Mayotte? What? Where? This was my first reaction when our tour operator, Chantelle Pearson, of Travel with Options invited Corlia & myself to join her on a site visit to Mayotte & Reunion. Where on earth is Mayotte? So off to Google. In short, this is what I found. Mayotte is the two southernmost islands in the Comoros group of islands but is a department of France and a full member of the EU. But the deeper you look, the more interesting it becomes.
Mayotte consists of the main island, Grande-Terre (or Maore), a smaller island, Petite-Terre (or Pamanzi), and several islets around these two. Mayotte is located in the northern Mozambique Channel between northwestern Madagascar and northeastern Mozambique.
Mayotte has an area of 374 square kilometres and has a population of just over 250,000 people. The biggest city (and capital) is Mamoudzou on Grande-Terre. However, the Dzaoudzi–Pamandzi International Airport is located on the neighbouring island of Petite-Te,rre.
Although Mayotte is now an integral part of France, the majority of the inhabitants do not speak French or do not master the language. The language of the majority is Shimaore, a Bantu language variety closely related to the varieties in the neighbouring Comoros islands. The second most widely spoken native language is Kibushi, a Malagasy language variety most closely related to the Sakalava dialect of Malagasy with influences from Shimaore. The vast majority of the population is Muslim.
The island was populated from neighbouring East Africa with the later arrival of Arabs, who brought Islam. A sultanate was established in 1500. In the 19th century, Mayotte was conquered by Andriantsoly, former king of Iboina on Madagascar, and later by the neighbouring islands Mohéli and then Anjouan before being purchased by France in 1841. The people of Mayotte voted to remain a part of France in the 1974 referendum on the independence of Comoros. Mayotte became an overseas department on 31 March 2011 and became an outermost region of the European Union on 1 January 2014, following a 2009 referendum with an overwhelming result in favour of the department status.
Mayotte is surrounded by a typical tropical coral reef. It consists in a large outer barrier reef, enclosing one of the world’s largest and deepest lagoons, followed by a fringing reef, interrupted by many mangroves. All Mayotte waters are a National Marine Park, and many places are wilderness reserves with no access allowed. Mayotte is of volcanic origin and is the oldest island in the Comoros group. Its highest point is Mount Benara, at 660 metres above sea level.
So after finding out all that information we couldn’t wait for the trip. We love exploring and experiencing new places. On examining our passports, we found that we had less than six months before expiry and so to Home Affairs we went. We had got our new ID cards about a year ago, and it was a really painless and extremely quick affair. Unfortunately, in the meantime, all people who receive grants have been told to get the new ID cards. We had to queue from 4:00 am to make the application queue. The process itself is quick, and ten days later we could collect. The collection queue is a bit quicker – we only had to queue from 05:30.
The next step was a visa. This entailed a trip to Durban and a wait of 2 hours in the Premier lounge with only two families before us (the ordinary lounge had a queue of about 40 people so no telling how long they waited). Once again we chose the busiest time of year to apply as the number of applications to rise from an average of 50 per day to over 200 per day with families applying to go on holiday in France in summer. Corlia’s passport was processed and returned to our doorstep within ten days. Mine was lost in the French Consulate in Johannesburg. With a lot of help from Helene Bezuidenhout of Atout France, we collected my passport in Johannesburg 2 days before departure.
So, at last, we were ready. The plan was a flight to Reunion (no direct flights to Mayotte), overnight in St.Denis and then fly to Mayotte the next day. Luggage and dive gear packed we met Chantelle at OR Tambo. Flight time was 14:10; We flew Premium Economy Class. What a pleasure this was. Loads of space in the seats.
And then the food – naturally with French champagne.
We were really spoiled on the plane, and the service was amazing. After a four flight, we landed at Roland Garros Airport just outside St Denis in Reunion at 20:00 (Reunion is 2 hours ahead of South Africa). A very efficient transfer by Connections DMC took us to Hotel Juliette Dodu. This is a really quaint old-fashioned hotel. Friendly staff and good food. We were welcomed with a choice of about fifteen different rums (rum production is a major industry in Reunion). The hotel has been beautifully restored.
With beautiful views of St Denis from the bedroom’s balcony.
Our flight to Dzaoudzi–Pamandzi International Airport on Mayotte was at 10:30 with an arrival time of 11:40 (Mayotte is one hour ahead of South Africa). We had a bit of a hiccup with our visas at check-in time. It would appear that these Mayotte specific visas had not been seen before. After a quick visit to the Gendarmerie, we were cleared through.
The next hiccup was security. Every single camera – underwater camera, housing, strobes, GoPro & SLR had to be removed from luggage and inspected. All chargers (about 12) had to be removed & examined. Laptop, cellphone, watch, belt & shoes finally got us through. Repacking everything took a while, but at last, we were ready to board.
After a 2 hour flight, we were picked up by Céline of Baobab Tours. A bubbly tour-guide she was soon telling us about the island and our itinerary for the next few days. A short drive over the causeway and we were at our hotel which overlooked the yacht harbour and ferry terminal from the main island.
The Hotel Le Rocher is currently being refurbished and is extremely comfortable. Beautiful views can be seen from the balcony.
The other advantage is that is a short walk to the jetty where we were to meet Daniel, the friendly owner of Nyamba Club for our afternoon dive. The aluminium boat is spacious and the extra heavy steel cylinders meant we didn’t have to dive with weights.
Daniel & the crew looked after us and although they don’t speak perfect English (and we speak almost no French) we managed to communicate well.
We dived a dive site on S-Passage – a 2km long 150metre wide S-shaped passage through the outer barrier reef. Depth varies from 4 metres to over 60 metres deep in the passage. We dived to the 35-metre dropoff and then multi-levelled up to 5 metres. At the shallower depths, there is an abundance of corals and smaller fish.
Back in the harbour, it was a short walk to the hotel. After a shower, we enjoyed drinks outside our rooms watching the amazing sunset over the harbour.
After a really good dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, we went to bed in anticipation of our dive the following morning. The plan was for us to dive and then be dropped off on Grand Terre. Céline was going to collect our bags, cross over with the ferry and meet us in Mamoudzou.
After a very early start (local mobile time is linked to Reunion – 2 hours ahead of SA time and Mayotte is actually 1 hour ahead of SA) we sat outside and waited for the kitchen to open. After a great breakfast, we walked to the harbour and met Daniel once again. The plan was to dive into the S-Passage again but at a different dive site.
The dive was shallow and we had an amazing time diving at about 8metres with dunes of white sand with small bommies all over. The bommies were covered in life and had many anemones with anemonefish in them.
After a great dive, we were dropped at the harbour and met Céline. We explored the waterfront and ended up in the local market. A multitude of colours awaited us. Bright clothing everywhere and an amazing fresh fruit and vegetable market. Unfortunately, due to the fast of Ramadan none of the local food shops were open at the market.
After refreshments on the waterfront, we were ready to start exploring the different hotel options on the island. We loaded all our baggage into Céline’s car and set off.
Essentially the main roads in Mayotte run all along the coastline. There are 3 roads that cut across the island joining the coastal road. The roads are quite narrow and due to the volcanic origin of the island lots of natural hills and valleys.
There is almost always a view of the ocean and in some places these views are spectacular. This shape of the island leads to winding roads that have very rich vegetation growing right up to the roads. Thick stands of bamboos, huge trees, naturally occurring cinnamon trees and surprisingly – lots of baobabs.
This is the amazing sight that greeted us at the entrance to the Sakouli Hotel. Baobab trees on the beach in amongst the other thick vegetation.
Sakouli Hotel stands high above the beach and has an African theme
The view from the restaurant is amazing.
The chalets are beautiful and spacious.
Set in amongst a beautiful garden they all have amazing views of the ocean.
For more information see https://www.travel2mayotte.co.za/hotel/sakouli-hotel/
After saying our goodbyes to the staff at the Sakouli Hotel it is just a short drive (or walk along the beach) to get to O’Lolo Hotel.
This beautiful hotel is set just above the beach behind the baobab trees. Designed and built by the owner it has simple but beautiful décor and is built completely from wood.
The rooms are spacious and have every amenity.
The restaurant is amazing and has many little alcoves above the beach looking out to sea catering for different sized groups. The food and service is excellent.
For more information see https://www.travel2mayotte.co.za/hotel/o-lolo-beach-resort/
After our fantastic lunch, we walked along the beach to the Jolly Roger dive centre. This is located between Sakouli Hotel and O’Lolo Hotel. Phillippe runs a marine orientated dive centre and was busy with a program he runs for local schoolchildren teaching them about ocean conservation. Unfortunately, our plans did not include a dive with him.
Celine loaded us up and we set off for our destination for the next 4 days – the Jardin Maore Hotel. On the way, we stopped for a beautiful view of the ocean.
The hotel is located on the beach amongst palm trees, huge pine trees and amazing baobab trees. The accommodation is large and open with a view of the ocean between the trees. Each chalet is named after a tree.
The restaurant is situated on the beach and serves a buffet continental breakfast and a la carte lunch and dinner menu.
Regular visitors to the chalets are the Common Brown Lemurs – also called Makis by the local people.
Next morning after breakfast we took a short walk to the dive centre and kitted up for our dive. After loading the boat we set off for the dive site. After an hours ride, we were ready to dive.
The sea was quite rough due to the wind that had been blowing all night and was still blowing. Once under the water the rough sea was forgotten.
Big drop offs with schools of fish in the open water then led to shallower sections full of fish. An hour went past too quickly and we were picked up by the boat and then returned to the hotel.
Walking along the beach was amazing with the huge baobabs that must be over a hundred years old.
The next day we decided not to dive due to the wind. So after lazing around for a few hours we decided to walk to the closest town Kani Keli. According to the map it should be about 2 kilometres. We set off and immediately had a steep climb from the hotel up to the road. The road meandered around the hills and gave us amazing sea views. After half an hour we realised that the town was not 2 kilometres away.
There are no taxis in this area of Mayotte and no-one offered us a lift. The gendarmie stopped and asked us if we were OK. We asked how far and they said they think about another 5 kilometres. We then asked for a lift but were told they were not allowed to take passengers. We carried on walking and soon saw our destination. It seemed to take forever but eventually, we were there.
After doing some shopping we managed to find a local who was prepared to give us a lift back to the hotel for €10. We were extremely relieved that we did not have to walk back to the hotel. Once back home we sat on our deck, looked at the ocean and had some ice cold beers and wine.
The next morning we were picked up by Baobab Tours to explore the highlands. Once off the main road the road became narrower and narrower and the vegetation got thicker and thicker. The road climbs steeply from the coast and the air gets cooler.
Our guide stopped in a shady area and we all got out. He then showed us a plantation of cinnamon trees.
We were surprised when he showed us how the bark gets peeled and then dried.
The surrounding vegetation is extremely green and hangs over the road.
We then drove off to the Ylang Ylang plantations. The trees have been cut to ensure easy access to the flowers.
The flowers are small and are harvested to make Ylang Ylang oil. Fifty kilograms of flowers are required to make one litre of oil. The flowers are distilled quickly to make the oil.
Our guide then showed us a Jackfruit tree which was close to the distillery. We never realised that the fruit grew from the trunk of the tree.
After the interesting visit to the plantations we were off to the Relais Forestier Guesthouse. Up and up we drove. The trees got bigger and bigger and eventually we arrived at the guesthouse with amazing views of the ocean.
The cosy chalets are hidden in beautiful gardens. This guesthouse is a must for birders, hikers and 4X4 enthusiasts.
After our visit we were off to the closest town of Coconi for a late lunch. The restaurant was packed with locals which is always a good sign. The Creperie le tour du Monde served great food at good prices.
After a long day of exploring we sat and watched the sunset. This was to be our last night at the Jardin Maore Hotel.
See https://www.travel2mayotte.co.za/hotel/le-jardin-maore-ecolodge/ for more information.
The next day we were picked up by Celine from Baobab Tours and taken to the airport for our flight to Reunion. It was with sadness that we said goodbye to Celine and the beautiful islands of Mayotte.
Arriving in St.Denis after dark and self-driving to the Lux Hotel in St.Gilles proved to be challenging. Directions from the locals with no English and us with no French eventually found us at the hotel. This hotel is the ultimate in luxury and the staff immediately made us welcome. Huge rooms, huge beds, warm showers and air-conditioned rooms make for a comfortable stay.
The food was excellent. With such a huge buffet for each meal, the choices became extremely difficult.
For more information on this hotel see https://travel2reunion.co.za/2017/12/23/5-lux-saint-gilles/
So the next day it was off to St. Leu to do a dive with Romain from L’ Excelsus Dive centre. The dive centre is situated up on a hill overlooking the ocean. Very well organised and extremely friendly. Their regular customers were very interested in where we came from and we chatted diving and drank coffee while kitting up.
After loading the vehicle we all followed down to St. Leu harbour, loaded the boat and set off for our dive.
While we were travelling to the dive site we were briefed by Romain.
After a short boat ride, we started our dive. As we had been told there was quite a bit of coral damage from the huge cyclones they had had earlier in the year. All in all a very pleasant dive with lots of fish on top of the reefs. The reefs are a series of ridges and valleys that were obviously originally formed by lava flows. This makes for very interesting topography during the dive.
It was a short boat ride back to the harbour where we unloaded the gear and drove back to the dive centre. More chatting and coffee and then we said our goodbyes to L’Excelsus and our new dive buddies.
We went on to explore the beachfront looking for a place to eat. The bright colours of Le Zat right on the beach was just what we were looking for. Fantastic view.
And really interesting food. Washed down with a few Dodo beers we spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach.
After a late start the next morning we decided to take a slow drive to St. Pierre where we were to meet Taha Alibay the general manager of the Villa Delisle hotel. On the drive, we decided to visit St. Louis and found a huge and colourful market on the main streets.
After wandering around the market, we bought some souvenirs for friends and family. Back in the car we headed for St. Pierre. After getting ourselves lost we eventually found our way to the Villa Delisle Hotel and were welcomed by Taha.
The hotel is currently being refurbished but in such a way that the guests are not even aware of the refurbishment taking place. After a short visit to reception and the pub we were taken to the very elegant dining room for lunch. An interesting concept is the large glass windows where you can see the chefs in action preparing your food.
After an amazing lunch we were taken on a tour of the hotel and spa. The spa is quiet and relaxed.
Next, we were taken to see the rooms which come in three levels of luxury. I must admit even the standard room is luxurious and beautifully furnished.
After saying goodbye to everyone we made our way back to the Lux Hotel and packed for our early departure the next morning. Flying out over the island we said our goodbyes to Mayotte and Reunion.
Written by: Brian Ring @ Reefteach