This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this Secret Compass Epic expedition to Madagascar.
Read on to discover our ethos and team-centered approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations.
Use the buttons below to ask questions or if this handbook answers all of your questions you can request a space on the team by completing the booking form and submitting a deposit (bound by our T&Cs). We will then be in touch by phone or email to hopefully approve your place on the team!
Upcoming Expedition Dates
24 April to 09 May 2021.
Arrive: At the team hotel in Antananarivo (Tana) by 1800 on Day 1.
Depart: leave from Tana any time on the Day 16.
Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive cover.
Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
The aim of this epic expedition is to trek and paddle from Pic Boby across Madagascar to the east coast.
The challenges of this expedition are twofold. The first goal is to trek to the summit of Pic Boby, Madagascar’s second highest mountain at 2658m. Descending into the valleys and forests to the east, the second stage of the challenge uses inflatable two-person rafts to traverse the wild rivers of Madagascar from the granite highlands, through rolling lowlands and finally to the island’s eastern Indian Ocean shores.
Explore Madagascar from peak to sea.
Pic Boby (2658m), an imposing granite outcrop reminiscent of Yosemite.
Experience traditional Malagasy life.
Shop for local honey and world-famous vanilla.
Forge a route through Madagascar’s wild forests.
Experience the varied scenery of eastern Madagascar.
Learn and practice white-water skills.
Raft a wild, untamed action-packed river.
Keep your eyes open for elusive lemurs en route.
You need to organise your own international flights. It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. See our online Terms and Conditions.
You need to be at the team hotel in Antananarivo (Tana) by 1800 on Day 1 and the expedition officially ends after breakfast on Day 16 although you are free to depart anytime on the this day. There are lots of flight options however we advise allowing longer than usual between connections to help your bags make it onto the same plane!
Visas are your responsibility and are required for entry to Madagascar for British Nationals (see below). Please check visa requirements and specifics for other nationalities.
A 30-day tourist visa may be obtained at the airport on arrival for British Nationals. Current requirements are that the visa fee must be paid in cash on arrival (payable in Malagasy Ariary, US dollars or Euros), and that you must have 2 passport photos and proof of your onward/return flight. If obtaining a visa at the airport, you should ensure that an entry stamp is recorded in your passport. The Embassy of Madagascar in London closed in February 2011, and is now covered by the Embassy of Madagascar in Paris, which offers a visa service. An E-visa service is also available for Madagascar but has only been recently introduced and as such Secret Compass do not have experience of using this.
You should have a passport with at least 6 months remaining and enough pages for all the required visas and stamps – minimum 2. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe (waterproof) place.
Travel insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).
Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad of at least $500,000.
Activities: ensure that any expedition activities are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the Travel Aware site.
Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.
Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit the insurance page on our website.
Land Antananarivo and make your way to the team hotel in time for the expedition briefing at 1800. After the briefing, dinner, and a kit check, head to bed for an early night.
Day 2 – Trailhead
Early morning start for the drive south, this is a long drive through some of Madagascar’s varied scenery to reach your comfortable hotel for the evening.
Day 3 – Andringitra National Park
Another drive this morning sees the team reach the lodge at Andringitra National Park. Relaxed afternoon for last minute-preparations and a leg stretch.
Day 4 – Andringitra National Park
Start the trek through the National Park for your first chance to explore the imposing granite massif which forms Pic Boby.
Day 5 – Trekking
An early morning to make the most of the cooler hours as the team treks to Camp 2 and leaves most of the equipment. From here, the round trip trek to the summit offers far-ranging views (weather permitting) over the neighbouring forests and farmland. Return to Camp 2 for the night.
Day 6 – Trekking
Continue the descent out of the national park, across farmland and into the dense jungle beyond before wildcamping for the night.
Day 7 – Trekking
Trek through the forest past several villages. Depending on previous weather conditions, today may involve several river crossings.
Day 8 – Trekking
Continue the trek to the edge of the forest with more river crossings.
Day 9 – Trekking/Training
After reaching a larger village today the route joins the river which will carry the team to the sea. Set up camp on one of the islands mid-stream for an afternoon of rafting training.
Day 10 – Rafting
More boat skill training this morning on flat water before reaching the first of the rapids.
Day 11 – Rafting
Continue the descent of the river with a second day on the water through several large sections of rapids and past numerous villages.
Day 12 – Rafting
A long day on the river with sections of flat water interspersed with heart-racing rapids. As you leave the highlands of central Madagascar behind the the river gradient flattens out in the afternoon as you head towards the sea.
Day 13 – Final rafting day
Last day on the water as you reach the sea and finish your journey. This last section of paddling may be done very early so as to beat the tides and strong winds that drive and blow off the Indian Ocean. The team are met by cars and driven to a nearby hotel for a celebratory drink and relaxation.
Day 14 – Fianarantsoa
Feeling refreshed, the team will drive back to Fianarantsoa with a lunch stop in Ranomafana National Park and the opportunity to enjoy the hot springs (and potential lemur sightings) there.
Day 15 – Antananarivo (Tana)
Drive Fianarantsoa to Tana and check into the team hotel for a final meal and celebrations.
Day 16 – Antananarivo (Tana)
You are free to depart anytime today, the expedition officially ends after breakfast although many flights depart early in the morning.
About Secret Compass Itineraries
Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but may not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on the numerous frictions you may encounter along the way.
All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this expedition is attempting an ambitious aim. The distances may not be huge, but the terrain, vegetation and climate will be testing and at times you may be sore, tired, hungry and wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go. You will be required to be fit enough for the following.
Expedition Grading: 270°.
Daily activity: varies but up to approx. 10 hours per day.
Trek: up to 25 km per day with daily ascents of 1000m+ likely.
Carry: up to 10 – 15 kg of own kit and equipment.
Terrain: The terrain will vary from granite mountainous regions up to an elevation of 2658m, through to dense, tropical rainforest. The route will be undulating and there will be sections of steep ascent and descent. At times there will be no paths or trails and the vegetation, together with river crossings and the steep nature of the terrain, will make passage difficult and physically very demanding.
Altitude: up to 2658m.
Raft. Paddle yourself and your team mate down river for 8-10 hours a day in flat water, whitewater and rapids in rafts. Negotiate rapids up to grade 4, portage boats and your equipment around unnavigable sections. Water levels of the river do vary massively which also then dictates what we can and can not paddle.
Climate: A hot and humid environment.
At a basic level, you should be comfortable jogging for at least one hour and be able to walk for 8 hours per day in mountainous terrain carrying 15kg for at least 3 days. You should also be able to comfortably swim 200m and be able to pull yourself into a raft unaided. You must be comfortable being thrown out of a raft in white water.
There will be an experienced Secret Compass expedition leader and local guide with the team, along with porter support for the trekking phase.
Vaccinations. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS Fit For Travel site and Travel Health Pro are both useful. Malaria is widespread – the recommended chemoprophylaxis is mefloquine, doxycycline or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™).
Yellow fever certificate: Please note this is required if you have previously visited a country where it is prevalent.
Dental. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.
Foot care. On this expedition your feet will often be wet with sweat or river water. It is ESSENTIAL that you bring foot care items to ensure your feet do not deteriorate. Anti-fungal cream is essential and you will be pre-treating your feet morning and night with this during the expedition. Anti-fungal foot powder is also important, to dry your feet off quickly in a humid environment. It is also wise to bring rolls of zinc oxide tape to protect your feet against blisters and a pot of Vaseline.
ATM’s are increasingly available in the capital and large towns however there is a charge of around 1.5% and the maximum amount of Malagasy currency that you can withdraw at one time is 400,000 Ariary (approx. £120), we recommend you use the airport ATM as there isn’t one close to the hotel. Western union branches are available to change foreign currency although there are limits in place. It is recommended to bring US Dollars or Euros to change for local currency. Traveller’s cheques are rejected by some banks due to fraudulent versions in circulation.
This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money except for souvenirs, alcoholic drinks and tips (these are obviously optional but will be much appreciated). Having a minimum of local currency is recommended as you will be able to buy local products, snacks and a beer when we will be crossing villages at the beginning and the end of our journey.
Secret Compass always suggest carrying an emergency fund of $100-$200 in cash.
The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for our expedition to Madagascar. You will be required to carry all of your own kit for the porter-supported trekking phase of this expedition along with a share of the team’s food and tents during the raft phase. Secret Compass will supply all group equipment (tents, rafts, med kit, water purifying kit etc) and white-water training.
Secret Compass have arranged team member discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.
Baggage and Sleeping
RUCKSACK (Minimum 60ltr): A comfortable rucksack that fits your back, a good outdoor shop will be able to help with fitting. All your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack plus food and tents during the raft phase.
WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable “canoe” or “dry” bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You need a large one to line your rucksack. In the raft your pack WILL GET WET!
SMALLER DRY BAGS: As above, but smaller bags to put essential items in. The large rucksack liners will leak so anything important needs to be waterproofed individually.
SLEEPING BAG RATED TO 0 DEGREES CELSIUS COMFORT: At altitude the temperature drops at night – in the mountains it may hover around freezing. It will be much warmer as we near the coast.
ROLL MAT: Thermarest or equivalent. Bring a repair kit.
WATERPROOF WALLET: For your passport and money.
Wet/Dry kit. You need one set of clothing to wear in the day which will get wet on the jungle and river phase and a second set to put on in the evening.
2 x LONG SLEEVE SHIRTS: Thin trekking shirts that dry quickly with long sleeves to provide insect and sun protection.
2 x TREKKING TROUSERS: Thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
1 x SHORTS (Optional): Or combine with the above using zip-off trousers.
1 x JACKET/FLEECE: The evenings are cold at altitude.
1 x WATERPROOF JACKET: Lightweight Gore Tex or equivalent.
4 x HIKING SOCKS: Light weight trekking socks.
1 x WALKING BOOTS: Ensure your boots are worn in and comfortable. Specific desert or jungle boots are ideal but fit is the most important feature. Try and avoid Gore-tex boots as your feet find it harder to breathe and the boots do not dry easily when wet. Recommend you visit your local outdoors store for advice on fitting.
SPORTS SANDALS: Around camp and on the river. Ensure secure and comfortable. Not flip flops!
SUN HAT: Wide brimmed sun hat.
CAP OR VISOR: For use under a helmet in the boats.
PADDLING OR CYCLING GLOVES: Half-finger padded gloves are great for rafting.
WARM HAT (Optional).
4 x UNDERWEAR (Optional): Lycra sports shorts don’t chafe and dry quickly.
SWIM WEAR (Optional): Knee length board shorts are ideal for rafting.
MUG: Metal mugs are great to use over open fires.
FORK, SPOON: Long handled spoons are great for ration packs.
WATER BOTTLES AND/OR BLADDER: You need to be able to carry a minimum of 3 ltrs of water between bottles (Nalgene or Sigg are recommended) and Camelbak.
TREK/SNACK BARS: 1 per day of your favourite bars to supplement meals and boost morale.
Health and Hygiene
WASHBAG, TOOTHBRUSH & TOOTHPASTE (Optional): You do not need a large travel washbag! Small dry bags or re-sealable freezer bags are ideal.
SOAP (Optional): Anti bacterial and BIODEGRADABLE.
TRAVEL TOWEL/SARONG: Quick dry ideal.
WET WIPES/BABY WIPES.
TOILET PAPER (Optional): Travel tissues are ideal.
LIGHTER: For burning toilet paper.
SANITARY PRODUCTS (Optional).
LIP SALVE WITH UV PROTECTION: This is essential as chapped lips are painful.
VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
MYCIL FOOT POWDER OR EQUIVALENT: This will be very useful for keeping your feet and other sweaty areas dry at night.
ANTI-FUNGAL FOOT CREAM: Athletes foot cream or equivalent.
INSECT REPELLENT: Bring Deet or other strong repellent.
AFTER SUN/MOISTURISER (Optional).
FACTOR 30+ SUN CREAM: The brand P20 is very waterproof and perfect for rafting trips.
Small First Aid Kit
A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried.
A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
PAIN KILLERS: Ibuprofen and paracetamol.
ZINC OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS.
COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar-looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard / original item.
DIAHORREA TABLETS: Immodium.
DIORALYTE SACHETS OR SIMILAR REHYDRATION PACKS: Nuun or Zero tablets are great and much cheaper than Dioralyte (which doesn’t make much volume), make sure you get the caffeine-free ones. 2 tubes of Nuun will be a good amount.
PIRITON TABLETS (for allergies).
EURAX CREAM (for bites).
ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Please identify the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to purchase more in-country. Please also ensure that your medication is legal in your destination. Secret Compass must be made aware of any pre-existing medical conditions and current medication prior to departure.
HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES.
SUNGLASSES WITH UV-FILTER LENSES.
PENKNIFE: Remember to not pack in hand luggage!
TREKKING/WALKING POLES (Optional): Highly recommended and useful on the uneven terrain.
GAFFA TAPE (Optional): For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit like a water bottle.
2 x KARABINER: For securing your rucksack.
5m of 7mm CORD: For securing items in boats.
SPARE BOOT LACES (Optional): Can also be used as emergency ties or a washing line.
SMALL SEWING KIT.
RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS (Optional): For dirty washing, wrappings, etc.
WATER PURIFICATION TABLETS (Optional): Secret Compass will purify all water and these will likely not be needed, they are a back up in case our systems fail!
Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.
Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.
Local Partners and Bureaucracy
Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.
Infrastructure and Natural Events
The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.
In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)
Part of a Team
Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.
There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.
You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.
Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.
We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.
Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include accidents on or in the water, heat related illnesses, and malaria. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Incident Management and Medical
As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.
It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to 2 days) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.
Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.
Dress: No specific cultural issues. It is recommended that women do not dress too provocatively as a courtesy to the locals so wearing a tshirt or rash vest and shorts over bikinis is suggested.
Fady: Malagasy people operate by a complicated set of taboo rules called fady. These are extremely varied and change from region to region and even family to family. It is recommended to ask the local porters as we pass through each region if there are any particular fady that we should be aware of.
This expedition during the trekking phase will vary from granite mountainous regions up to an elevation of 2658m, through to dense, tropical rainforest. The route will be undulating and there will be sections of steep ascent and descent. At times there will be no paths or trails and the vegetation, together with river crossings and the steep nature of the terrain, will make passage difficult and physically very demanding. During the rafting phase there will be flatwater, white water and rapids. Some sections will not be navigable by raft and will require portaging (carrying equipment) through the jungle/along river banks – the water conditions vary considerably depending on recent weather and water levels will dictate which rapids can/cannot be safely navigated.
Madagascar has a tropical climate although April to October is the winter/dry season when it is mainly dry and mild. The temperature in Madagascar can fluctuate by up to 15 degrees between day and night. At higher altitude, the temperature can often down to near freezing at night whilst at lower altitudes temperatures could be up to 30 degrees Celsius during the day. The highest level we will be camping at will be around 1500-2000m.
Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.
Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.
Cell Phone. Your mobile roaming should work in Antananarivo and Manakara. There will be no coverage in the mountains.
When we are in towns we will eat well in local hotels and restaurants. Throughout the trekking phase the team will eat freshly prepared local food and snacks whilst tasty, high-calorie ration packs will be supplied for the rafting section. Dietary requirements can usually be catered for but should be discussed with Secret Compass in advance. It is recommended that you bring a favourite snack or cereal bar for each expedition day as a morale boost.
Antananario airport is located just outside of the city – team members are responsible for their own transfers between the airport and the team accommodation at the start and end of the expedition. Taxis are plentiful and (traffic depending) the journey only takes around 15 minutes. The expedition WhatsApp group is a useful tool for arranging shared transfers.
4 x 4 Vehicles and minibuses will be used to transfer the group between Antananarivo and the expedition route.
The trekking element will be through varied terrain, including mountainous regions. You will be carrying a pack of all your essential gear. The climb to the summit of Pic Boby will involve an elevation gain of 1,800m over two days.
On the river we will be using two man inflatable rafts. The river will consist of hard paddling and adrenaline-pumping rapids as well as sections of flatter water before we reach our goal at the sea. There is the likelihood the raft may capsize at some point and you should be comfortable with this possibility. All the necessary and appropriate rafting gear will be provided and training and a safety brief will be given beforehand.
In Antananarivo (Tana) we will be accommodated at the IC Hotel. It is comfortable, has internet access, good food and a secure room to leave extra baggage during the expedition. Please expect double occupancy in twin bedrooms. On expedition, we will camp rough in the jungle and forests as we move along the route. Secret Compass will provide technical, lightweight tents on a twin-share basis. After the final day of paddling, we will relax in a comfortable lodge on the coast.
Reality of living rough for days: Occasionally people on our expeditions are not prepared for camping for multiple days. Living in these conditions can degrade your health if you do not look after yourself and increase fatigue if you are not used to living rough. You need to be highly organised so that your night and morning routine is done efficiently and quickly. If you are inexperienced at camping, it is essential that you get as much practice as possible prior to the expedition.
Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.
I can’t swim. Can I join the team?
No. Due to the rafting element of this epic expedition and its many river crossings, being a confident swimmer who’s able to swim at least 200m is a prerequisite. Teammates need to be capable of pulling themselves back into the rafts from the water in case of capsize. Training will be given in country and a water session or two before departure is also recommended.
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. The food situation is outlined in the On Exped tab.
I’ve never been rafting before. Can I come?
Complete rafting beginners are welcome to join this team, and training in advance is also welcome. The types of boats are two-person inflatable rafts that are colloquially known as ‘hot dogs’. Local watersports centres will be able to advise on a training day close to you. Basic training for teammates will also be provided once in-country. The team will be briefed on paddling techniques (steering, capsize, whitewater etc.) at the beginning of the paddling phase. The expedition leader is swift-water rescue qualified and there is a local support team in place for the rafting section of this expedition.
What if I fall out in fast water?
See above. As with many rafting trips, there is the chance of being taken under water for a few seconds – which might feel like longer! Often, this simply means that you then swim or float downstream to the next area of calm water to regroup with the team.
Can I walk around all the rapids?
It is always possible to walk around – to ‘portage’ – the rapids, but doing this for each would slow the team speed considerably. Ideally, all teammates need to be ready and willing to paddle to Grade 2 and Grade 3 rapids. Those new to paddling might benefit from a taster day or weekend to get the most out of this epic expedition.
What grade are the rapids?
Hard to be specific on this front due to changing water levels. The hardest rapid could be a Grade 4 with many at the Grade 3+ level. The water levels and current conditions will have a large impact on which of the rapids will be run in the rafts and which will be portaged around.
Are there porters?
This expedition is supported by local porters during the trekking phase. The porters will assist the team in carrying tents, food and cooking equipment. Due to the speeds travelled when paddling, there is no porter support and there will be sections of the river that can’t be rafted so all equipment will need to be ‘portaged’ by the team. Teammates must be prepared to carry all kit, equipment and water as outlined in the expedition handbook.
Can I arrive a day late?
As the plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates to the start of the trek so start and end dates are not flexible. You are, however, welcome to extend your trip either before or after the Secret Compass dates – please just make sure your visa will be valid for your entire stay.
Can I charge electronics?
There will be charging facilities at the hotel in Antananarivo but once the trekking starts there will be no opportunities to charge electronics. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration (and bring waterproof, roll-top bags to protect your equipment while rafting).
Do you provide further advice?
You might find our Get Ready section useful, with further advice about fitness, flights, travel insurance, visas and our approach to risk management. If you have any further questions, please contact Secret Compass for advice.
How can I join this team?
If you feel that the Handbook answers all your questions, you can request a space on the team by completing the booking form and submitting a deposit.