Descending one of these two big rivers on a three- to five-day trip is a popular option for travellers with plenty of time. River trips are normally feasible between May and September, but as water levels drop towards the end of the dry season, navigation gets increasingly slow and difficult. After the start of the rains in November, flash floods and the rising waters rule out the trip until the following year. Various vessels are used for the trip, including traditional pirogue canoes, modern kayaks and rafts, and larger river craft with on-board facilities and canopies to protect you from the extremely hot sun.
You normally camp on the riverbank – check what bedding will be provided. Meals and bottled water are included; other drinks are extra. It’s important to note that in recent years there have been a number of attacks on overnight tourist camps, especially on the upper Tsiribihina, usually by cattle rustlers chancing their luck in pursuit of an alternative source of revenue. Tourists have been seriously injured in these robberies, so you should check out the local situation in advance before committing to the trip.
On this, the larger of the two rivers, the voyage is around 140–150km, depending on sandbanks and the precise route taken through them. It starts at the landing stage (embacadère) at Masiakampy, a tiny village on the Tsiribihina 35km south of the town of Miandrivazo. Most tours, however, start in a group vehicle at the start of the surfaced RN34 244km further east at Antsirabe on the central plateau. The trip ends near the coast, at Belo-sur-Tsiribihina.
The more scenic of the two trips starts at Ankavandra (look out for the British NGO Hoveraid, which has its headquarters here, and whose little hovercrafts scud around the sandbanks of the river), about 200km west of Antananarivo via Tsiroahomandidy – a very long day by taxi brousse or a slightly shorter, more comfortable one in a tour company’s 4×4. After passing through a spectacular canyon in the southern part of the Tsingy de Bemaraha, the trip ends at Bekopaka, leaving you perfectly positioned to explore the national park.