One of the most diverse and underrated countries you will ever come across is Suriname. The former colony that was once given to the Dutch in trade for New York clearly flies low on everyone’s radar. But the world is missing out.
Where else would you find a Mosque and a Synagogue sitting peacefully right next to each other? Or a country where the biggest ethnic group makes up only 27% of the whole population. Suriname is the place where a multicultural society exists in harmony like no where else. And all that comes with the amazing cuisines the cultures have brought to this country north of Brazil along with a diverse nature and sadly a very rough history. From colonial slavery to a military dictatorship just as recent as 1992 , Suriname is still emerging from a dark past with several hurdles to climb over.
Nevertheless a visit to Suriname is guaranteed to cater to the adventurous traveler as well as the one looking for a cultural experience. And the best way to craft your trip is as always to combine both.
Here are the Best Things to Do While in Suriname
1. Strolling through Paramaribo’s Old Town
The evidence of the past is very much alive in this old colonial town. Wooden buildings painted in all colors, cobblestone streets leading to the famous Waterkant; Paramaribo’s Historic Inner City easily made it on to the list of the UNESCO. Walking by Javanese restaurants or casinos now housed in some of the buildings, you will eventually make your way to the famous Waterkant. It is the busiest part of town, even of all Suriname, with restaurants for all tastes, shops and a vibrant night life.
Where many cultures come together, they bring their religion too. And Paramaribo can be a role model in that regard for the whole world. Take a walk to the Keizer Street and be in awe at the sight of a synagogue next to a mosque. Some hundred meters away lies the Arya Dewaker Hindu temple. Don’t forget to take a look inside after admiring the outside. If you want to find out more about Hindu culture, take a look at my trip to Kerala in India here.
Rent a bike at Fietsen in Suriname for 30SRD per day (5$) and make the best of your day. They also offer well conducted tours.
2. Visit Fort Zeelandia
The founding of Paramaribo came starting with the construction of Fort Zeelandia when the British Governor of Barbados brought in settlers to start a colony in 1650. Some years later the Dutch Abraham Crijnssen, who named the stronghold after his home province Zeeland. Over the years it has been reinforced many times and used for various purposes.
Nowadays there is a well thought out museum inside featuring the different facets of Suriname as well as the turbulent history. Many good restaurants lie in the vicinity with views over the Suriname River.
3. Galibi Nature Reserve
Finally heading into the nature make your way to this vast nature reserve situated in the north east close to French Guyana. Its focus is on the protection of sea turtles. Famous for being the most important nesting spot for the Olive Ridley Turtles in the Atlantic, many visitors come exactly to watch this. The season runs from April to August. The reserve runs along the Coast towards the mouth of the Coppaname River. Many Amerindian tribes also have their villages in the area and are granted official permission to hunt and fish in the reserve. Both the villages and the reserve are only accessible by boat.
Take a bus from Paramaribo to the border town Albina. It will take you around 3 hours and costs 15$. From there boats bring you downstream to where the turtles nest. There is a guesthouse in Galibie City.
4. Brownsberg Nature Reserve
Named after James Brown, the first gold miner in Suriname, this is by far the most accessible of all the nature parks in the country. 2 hours and 50SRD (7$) south of Paramaribo buses will drop you at the main road which is then still 13km away from Brownsberg. Walk or hitchhike as many cars come by that way. Once in Brownsberg stay the night to make the best use of your time. Hammock spaces are cheap to rent for 50SRD (7$) or bed in a cabin. Park entry comes at 35SRD (5$). A full day trip tour from Paramaribo will cost you 200SRD(30$).
Two waterfalls can be combined into a great 4 to 5 hour hike. Take 90 minutes to get to Irene Waterfall, then 30 min to Leo Waterfall and after another 2 hours you will be back in Brownsberg. The Brokopondo Water Reserve is only a few minutes away and one of the largest in the world. Full of monkeys and birds, the Brownsberg Nature Reserve unfortunately also still hosts around 50 illegal gold mines.
5. Colakreek Recreation Park
Around an hour away from Paramaribo this nature water resort with very dark water, hence the name, is a favorite spot for the locals to let loose. A great day out includes going for a swim, playing on the extended lawns next to it and having a BBQ. There are huts for extended visits and the Savannah Education Center will teach you about the Flora, Fauna and history of this place.
6. Visit Remote Villages
Where the road ends and only boats can bring you further, that is Atjoni Dock by the Suriname River. No buses run here so hire a taxi or car and make the 3 hour drive down south. From there boats will bring you upstream as far as you like. Many Eco Hotels lie along the shore for all budgets. But more interesting are the villages. During slavery times many Maroons (African descendants) fled into the jungle where the families still live today. Be kind and respectful as you walk through the villages. It was a very memorable experience to see their traditional life style and play with the kids in the water.
At some spots the water is very shallow and that is where we found the perfect spot. Barbecue on the beach and then eating the Satays while lying in the water as the gentle stream massages your back. Just make sure you protect yourself from the sun. Bring all your food with you or buy before boarding the boat as in the jungle you are on your own if you are not staying in one of the hotels.
7. Staying in the Jungle
And now finally to my favorite experience in Suriname. With the family of my fiancée we headed out to the jungle for 4 days where we would sleep in hammocks, hunt for little pigs and fish all day. And that is exactly what we did. Days start and end with the sun and once the camp had been set up we took a boat to find shaded place where we could fish. Many catfish ended up in our cooking pots those days accompanied by the usual rice and beans. In the morning it was time to check the nets for fish. The piranhas surely know how to make a dramatic ending. As they had been caught in the net with other fish, all night they were eating them and in the morning we had full piranhas and only half bodies of the other fish. A bit of a bizarre food experience to eat a fish, that just had eaten the fish you actually wanted to eat, but hey, you are in the jungle after all! Quoting Bear Grylls: “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome”
Living the dream in the nature! Of course we also took more camping food with us, just in case. Also bring a hammock, mosquito nets and sprays, sun protection, charged batteries and a camera, and don’t go alone. If you do, think about a satellite telephone, an emergency medical bag and water purifiers as some of the essentials. And I suggest you tell people where you went and give a time frame of when you would be back.
It was a wonderful time and exactly the way I like to experience a country.
To realize this trip yourself contact one of the tour operators in Paramaribo. Some can custom tailor the trip to your needs. Bring some friends as in groups it is usually cheaper per person. ‘WaterproofSuriname’ is a good option. They also offer a tour to the Kasikasima Mountain in the very south of the country. Another fabulous sight in Suriname.
8. The food
Last but surely not least. The food in Suriname mirrors the history of 300 years melting cultures from 4 continents together. Just think of the East Indian, African, Javanese (Indonesian), Chinese, Dutch, Jewish, Portuguese, and Amerindian dishes all being cooked in the same kitchens which then created modern day Surinamese Cuisine.
The most famous dish is probably Pom. Of Jewish invention and made of the tropical plant Pomtajer (now Cocoyam), it is a festive meal due to the big amounts of meat in it.
From Rotis and Nasi Goreng to using more earthen foods like rice and cassava, salted meat and stock fish are enjoyed all around.
Another signature thing to try is Moksi-Alesi, made of rice, salted meat, shrimp or fish and vegetables. Similar to the Javanese Mie Goreng, a spicy fried noddle dish. Bakabana are fried plantains with peanut sauce. Suriname is also known for their coconut desserts like the Bojo cake which is made with coconut and cassava.
Suriname was a big surprise. I love that place and it definitely fulfilled my craving for adventure and interesting local culture. Just a perfect trip.
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