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Mayotte is an archipelago among the East African Islands, lying in the Indian Ocean channel between Madagascar and Mozambique. It's a French overseas department with a population of 299,348 in 2022. Most live on the large island of Grande-Terre, which somewhat resembles a sea horse, used on Mayotte's coat of arms. A 2 km channel separates it from Petite-Terre, also urbanised; the other islets are tiny with only a handful of residents.
The first known human habitation was in the 7th century CE, and early settlement was from the East African mainland and from Madagascar. Mayotte lay on the Arab trade routes, adopted Islam, and from 1500 became a sultanate. From time to time it fought with its neighbours, and in the 1830s Andriantsoly in exile from Madagascar grabbed power here as Sultan. Madagascar was backed by the British so he needed an equivalent Great Power ally, and in 1841 he sold the whole place to France. He got 5000 francs, which he mostly drank, until in 1847 an assassin nailed him slightly ahead of the bottle. Subsequently all of Comoros, Réunion and Mayotte became a French protectorate. Attempts to develop Mayotte for sugar plantations, as in the Caribbean, were stymied by the rugged terrain and long transport routes.
Modern France looked to divest itself of colonies, and in 1974 held a referendum on independence for Comoros. This was overwhelmingly in favour except in Mayotte, which voted 63% to remain French. It was therefore hived off, against Comoros protests. Subsequent referendums have only strengthened Mayotte's stance, and it became an overseas department in 2011. It's therefore eligible for EU funding and other social provision, not least its white-collar jobs. French secular law and ethos is potentially in conflict with sharia and other aspects of Islam, but religion is a relaxed affair here, with no groundswell of jihad or anti-western terrorism. Comoros continues to play diplomatic badminton, raising protests which France swats away, and the debate doesn't affect travellers. Indeed the people of Comoros have similarly voted with their feet - many of Mayotte's population are illegal immigrants from there.
Less than half of the population understand French and very few speak French fluently, see § Talk. You're more likely to be understood by younger folk.
The climate is tropical marine. It's wet Nov-May during northeastern monsoon, and dry May to November, so April to October is the best time to visit. The temperature variation is only a few degrees so it's the rain and mud that decides you. Cyclones are possible but uncommon in the wet season, as the main belt is further north and west.
The landscape is rugged, with deep ravines and ancient volcanic peaks.
- 1 Mamoudzou is the capital.
- 2 Dembéni is on the east coast.
- 3 Bandrele is on the southeast coast.
- 4 Sada is the main settlement on the west coast.
- 5 Acoua is in the northwest.
- 6 Dzoumogné is on the north coast.
- 7 Koungou is also on the north coast.
- 1 M'bouzi the islet between Grande- and Petite-Terre is a nature reserve.
- 2 Chissioua Mtsamboro, also known as Zamburu or Saddle Island, is the third largest of the archipelago. It's hilly, inhabited by some 20 fisherfolk, and has no visitor facilities.
Mayotte like other French overseas territories is not part of the Schengen area. Western visitors don't need a visa for Mayotte, but your passport must have 3 months of validity beyond your departure date.
There are no direct flights from Europe or the Middle East. From Paris ORY or CDG fly Air France via Saint-Denis on Réunion, and from Amsterdam fly KLM / Kenya Airways via Nairobi.
1 Dzaoudzi–Pamandzi Airport (DZA IATA) is at the south tip of Petite-Terre. Reckon an hour by taxi and ferry to reach the capital. In 2022 a taxi from the airport to the ferry pier costs €5.60 M-Sa daytime, €8.20 Sunday or at night.
SGTM ferry sails four days a week from Mutsamudu on Anjouan, Comoros. It takes 3 hours to Dzaoudzi and in 2022 an adult single fare is €185. The ferry pier is the same as for La Barge to Grande-Terre. From Moroni on Grand Comoros change ferries at Mutsamudu.
Cruise ships occasionally visit Mayotte.
La Barge is the car ferry between Mamoudzou (Gare Maritime) on Grande-Terre and Dzaoudzi (Issoufali) on Petite-Terre. It sails every 30 min 06:00-20:00 and hourly through the night, taking 15 min. Single fare in 2022 is €0.75 per foot passenger, €15 per car. A second ferry on a parallel route is for trucks.
Europcar are the rental company here, with desks at the airport and at Mamoudzou Gare Maritime.
"Bush taxis" (taxi brousse) connect the main settlements. Consider hiring one to show you round the sights for a few hours, rather than navigate the roads yourself.
See the French version of this page for basic local vocabulary.
Mayotte lacks "sights", with no great architecture or natural wonders.
- What's on? Mayotte Hebdo is the island newspaper.
- Hike to the summit of Mt Choungui, the distinctive volcanic cone in the south. At 593 m it's the second-highest peak, but commands better views than the highest Benara (660 m and central).
- Lemurs are the signature beast of Madagascar, but the maki or common brown lemur (Eulemur fulvus) has been introduced to Mayotte. They may be spotted in any quiet forest location.
- Scuba diving: Mayotte is fringed by a reef, with only a dozen navigable cuts, enclosing a huge doughnut lagoon. There are five or six dive shacks around the coast, offering courses, kit hire and dives.
- Marine life: Aug to Sept humpback whales give birth in the lagoon, so boat trips can view them with their calves. Sea turtles roost on the southern beaches year-round.
- Sports: Complexe de Kawani in Mamoudzou is the national multi-use sports venue, hosting Mayotte's football team and other events.
Exchange rates for euros
As of January 2024:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
- Currency is the euro (€).
- Local produce (bananas, manioc, fish) is inexpensive, imported items (dairy products, manufactured goods) are expensive.
The best of a limited choice is in Mamoudzou.
Tap-water is safe to drink in 93% of the country according to WHO, but not safe according to CDC the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mamoudzou has a couple of free-standing bars, otherwise drink in the cafes.
It's odd that a sugar-producing island doesn't have a rum distillery.
Facilities are poor, with just a couple of hotels in the capital and a couple more on Petite-Terre near the airport. Mayotte lacks beach resort hotels, so it's in the classic trap of few hotels > few tourists > few hotels.
Many folk live in semi-legal shanty towns, which make up in nasty dogs what they lack in mains water, sanitation and electricity. Take great care about airbnb offers.
If you have fluent French and eligibility to work in France, then you might be able to take up a temporary specialist post on Mayotte such as technical support. But the islands have more qualified young people than they can employ, so there are no long-term vacancies.
In the semi-skilled sectors such as catering and construction, Mayotte has a big problem with illegal immigrants from Comoros, who continue to make hazardous crossings on overcrowded fishing boats. About a third of the population are "undocumented" and they will grab any casual post they can. Every few weeks the police come along and bust them. But there's nowhere to deport them or jail them, so they're sternly told to return to Comoros then set free.
Your chief hazard is always traffic, especially on muddy ill-lit streets.
Mayotte has no active volcanoes, but earth tremors have increased since 2018, and a new volcano is taking shape beneath the ocean. Activity has also increased at Karthala the Comoros volcano, but it's not expected to erupt.
- Check your health cover – travel insurance valid for France and the EU won't automatically extend to Mayotte. There is a hospital in Mamoudzou, but a serious event such as a heart attack might necessitate a medevac to Europe.
- Mayotte is low risk for malaria. Take normal precautions against mosquito bites (such as wearing long-sleeved shirts), but anti-malarial medicine is not recommended. Seek medical attention promptly if you develop a fever.
90% of the population are Muslim, following a fairly relaxed form of Islam. They observe Ramadan (which follows a lunar calendar, so it's 11 to 12 days earlier each year) so eating places may be closed daytime, simply for lack of custom.
As of Aug 2022, Mayotte has 4G from Only, Orange, SFR and (in patches) Maore. 5G has not reached these islands.
If you have an EU or UK based mobile, check whether your provider regards Mayotte as part of the EU roaming area.