city of similar size in the region, mainland Africa included.

Accommodations:
Bungalow #306 at the Itsandra Cristal Beach Hotel
Bungalow #306 at the Itsandra Cristal Beach Hotel
I did not stay in Moroni, but a few miles north on the Itsandra Beach in the little town called Itsandra. The bungalow was actually rather nice. It was small, but clean and air-conditioned. It had a beach view right from the bed though a large window. And there was a small terrace with armchairs right in front offering the same view. The bedroom had a dark brown wooden floor, there was a small table at the window and dresser-come-desk above which a flat screen TV was hanging. The hotel also provided a small fridge, which came very handy for my bottle of punch coco, which I happily acquired at the airport in Reunion for the sole €7. The bathroom was tiny, perhaps 2 meters by 2 meters yet it had modern facilities including a glass shower cabin and light yellow terra-cotta tiles on the floor. A good selection of toiletries were provided, comb included. The hotel was expensive charging €140 per night. Visa cards were accepted.

Nightlife:
Itsandra beach at sunset
Itsandra beach at sunset
None. Well, almost none. There was no night time activity during the week. On Saturdays, and only on Saturdays, there was a discotheque in the centre of the upper town not far from the hospital. Its name now escapes me, but since it was the only one there you will find it no doubt. Hotel Cristal Itsandra Beach also had a little club called iBar. It was also open only on Saturdays and attracted only the richer ones, as the drinks were at least three times as expensive as anywhere else near the capital.

It was interesting to see (or rather not to see) that on weekdays, there was absolutely nothing happening. People did not even gather around to socialise, sip their soft drinks and watched football. It was definitely the only country in the region with such lack of nightlife.

Hangouts:
Itsandra beach
Itsandra beach
The beach was great. Soft and tiny sand and shallow water gradually letting one to submerge. The beach got increasingly animated as the sun approached the horizon. The boys, exclusively the boys, started to play football and the beach volleyball. The footballers were rubbish, but the volleyballers were excellent. The best thing about the Itsandra Beach was the Sim Sim Bar, right in the middle of it, offering cold drinks from a long list of cocktails, snacks and proper dishes from a comprehensive menu, including seafood (KMF4000 - KMF6500), meats, burgers, pizzas and pastas. The sunsets at the beach were the best. And the local community never failed to turn up with their activities. It was great that no-one managed to build a hotel right at the beach. It was all for the locals and it was clear that they loved it.

Restaurants:
Sim Sim Bar & Restaurant
Sim Sim Bar & Restaurant
In Moroni, I heard about the Fakhri Restaurant, supposedly west of the Volovolo Market, but I could not locate it, and none of the locals whom I asked knew it. I stumbled upon the Paradise des Iles Restaurant Bar & Bungalows. I spoke to the owner there and her chef, and asked if they did grilled lobster. They did and charged KMF4000 for it. So, I said that I was going to try it. And the little lobsters were great. The local lobsters were small, so I got three of them, and they were grilled to perfection. Overall, there was no menu, so one could just order anything and see if it was available. I ordered my dish a day ahead.

In Itsandra, at the Sim Sim Bar & Restaurant, I tried garlic king prawn (KMF4500) on the first day, which was not too bad. On the second day, I wanted to sample their grilled lobster (KMF6500) but it was not available, so I tried the local kari with prawns, which was rather disappointing. I am not sure what was wrong with it, but it just did not hit the spot with me.

Other recommendations:
Direct international connections out of Moroni airport as of September 2013.
Direct international connections out of Moroni airport as of September 2013.
Moroni was served by the Hahaia's Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport (HAH) located about 12 miles north. It was not the most connected capital of the Indian Ocean at all. Seven airlines served the airport: African Express Airways (Mombasa, Nairobi); Air Austral (Dzaoudzi, Saint-Denis de la Reunion); Air Madagascar (Antananarivo, Majunga); Air Tanzania (Dar es Salaam); Kenya Airways (Nairobi); Precision Air (Dar es Salaam) and Yemenia (Sana'a).

Due to the lack of competition, any flights into and out of Moroni were incredibly and ridiculously expensive. And one could forget about daily flights altogether. Although not entirely reliable there were a couple of local airlines (flyabaviation.com) that offered short hops between the islands and a few countries in the region incl. Botswana, Burundi, Dem. Rep. Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe. These were aimed mainly at business people and operated more like private charters.

Published on Friday August 30th, 2013


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