A group of young kids far away on the beach in Madagascar. They are all sitting in a row and behind them is a forest.
Kids on the beach in Madagascar

Wild camping in Madagascar on the Tsiribihina River; worth it?

Cruising the Tsiribihina River might not be on every Madagascar traveller’s list (probably because they’ve simply never heard of it before!), but perhaps it should be! Our 3 day Tsiribihina river tour was one of the most unique, adventurous and somehow all at once relaxing experiences we had in our 4 weeks in this incredible country.

The trip is largely a means of getting to Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. If you haven’t heard of that, you’ll also want to read this post here when you’re done with this article. However, there’s actually a lot more to this river cruise than just a means of transport.

This article aims to talk you through the best of the Tsiribihina River cruise: everything you need to know, the whole itinerary and what to pack and expect.

This article may contain affiliate links. There is no additional cost to you and they are often discounted, but we may receive a small commission if you use them to book.

Table of Contents

Introduction

So what can you see on the Tsiribihina River? Amongst other things, we encountered lemurs, incredible white sand beaches, one of a kind endemic flora and fauna, fun and personable local guides, stunning waterfalls and so much more. If you’re already thinking that sounds right up your street, then don’t worry, we’ll tell you all about it, BUT before you read further, it’s important to note one more thing.

It’s all wild camping on the beach!

I’m sure the nature lovers are more invested, but if that’s absolutely not your scene, don’t worry, there is another way of doing this, which we’ll come to below.

We came across this tour because when we were planning our trip, for some reason, spending three days on a boat seemed like a much more appealing prospect than spending 20 hours in a car (the alternative). If we’re being completely honest, we had done precisely zero research into this and had no idea what to expect. More than anything, we probably saw it as means of getting from A to B. The experience was far more than this – it actually turned out to be one of the best, and most fun things we did in Madagascar, if not on our whole trip around Africa!

Emma and Murray are sitting on the front of a small sailing boat which is going down the Tsiribihina river - you can see the river behind them and they are both wearing sunglasses
On board the boat

If you’re visiting Madagascar, don’t forget to check our 3 week itinerary available here!

Know Before You Go: Is A Tsiribihina River Tour for you?

Though our trip was really cool, and we would absolutely recommend it, a wild camping tour in Madagascar is not for everyone! Here are some things to know before you go.

  • Camping on the banks of the Tsiribihina River is NO FACILITIES camping. This means, as it sounds, you’ll be camping completely in the wild. The crew erect a small, rustic toilet with a shower curtain around it, but there are no showers and no other facilities.
  • This includes electricity and WiFi – you will be without them for 3 days, thought there is some phone and data connectivity if you have a Madagascan sim card
  • The crew provide mattresses and camping equipment. They also erect and deconstruct your tents for you, so no tent-constructing skills are required. We did offer to help them out of politeness, but it was often declined.
  • The boat is not accessible – you need to walk over a thin and quite steep ramp to get on and off. This was OK for us mostly, but tricky with our bags on as they were very heavy. The upper deck could only be accessed via steps and they were quite steep. If you have mobility issues, it is something to be aware of.
  • If you have dietary requirements, give them plenty of advance warning. The crew do all the cooking on board the boat and they are great! However, there is nowhere on the river to buy other food, and if you are very particular, bring your own snacks and extras. I am vegan, and they catered to me really well. We let them know as far in advance as we could.
  • Tipping in Madagascar is not mandatory but it is appreciated if you enjoy your trip. You can ask the tour company (more information on who we booked with below) how much to tip. This is best practice, as the currency (Malagasy ariary) is very unstable and its value can fluctuate daily.
A view from the Tsiribihina River with sun peeking through from the right hand side
Views of the river

How to book this trip

We booked this trip through Espace Mada.

They turned out to be an absolutely brilliant company, who helped us organise a driver for the rest of our time in Madagascar, and, as it turns out, do book larger tours as well.

Since we were pretty set on keeping our prices down and doing most things independently, we did stick to booking just the Tsiribihina River Tour, but they gave us a fantastic price. They speak French and English very well, and you can book via email. It’s a very professional service, and a local company based in Madagascar.

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Style of the trip

The boat is a small motorised traditional river boat. It has a sundeck on top, with chairs and cushions for you to relax. Down below is a dining table, big enough for 10 people or so to sit around.

You’ll be accompanied by a captain and 3-4 crew members, maybe more depending on the size of your tour group. The crew are amazing and pretty much do everything for you, including cooking, cleaning, sailing and putting up and taking down the tents. It’s not a hands on tour, though we did often offer to help. They seemed to find us pretty funny, but we wanted to be polite!

Your days are pretty easy-going, so you might need things to keep you entertained! There will be a few stops along the way, but mostly it is very relaxed and you have a lot of time to yourself.

Our crew and captain put on a bit of a show for us on the first evening, which was so sweet! It was nothing fancy, but they sung us a few songs and told stories. The second night we were in a local village and they were dancing and partying on the beach too.

A large waterfall with someone swimming underneath it. There are several streams of water and 2 levels, and it is backed by tropical forest
Nosy Ampela Waterfalls

Facilities on board the boat

There are no facilities on board the boat, which includes toilets. If you need to use the bathroom, you should let the crew know with good time, and they will find a safe place to stop the boat and let you off.

The crew have access to water in case you want to wash your hands, and keep a small cooler box of drinks, in case you wish to buy something.

There is a small sundeck on the top, and a dining table on the bottom deck. Overall, the boat has comfortable space for 5-10 passengers plus the crew. Any more than that would feel very crowded.

There is no electricty and WiFi on the boat at all.

The crew serve 3 meals a day and provide some light snacks in between. If you are someone who prefers to have a lot of food, you might want to take some snacks, as they don’t have any available to buy, but you won’t go hungry.

They do provide drinking water for a fee, but personally we had filtered water bottles with us (from Lifestraw) so we didn’t buy water. Plastic usage in Africa is a big problem, as most countries there do not have adequate recycling or waste disposal systems, so we really try to minimise the amount we use while we’re there.

A sunset shot of a tsiribihina river beach with 3 tents on it. The sailing boat is docked in the river next to it
Wild camping on the river banks

Safety on board the boat

Overall we did feel really safe during our Tsiribihina River Tour. There are floatation devices on board in case anyone falls in, and the crew have a first aid kit.

As mentioned, the crew have water available for purchase but you can also take a filtered water bottle for safe drinking water.

The food hygiene was excellent and none of us were sick while on board. In case you do get sick, the crew will likely turn the boat around and take you back to Miandrivazo, or need to take you to Morondava. There are medical facilities on board the boat, so they would need to get you to the nearest city.

The total distance covered is 120km, so it’s not very far from civilisation, even if you feel like it while on board.

There are crocodiles in the river on the Tsiribihina river (we initially thought this was a joke!!), so you shouldn’t swim in the river water unless your guides advise that it’s OK, and you should stay away from the river banks in the evening.

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Insurance for travelling through Africa

Of course, we always hope things will never go wrong while we’re travelling, but the truth is they can do, and you need a great travel insurance provider just in case. We use SafetyWing for our travel insurance. They are affordable, but the best thing about them is how straightforward they are.

There’s just no nonsense, the policy wording is really clear and you can easily add on cover for things like electronics and adventure sports.

A photo of the forest canopy with a young brown lemur peering at the camera. An older lemur is leaning to the side trying to grab some fruit in the tree next to it.
A common brown lemur near the falls

The itinerary: a typical route

Here’s the day by day guide of what we did.

Day 1

You leave around 9am from Princesse Tsiribihina in Miandrivazo. This is an Espace Mada hotel, but you need to book it separately from the tour. We didn’t love it to be honest, but you can check for other available hotels here, since there are a few in the area.

The road to the dock is not bad, but there is a 40 minute dirt track at the end which was a bit bumpy. On arrival to the dock, you’ll passed through a small village. The kids are pretty adorable and love to meet tourists, so you’ll probably be inundated! It’s a little overwhelming if you haven’t experienced it before, but they’re just interested.

You then sail for a couple of hours and stop for a home-cooked lunch. After lunch, you can visit a waterfall in Nosy Ampela village. As well as being unexpectedly big and really beautiful, the waterfall site is also home to a family of common brown lemurs, which you might spot!

After that you sail to your campsite (which is a beach on the river bed), set up camp and have dinner.

Top tip: put your bags inside your tent while it is still light, otherwise they might get covered in bugs!! Speaking from experience.

Day 2

Day 2 is a really relaxing day! Most of it will be spent cruising the river, though you will have chance to spot more wildlife and stop at a village famous for its tobacco.

Again, you’re bound to meet a lot of local people, especially children, and they will undoubtedly want to play!

Day 3

On day 3, you sail until around lunchtime, and then it’s time to leave the boat.

We drove from there to Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. If you want to read more about this experience, here’s our guide.

A quick note on kids and lemurs:

Some really important things to consider:

  • ‘Begging culture’ is becoming a bit of a problem in Madagascar, so our guides warned us not to give gifts or money to the kids if they are asking for it. If you’re not sure what begging culture is, you can read our article here.
  • It’s best practice not to post photos of children to social media or online. The kids really want their photos taken a lot of the time, but we advise just to keep these photos for personal use to protect their privacy.
  • Our guide told us that unfortunately many lemurs have become quite tame around humans, as people often feed them bananas and other fruits (which are not part of their natural diet and can be harmful to them). He warned against doing this, so we wanted to make sure that note was passed on.
A sunset peeking through baobab trees on the beach. The sky is deep orange and reflected in the river
Sunsets in Madagascar are spectacular

Packing List

A solar phone charger – we had two of these, one with a battery pack (which we charged before setting off and had 4 charges in it) and one without, which we used to charge phones during the day. The crew loved using this too, so it came in very handy!

A torch (phone torch is fine but an extra is useful in case your phone runs out of battery) – it’s very dark at night

Swimming gear and towels – for the waterfalls, you can’t swim in the river

Warm clothes and a good sleeping bag – it can get chilly at night

A raincoat – rain is not out of the question!

A roll of toilet paper – I don’t think we need to elaborate here

Something to entertain yourself – book/iPad/cards/dice etc. We downloaded a lot of episodes, albums and podcasts. This was nice for interacting with the others on the boat too

A local sim card – we didn’t have one of these but our fellow travellers did and we wished we’d had one! The signal was also not bad most of the time (not bad for Madagascar at least)

Snacks/drinks – the crew do keep you really well fed and beers are available to purchase, but just if you want anything special. Also food if you have dietary requirements

Reef safe sun cream – for the top deck, it is sunny up there and the wind can be deceptive! Also there is a lot of wildlife in Madagascar – go reef safe for them. We use Amazinc. Be a bit careful with the term ‘reef-safe’ as it’s not a protected term, and anyone can use it even if they’re not reef-safe. The best thing to do is check the chemicals on Save The Reef and avoid them.

Natural bug spray – I think we made clear why this is useful above… and same goes for the animal, keep it natural (no deet!). This one by Incognito is honestly better than any we’ve ever tried and we prefer it to conventional sprays.

Binoculars and a good camera – especially if you are a bird watching, we saw some amazing birds from the boat, also bats and owls!

A refillable water bottle or camelbak full of water – the crew only provide plastic water bottles so we wanted to avoid that. Great that it is provided in case you need it or don’t have access and we will say, everything is generally put to second use in Madagascar despite the lack of official recycling – locals will reuse plastic bottles for everything!

Medication and any prescriptions – pain killers, immodium, anything you think you might need. As mentioned you won’t find it out on the boat

A sense of adventure – sorry for the cheesy final suggestion but seriously, we’re not joking! Anything can happen on this boat so: go prepared, go with the flow and go have fun.

If you’re visiting Madagascar, take a look at our in depth 3 week itinerary available here!

Don’t forget to bookmark this post to refer back to! We’d also love to hear from you, so please do leave us a comment.

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    Written by Emma

    Emma

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