The smallest independent country in South America, wedged in between Guyana
to the west, French Guyana
to the east and Brazil to the south. Suriname was formerly a Dutch
colony called Dutch Guiana and is still the only Dutch-speaking country on the South American Cone.
Not only linguistically, but also politically and ethnically, Suriname is emphatically non-Latin-American, though. Politically it’s looking more towards the Caribbean (especially the other Dutch territories such as Curaçao
) and the former colonial power the Netherlands
. Outside the latter, though, few people have ever even heard of Suriname and those who have may often place it in the wrong continent (Africa or Asia, usually). Even upon entering the country you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped into the wrong continent: more than half the population is in fact Asian, and many of the remainder African (see below and under history
For most, Suriname is an enigma – but it really is an intriguing one, with plenty of dark chapters in its history too, from the very beginnings right up until modern times, and this has left a number of dark sights to visit too. These are the key places that are given their own chapters here:
Since Suriname is so little known but has a really fascinating and complex history, this is given a separate chapter here as well:
In addition to the main dark sites listed above, some of the vestiges of
Suriname’s bauxite mining industry
could perhaps count as somewhat dark. I saw some of those at Moengo
on the Cottica River in the east of Suriname, now all closed and abandoned, like much of the town, which suffered badly during the “Hinterland War” in the 1980s (see history
), just like the whole region, which only has a fraction of its former population (many fled the city or into neighbouring French Guiana
On the edge of Moengo I spotted an estate
, with a barbed-wire topped high wall around it and a watchtower by the gate. On the gate was a name: “Romeo Bravo
” – this, so my guide explained, was code for Ronnie Brunswijk
, who was the leader of the “Jungle Commando” in the Hinterland War (see also Moiwana
). Apparently this is his residence. Romeo Bravo, incidentally, is also the name of the local football club, founded and owned by Brunswijk. (Football and Suriname have a special relationship anyway – see under history
Visually more dramatic than Moengo is the only recently closed giant aluminium smelter at Paranam. This monstrous hulk of rusty reddish metal structures is fascinating to see close up – but: it won’t be there for much longer, as it is being dismantled; work had just begun when I was there. How long it will take before the entire complex has been taken down is hard to guess.
Another unexpected blot on the otherwise lush and green rainforest landscape is the huge oil refinery
on the Suriname River south of Paramaribo
opposite Peperpot (see below). Oil is the latest raw material discovered in Suriname to be exploited – against the signs of the times (i.e. climate change
and the need to cut down/draw back carbon emissions).
Finally, one of the more often visited historical sites in Suriname is the so-called Jodensavanne
– this is one of the places where Sephardic Jews settled and led a successful agrarian life basically until the Maroon Wars in the 18th/19th centuries (see history
). The ruins of a brick synagogue and the abandoned cemetery of the settlement make for an unusual and somewhat dark sight right in the middle of the jungle. The tiny single-room “museum” at the site was, however, closed and looked dysfunctional at the time we visited.
Jodensavanne as such is fairly accessible, though, both by boat on the Suriname River or by road. On my tour we were driven there from Paramaribo, and near Paranam our driver/guide spotted a sloth on the road ahead of us, so he stopped the car in front of the hapless creature; they’re slow at the best of times, but dragging themselves across tarmac they become totally sluggish – and vulnerable. Since the road was also used by heavy mining lorries (who probably wouldn’t brake for a small animal on the road), we got out and our driver picked the sloth up and put it down by the roadside. But then it occurred to us that the sloth, a male, as was clear from the markings on his back, had been on his way to the other side of the road, so he clearly wanted to go in that direction and would probably try to cross the road again (maybe he’d picked up the scent of an irresistible female?). So our guide scooped him up again and carried him across. And from there he “quickly” made his way into the undergrowth – and hopefully safety.
Some general country information for travellers:
The country may be small by South American standards but is still roughly as big as England and Wales
put together – yet only just over half a million people live there, and almost all of those along the coastal strip and especially in the capital Paramaribo
(where over half of the population reside). The interior is largely uninhabited, save for some mining communities, Amerindian villages and a few Maroon enclaves (descendants of escaped slaves who carved out an independent African-culture-like existence in the remote parts of the jungle – see under history). This makes Suriname one of the most thinly populated
countries on Earth (just 3.3 per square kilometre).
About half of all Surinamese don’t even live in the country but abroad, predominantly in the Netherlands
. And it is these ex-pat Surinamese who make up the largest proportion of visitors to Suriname. In addition it’s an easy tropical destination for the Dutch as well as Flemish-speaking Belgians, but otherwise very few international tourists
ever make it here.
However, for those that do come here, it’s actually the easiest of the three Guianas in many ways. Although Dutch is the official national language, English is also widely understood, and many actually converse in an English-derived pidgin/creole language called talkie-talkie or Sranan Tongo.
It’s quite a safe country these days too, and has a good tourism infrastructure. A peculiarity of tourism in Suriname is the fact that most visitors base themselves in Paramaribo
and make do with day tours
from there, and perhaps the odd two- or three-day tour to a resort further inland.
There are daily flight connections
to Suriname’s international airport (named after Johan Adolf Pengel, the country’s first black prime minister in the 1960s) from Amsterdam
, both by the Dutch national carrier KLM and Surinam Airways (sic! It’s not the only case of confusing spelling in this place), the country’s own very small airline that operates just one long-haul plane, an ageing Airbus 340 (which can cause problems, as I experienced when my return flight to Amsterdam was delayed by a whopping 14 hours or so, due to technical issues the plane had had in Amsterdam). In addition there are flights to the USA
(Miami), the Dutch Antilles (Curaçao
) and other Caribbean destinations, as well as to neighbouring Guyana
and Brazil (but, at the time of writing, not to French Guiana
). Since Suriname has no land border crossing points, flying in is the only option – except for going overland to the border rivers with Guyana and French Guiana and taking a boat/ferry across. For French Guiana this is in fact the only option at present.
within Suriname can be done independently, either by hire car
or – in true Dutch tradition – bicycle. Indeed bicycle hire
is very common (look out for “Fietsen in Suriname”) and for day excursions from Paramaribo this is a good option. Boats are also needed for crossing the Suriname River to get to the Commewijne district (see Mariënburg
and Fort Nieuw Amsterdam
). Note that driving
in Suriname is on the left
, as in Britain
(and neighbouring Guyana
). Roads in the coastal strip are good, and the main route east and west of Paramaribo now covers the entire length of it. Some inland routes are also on sealed roads, but then it gets rougher as red or grey dirt tracks take over. The deep interior is reachable only by taking a dug-out canoe along the rivers – or by flying in on small aircraft to one of the tiny airstrips in the jungle.
Alternatively to independent travel you can go on organized tours
– which is what my wife and I mostly did for everything outside the capital city. For this I used the same operator, Guyana
-based Wilderness Explorers, who also put the rest of my tailored 2019 trip to the Guianas together. I can highly recommend them.
If you only want to visit Suriname but none of the neighbouring countries, doing it independently and self-organized is perfectly feasible, though. Only staying in Suriname also makes things easier with regard to red tape, as you can get a single-entry ‘tourist card’ on arrival at the international airport instead of having to apply for a visa. If you want to go to any of the neighbouring countries too, however, you will need a multi-entry visa. This is a bit of a stumbling block and somewhat complicated, but from 2019 has been made a little easier at least through the introduction of e-visas, but it’s still a hassle.
options are concentrated in Paramaribo, outside the city options get thin, but there are a few lodges along the rivers and in the interior. Food & drink
are heavily influenced by the extreme multi-ethnicity
that so characterizes Suriname. Asians from Indonesia
(Javanese mostly) and India
(called Hindustanis here) constitute about half of the population and their culinary traditions are hence prevalent. So if you like Indian curries and roti, or the type of food prepared at Indonesian ‘warungs’, including spicy sambals, then you’ll be fine. The Chinese, who also make up a significant part of the population, do not only run almost all the shops and supermarkets, but some popular restaurants as well. Some Dutch influences are also noticeable in many tourist-oriented restaurants, plus some Caribbean elements.
Like many Caribbean islands, Suriname also produces rum
in various strengths and under several labels, though on that front they can’t quite compete with their Guyanese
neighbour’s products. Otherwise the equally commonplace local lager beer
Parbo is more or less agreeable, otherwise imported drinks can be quite expensive. The usual soft drinks
are ubiquitous and so is drinking water
, but unfortunately you will have to rely mostly on plastic bottles … and you do need to drink loads given the climate.
This hot and humid climate can be a bit taxing, as you do unavoidably sweat a lot. For that reason you may also want to make sure that the accommodation you book comes with air-con or at least fans.
In addition to the dark attractions covered here, Suriname also offers some nature and wildlife-watching
alternatives, not just in the jungle of the interior but also in the form of the rare spectacle of sea turtles and giant leatherbacks coming to isolated beaches on the Atlantic
coast to lay their eggs, from which the next generation then emerges a while later. Both can be observed in season e.g. at Matapica not too far from Paramaribo
or at Galibi beach in the north-east of the country, north of Albina. Watching wildlife like jaguars, giant otters or anteaters is trickier in Suriname than it is in Guyana
, but other species are more easily spotted, especially several types of monkeys, or the occasional sloth, and of course plenty of tropical birds, even in the city.
An easy excursion from Paramaribo is the nature reserve of Peperpot – actually an overgrown former plantation that is now home to many smaller wild animals that can be spotted from along a central path that runs right through the middle of the former estate, including troops of inquisitive squirrel monkeys. And going on boat tours along the Suriname River can give you the chance to spot dolphins.
generally characterize Suriname as much as the other Guianas, and apart from the eponymous Suriname River, important ones are the Commewijne and the Cottica, which have their confluence near the Suriname’s estuary, as well as the border rivers Nickerie (with Guyana
) and the Marowijne on the eastern border, known in French Guiana
as the Maroni (see St-Laurent du Maroni
I must say that I really liked Suriname. Paramaribo
is easily the nicest place in the whole region, and it makes a perfect base for those excursions. The multi-ethnic peacefulness is admirable, I think. It really seems like all these different ethnicities get along without much friction, at least on the surface. And it leaves its mark on the culture in general. Maybe underneath the veneer it isn’t all so perfect, but for the visiting tourist this makes a nice contrast to the much edgier situation in the neighbouring countries … And it’s such a oddity, totally Caribbean on the one hand and a little piece of Holland
at the same time, plus all those Hindu temples, mosques and synagogues in addition to churches, all expressing multi-religious coexistence and tolerance too. Moreover, the guides I had were excellent and likeable and waitstaff in restaurants were super friendly too. Maybe I was just lucky, but I like to think that this is also part of the nice character of the country overall.
- Suriname 01 - statement of love
- Suriname 02 - like all of the Guianas, it is a land of rivers
- Suriname 03 - Cottica River
- Suriname 04 - bauxite plant at Moengo
- Suriname 05 - Moengo mine workers association, no longer needed
- Suriname 06 - car wrecks in Moengo
- Suriname 07 - Ronny Brunswijk mansion
- Suriname 08 - massive relics of the bauxite indiustry at Paranam
- Suriname 09 - Paranam aluminium smelter
- Suriname 10 - rescued sloth
- Suriname 11 - looking hestinantly grateful
- Suriname 12 - roadside vultures
- Suriname 13 - roadside military vehicles
- Suriname 14 - they have a Berlin too
- Suriname 15 - oil refinery on the Suriname River
- Suriname 16 - upper Suriname River
- Suriname 17 - old cemetery in the Jodensavanne
- Suriname 18 - synagogue ruins
- Suriname 19 - walking tree
- Suriname 20 - butterfly
- Suriname 21 - Peperpot nature reserve
- Suriname 22 - inquisitive squirrel monkey
- Suriname 23 - big monitor lizard
- Suriname 24 - a butterfly like walking jewellery
- Suriname 25 - dilapidated old plantation house
- Suriname 26 - sluice gate, drainage canal and restored plantation house
- Suriname 27 - overgrown ex-plantation
- Suriname 28 - curry and roti
- Suriname 29 - Javanese warung fare