Suriname travel

Suriname is a South American country with a Caribbean feel, Dutch as its national language and an ethnic mix of Creoles, Javanese, Amerindians, Hindustani and Afro-Surinamese. Boats take you deep into virgin rainforest where age-old traditions are part of life, while the capital city of Paramaribo charms you with white wooden colonial mansions for which it has obtained UNESCO World Heritage status.

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Suriname is part of the Guiana plateau on the north side of South America. Two mighty rivers, the Corantijn and the Marowijne, mark the borders with, respectively, Guyana in the west and French Guiana in the east. Suriname’s southern border, deep in the Amazon jungle, is with Brazil.

The coast, swamps and mangroves are home to species such as dolphins, caymans, sea turtles, the red ibis, and an abundance of fish. Further south stretches the savannah, once home to colonial plantations but now sparsely inhabited. Most of Suriname is covered with rainforest, partly protected but also subject to activities like gold mining.

The country attracts lovers of nature, wildlife viewers and anglers. Cultural history can be found in downtown Paramaribo, at colonial plantations, and in the traditional villages of Amerindians and Maroons (the descendants of fugitive slaves).

City focus: Paramaribo, Suriname’s capital

Paramaribo’s laid-back atmosphere makes it pleasant to stroll around Fort Zeelandia and the nearby Onafhankelijkheidsplein, where on Sundays birdsong competitions are held. You can see and feel the ethnic diversity of the country in the town’s temples and churches, as well as in art expositions. Explore the numerous markets and share a djogo – a one-litre bottle of Parbo beer – along the waterfront of the Suriname River.

Food is as diverse as Suriname’s population. Warungs (Javanese, cheap food stalls) offer fried rice, fried snacks and soato soup. Try Creole dishes such as pom and peanut soup, a quintessential Brazilian barbecue, or an Indian spicy roti (pancake filled with chicken).

Getting to and from Suriname

KLM flies between Paramaribo and Amsterdam five times a week. A return ticket costs about US$900 (low season) to US$1600 (high season and school holidays). SLM has connections to Miami, Amsterdam, Belém (Brazil), Curaçao and Aruba (Dutch Antilles). Caribbean Airlines flies to Trinidad.

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Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport, better known as Zanderij Airport, lies about 40 kilometres south of Paramaribo. The airport is only open for two hours before and after the arrival or departure of a flight. Expect to pay about SRD 50 (US$15) for a bus ticket to Paramaribo while a taxi will cost SRD 125-160 for up to four people.

You can enter Suriname from either French Guiana or Guyana. Both require a ferry crossing when travelling with a vehicle, or taking a small passenger boat when travelling without. The immigration offices are right along all waterfronts. There is no land border crossing between the Brazil and Suriname.

Visa requirements

Inhabitants of the US, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and several South American countries will be issued a singe-entry, 90-day tourist card at Suriname’s airport, and costs US$25. No photo is required but your passport needs to be valid for at least six months and you must have a return or onward-flight ticket.

Visitors from other countries still require a visa, which you can obtain in your home country, in French Guiana (3, av. Leopold Heder in Cayenne) or in Guyana (171, Crown Street in Georgetown). Expect a five-day application procedure. A regular single-entrance tourist visa is valid for 90 days and costs US$50-100 (depending on your nationality).

Getting around Suriname

Bus

Downtown Paramaribo is small and easy to explore on foot. Buses travel to surrounding suburbs throughout the day, but note that they generally only leave when full. The bus terminals are located close to each other, you will find them at the Waterkant, Heiligenweg, Maagdenstraat, Waaldijkstraat and Saramaccastraat. The national bus company, NVG, is situated at the Heiligenweg. From here buses run to all corners of the country. ph: 472450 / 473591.

Taxis

Taxis are hardly ever recognisable as such. You’ll most likely find them in front of expensive hotels and along the Waterfront near the Central Market. Two common companies are Tourtonne’s taxi (ph: 475734) and Ulstrel Taxi (ph: 470646 / 8569342). They have no meter – although Tourtonne taxi is experimenting with implementing them – so negotiate a price before setting out.

Car and camper rental

In Suriname people drive on the left side of the road. The Oost-West Verbinding (East-West connection) between French Guiana and Guyana is tarmac. The only other asphalted artery runs from Paramaribo to Brownsweg and subsequently Atjoni. All other roads are unpaved and, in the rainy season, may only be negotiable by four-wheel drive. Note that some car rental agencies don’t allow you to drive on unpaved roads. Bring your own driver’s licence as well as an international one.

Car rental agencies at Zanderij Airport are Avis and Ross Rental Cars. Reservations are recommended. There are more car rental agencies in downtown Paramaribo, among others Herz, Wheelz and CHM Rent a Car.

Cycling and hiking

Cycling is popular only among tourists who like to explore the former plantation region of Commewijne in this fashion, which includes the crossing of the Suriname River by boat. Bicycles can be rented at, among other places, Cardy Adventures & Bike Rental (Cornelis Jongbawstraat 31/ bikerental@cardyadventures.com) and Fietsen in Suriname (Zus&Zo Guesthouse, Grote Combéweg 13a). Bring a hat and lots of sunscreen lotion.

Hiking is uncommon in Suriname. Some eco-lodges have a trail or two into the forest, while the Maroons and Amerindians have trails connecting their villages or leading to their vegetable gardens. If you want to do some serious hiking, book a multiple-day hike with a guide at one of Paramaribo’s tour operators.

Plane

Bluewing Airlines and Gumair are local airlines connecting Paramaribo with the interior.

They depart from the small Zorg en Hoop Airport near downtown Paramaribo. This airport is just 3km from the centre and can be reached by taxi.

Boat

Boats are a common means of transport. They take you into the interior and to Suriname’s sea turtle beaches; expect to pay about SRD 70 for a two-hour trip.

A cheap way to explore the Surinamese rivers is to take the Postboot (mail boat, ph: 472447), which costs about SRD 60 for a full day.

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Top 10 things to do in Suriname

  • Have a djogo at the Waterkant in Paramaribo. Join the locals and share a one-litre beer with a sampling of fried snacks while watching boat life on the Suriname River and seeing the imposing Wijdenbosch Bridge light up at night.
  • Watch dolphins play in the delta of the Suriname River. Take a boat trip to admire this spectacle of nature, which is followed by a visit to a plantation and watching the sunset on the river.
  • Enjoy a boat trip with Suriname’s famous writer Cynthia McLeod She tells fantastic tales about Suriname’s colonial history while the Sweet Merodia boat stops at various plantations for a short visit (ph: 08838186 / cynthiamcl@sr.net).
  • Take a fishing tour. You’ll see anglers everywhere in the country. Some tour operators take the environmental approach by returning the fish to the water after it has been caught.
  • Drive from Paramaribo to Apoera and camp in the wilderness. The road leads along creeks with accommodations and offers a variety of flora and fauna. Rough camping along the road is possible too.
  • Hike to the Raleigh Falls and Voltzberg. It is expensive and difficult to get to these little explored areas deep in the jungle; a true adventure. Try http://www.stinasu.com/
  • Admire waterfowl in the swamp of Bigi Pan. A boat trip with a guide will take you deep into this protected area where you’ll watch wildlife. While you are waiting for your lunch on an island you can canoe Bigi Pan Lake (ph. Stephanie: 8783651/8852471).
  • Watch sea turtles laying eggs. Take a boat trip with mandatory guide to Suriname’s Reserve of Galibi, or cross into French Guiana and visit the sea turtle beach of Awala-Yalimapo independently. High season is from April to July.
  • Visit Maroon villages along the Upper Suriname River. A boat trip takes you to picturesque villages with age-old customs and if lucky, a celebration. The village of Pikin Slee has the recently-opened Maroon museum.
  • Visit Amerindian villages such as Palumeu and Awarradam. Organised tours will take you to the indigenous inhabitants who live either deep in the rainforest or along the coast.
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This page by Karin-Marijke Vis, with photos supplied by Coen Wubbels. Last updated May 2012.