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La Rivière de la Main, Montagne d’Ambre, Joffreville

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In northern Madagascar, in the heart of the Montagne d'Ambre, the descent of the Rivière de la Main is a real adventure: 5 hours to thread your way through luxuriant vegetation with your feet in the only possible route, the torrent bed. The program includes 5 abseils under waterfalls, interspersed with walks in the torrent. No caimans (a name borrowed from the local name downstream, pending a more precise name), but countless spiders to avoid, forming webs one after the other along the way. And that's not counting the boas that hang around, the scolopendras and other frogs and chameleons we meet along the way. There's no equipment in place, and even if the commitment isn't very high, the route is still quite demanding. A great adventure.

Technical summary

Type ✦ Water canyon
Location ✦ Joffreville
Region ✦ Montagne d'Ambre, Diana
Country ✦ Madagascar
Length ✦ 2km
Vertical drop ✦ 200m
Difficulty ✦ v2-a3-II
Max abseiling ✦ 28m
Duration ✦ 4h to 5h
Interest ✦ ★

Access to the place

From Antsiranana, take the road south to Montagne d'Ambre and reach Joffreville. Park in the village.

Itinerary description

Hiking to the start 45'

Cross to the right of the road and descend on a path that plunges down to the bed of the Rivière de la Main. Several large switchbacks. As you approach the torrent (you can hear it), cut left to reach the bed and the 1st waterfall.

Course 3h

The canyon was discovered and opened for the 1st time in 2001 by Nicolas Bigot, our guide for the day, Dominique and Richard. There's no equipment in place, apart from a placard and a few ropes with quick links left along the way. However, there's no shortage of natural anchors, so you'll need to bring some rope and a few quick links. Our feet are in the water 90% of the time, as the torrent is the only possible route, and the waterfalls are well watered, so the wetsuit came in handy as we passed. The biggest abseil is the 1st and is around 28m long.

Abseil 1 (28m)

Active, very vertical. You can avoid the waterfall by moving to the left in the 2nd section. Watch out for falling rocks! Arrival in a shallow basin.

This is followed by around 40' of aquatic walking along the bed of the torrent, sometimes progressing along the sides when vegetation permits.
Rappel 2 (10m)

A waterfall entangled with large trunks to descend, in active or on the side.
Rappel 3 (15m)

Just after abseil 2, a beautiful waterfall with a magnificent tree whose roots cover the rock. Descent into the active!

20' walk in the torrent bed. We cross the arrival of a small tributary coming from the right before quickly finding the next abseil.
Abseil 4 (5m)

A small step up to the right, with the help of a tree.
Then 1 hour's walk in the torrent, which is tricky as the water is muddy and the torrent bed unstable. A few possible side passages in the jungle. Spiders galore!
Rappel 5 (20m)

In the active section, an almost vertical waterfall with quite a bit of flow. Around 30 minutes remain to reach the final jump. We pass through a small rocky squeeze, then avoid a jump by unclimbing to the left or right in a bend. Before reaching the next waterfall, we discover a small basalt organ wall. Immediately afterwards, a large landslide has modified the terrain, and the last jump (4m) can be found behind it.

It's likely that there are more waterfalls downstream (and even upstream), but as progress is slow, the exit at this level allows a return to the starting parking lot in around 45'.


Go right and tackle the very steep slope up the right bank flank to eventually reach an open ridge with superb views over the canyon and surrounding hills. Continue uphill before forking left and then right to climb a final slope to the road. 10' of asphalt to return to the parking lot.

Map & topo



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