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Suriname

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Travel Guide South America Suriname

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Introduction

Maroon house

Maroon house

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Suriname is a fascinating blend of cultures. Dutch colonial times have left an indelible mark on the capital, Paramaribo, with Dutch architecture lining the streets. Surinamese cuisine blends the diverse flavours of the major ethnic groups which make up Surinam's demographic; take one part East Indian, one part Indian, sprinkle on a dash of Creole and stir in some Chinese and you kind of get the picture. The ethnic diversity also derives from Dutch colonial times. In order to man their plantations, the Dutch first used West African slaves and then, when slavery was outlawed, Indonesian, Indian and Chinese workers.

Suriname's national parks and unadulterated inland forests make it an ideal setting for a South American adventure. Its frontier-style lack of development establishes it as a perfect destination for the hardy traveller.

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Brief History

The history of Suriname starts around 3000 BC when Native Americans first inhabited the area. Present-day Suriname was the home to many distinct indigenous cultures. The largest tribes were the Arawaks, a nomadic coastal tribe that lived from hunting and fishing, and the Caribs.

The first Europeans who came to Suriname were Dutch traders who visited the area along with other parts of the South America's 'Wild Coast'. The first attempts to settle the area by Europeans was in 1630, when English settlers led by Captain Marshall attempted to found a colony. In 1650 Lord Willoughby, the governor of Barbados furnished out a vessel, to settle a colony in Suriname. The settlement was invaded by seven Dutch ships (from the Zeeland region), led by Abraham Crijnssen, on 26 February 1667. Fort Willoughby was captured the next day after a three hour fight and renamed Fort Zeelandia. On 31 July 1667, the English and Dutch signed the Treaty of Breda, in which for the time being the status quo was respected: the Dutch could keep occupying Suriname and the British the formerly Dutch colony New Amsterdam (modern day New York).

Slavery in Suriname started with the English and this practice was continued when the Dutch took over Suriname. The plantations were sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton which was exported for the Amsterdam market. In 1713 for instance most of the work on the 200 plantations was done by 13.000 African slaves. Suriname was occupied by the British in 1799, after Holland was incorporated by France, and was returned to the Dutch in 1816, after the defeat of Napoleon. The Dutch abolished slavery only in 1863; although the British had already abolished it during their short rule. After 1873, many Hindu laborers where imported from India. This emigration was ended by Mohandas Gandhi in 1916. After that date, many laborers were again imported from the Dutch East Indies, especially Java. In the 20th century, the natural resources of Suriname, rubber, gold and bauxite were exploited.

In 1954, Suriname gained self-government, with the Netherlands retaining control of defence and foreign affairs.
In 1973, the local government started negotiations with the Dutch government about independence, which was granted at November 25, 1975. The first President of the country was Johan Ferrier (who died at the age of 99 in 2010). Roughly a third of the population emigrated to the Netherlands, fearing that the new country would not be able to survive.

In 1980, the government of Henck Arron was overthrown in a military coup led by Sergeant-Major Desi Bouterse. President Ferrier refused to recognise the new government. Another coup followed five months later, with the army replacing Ferrier with Chin A Sen. These developments were largely welcomed by a population that expected the new army-installed government to put an end to corruption and improve the standard of living. The Dutch initially accepted the new government, however, relations between Suriname and the Netherlands collapsed when 15 members of the political opposition were killed by the army on December 8, 1982, in Fort Zeelandia. This event is also known as the December killings. Bouterse's power began to wane after the 1991 elections. A brutal civil war between the Suriname army and the Maroons, loyal to the rebel leader Ronnie Brunswijk, further weakened his position during the 1990s.

Suriname's democracy gained some strength after the turbulent 1990s, and its economy became more diversified and less dependent on Dutch financial assistance. Bauxite mining continues to be a strong revenue source, but the discovery and exploitation of oil and gold has added substantially to Suriname's economic independence. Agriculture, especially of rice and bananas, remains a strong component of the economy, and ecotourism is providing new economic opportunities.

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Geography

Suriname shares international borders with Guyana, French Guiana and Brazil, Most of the bigger towns can be found along the 368 kilometer long coastline, or along the rivers. The main rivers all run from the south to the north. The Surinam, Coppename, Tapanahoni, Saramacca, Marowijne and the Corantijn are the most important ones. The Marowijne is Surinams border with French Guiana, and the Corantijn is the border with Guyana. There are however large parts in the south-east, and the south-west that are disputed by Guyana and French Guiana.

Inland there are not many settlements, because a large part of the country is covered by tropical rainforests. Rainforests that are slowly turning into savanna, because of the deforestation of this area. There are two main mountainridges: The Bakhuys Mountains and the Van Asch Van Wijck Mountains, The highest peak of the country in the Julianatop (1,286 metres).

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Regions

For travellers purposes, the following division can be made:

  • Paramaribo - Home to almost half of the country's population, the capital city Paramaribo and its direct surroundings is as bustling as it gets here. Listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, it has a delightful historic centre while its many cafés and restaurants cater to every traveller's needs. It's also an excellent starting point for trips to every other part of the country.
  • West Coast - The west coast is celebrated for its bird life, and the Bigi Pan Nature Reserve can be an absolute highlight in any Suriname travels. There are a few towns and some choices as far as accommodation goes, but this is a place away from the crowds and often overlooked by visitors.
  • East Coast - The eastern region offers some of the best examples of former colonial plantations, some still in use, others deserted and largely ruined. Along the coast you'll find some of the most prominent nesting beaches for sea turtles in all of the West-Atlantic.
  • Surinamese Rainforest - he inland areas of Suriname are part of the vast Amazon region and almost entirely covered with tropical rainforest. In the southwest is the Sipaliwini savanna area. In the centre and south are mountain ranges, but the highest peak, the Julianatop, is only 1280m high. Most Amerindians and Maroons live in this region, many of them in a primitive way. The Brokopondo Reservoir is one of the largest reservoirs in the world.

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Cities

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Sights and Activities

Historic Paramaribo

London tuf tuf

London tuf tuf

© All Rights Reserved tarmo

The Historic Inner City of Paramaribo is on the Unesco World Heritage List. As a Dutch colonial town from the 17th and 18th centuries, nowadays there still are original and highly characteristic features including the street plan of the historic centre remains. Its buildings illustrate the gradual fusion of Dutch architectural influence with traditional local techniques and materials. Read more in the Paramaribo article.

The Central Suriname Nature Reserve

The Central Suriname Nature Reserve is located in the central parts of the country and consists of more than 1,6 million hectares of primary tropical forest and is therefore placed on the Unesco World Heritage list as well. It protects the upper watershed of the Coppename River and the headwaters of many other rivers. It has several different ecosystems and some hills, mountains and waterfalls to preserve. It also contains a high diversity of plant life with more than 5000 plant species. The animals that are living here are typical of the region and include the jaguar, giant armadillo, giant river otter, tapir, sloths, many species of primates and over 400 bird species have been recorded as well including endangered ones like the harpy eagle and scarlet macaw.

Far South Expeditions

Tapanohany

Tapanohany

© All Rights Reserved tarmo

When travelling all the way to the south, you sure are on an expedition. Getting here is only possible by a very rough and long trip by boat, but most people fly in first and than travel to many of the fascinating destinations towards the border with Brazil. Palumeu is one of the most southern villages to be reached by chartered plane and it is best to arrange everything in advance in Paramaribo. From here, you can visit some indigenous villages, walk trough pristine forests, travel the rivers or go even further south to climb the magical Kasikasim mountain range. At the top you are able to view across the border with Brazil, one green field of broccoli.

Fort Zeelandia

Fort Zeelandia is a fortress on the banks of the river Surinam. It was build in 1651 by the British who conquered the trade post that was erected by the Dutch, and called it Fort Willoughby. In 1667 the Dutch recaptured the fortress and changed the name to Fort Zeelandia. During it's history the fort, has functioned as a fortress, barracks, as a prison, and most notoriously as the military headquarters of Desi Bouterse in april 1982. In december of that year, fifteen opponents of Bouterse were liquidated on the courtyard of the fort, after a failed countercoup against the military leadership that came to power through a coup in 1980. An event that became known as the decembermurders. Since 1995 the fortress is a museum, and houses the Surinam Museum.

Brownsberg

Brownsberg Nature Park is home to a diverse variety of wildlife. Located on the 500-metre-high Mazaroni Plateau, this reserve is a great place to see some of the diverse natural wonders of the country. The area has great views over the Brokopondo Reservoir as well. It's a paradise for birdwatchers (over 200 species) and there are great tails along the area, offering creeks and waterfalls as well.

Other sights and activities

  • Galibi Nature Reserve - famous because of its giant leatherback turtles laying their eggs in the March to July period.
  • Brokopondo Lake - the best inland destination reachable by car or minibus.
  • Bigi Pan Nature Reserve - A large area of open water, mudflats and mangrove forest.
  • Colakreek - A Cola colored swimming place in the midst of the savannah
  • Jodensavanne - A ruined, historic settlement of Sephardic Jews
  • Nature Resort Kabalebo - Flora and fauna in the untouched nature of the splendid Amazon rain forest
  • Old plantations in Commewijne - Best place to visit plantations as they were once
  • Raleighvallen Nature Reserve - An extensive set of rapids in the upper Coppename River
  • Upper Suriname - Authentic Maroon villages along the Upper Suriname River

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Weather

Suriname enjoys a hot and humid tropical climate, with temperatures around or above 30 °C at night and 'cooling' of to 23 °C on average at night. There are two rainy seasons, of which the April to August one is the longest and wettest. There is a shorter one from late November to January. Therefore, February - March and September - early November are the best times for a visit although the latter one sees the highest temperatures with 34 °C on average making things even worse.

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Getting There

Plane

Suriname Airways is the national airline of Suriname with its base at Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport (PBM) near the capital Paramaribo. International destinations include Amsterdam, Aruba,Curacao, Miami, Belém and Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago. KLM has flights to Amsterdam as well and with prices starting at €600 including taxes it's a relatively affordable way of getting from Europe to South America. Several other airlines serve a number of regional destinations, mainly in the Caribbean and northern part of South America.

Land

The only options of travelling overland to neighbouring countries are to cross the border rivers with Guyana (Corantijn River) and French Guiana (Marowijne River). It is not possible to travel overland to Brazil.

By Car

You can cross by car into French Guiana and Guyana though have your international driving permit, insurance and all documentation in order. Roads are quite good along the coast.

By Bus

Direct buses and/or minibuses travel between Paramaribo and both Cayenne in French Guiana and Georgetown in Guyana.

By Boat

The only options of travelling overland to neighbouring countries are to cross the border rivers with Guyana (Corantijn River) and French Guiana (Marowijne River). It is not possible to travel overland to Brazil.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Suriname Airways offers scheduled flights to several inland destinations. Several other charter airlines offer flights as well, mostly as part of a package deal as travelling around by yourself after your flight into Suriname's interior is not much of an option in most cases. Most flights are in small planes only.

By Train

There are no rail services in Suriname.

By Car

Only roads along the northern coastline and several (parts of) roads going a bit more into the interior are paved, some of them potholed. Many other roads are gravel roads, if there are at all roads. The southern part of Suriname hasn't got any roads at all. If you feel the need, you can rent cars with interntional firms at the airport and several local companies have offices in the main hotels in Paramaribo. Traffic drives on the left and you will need an international driving permit.

By Bus

Buses, minibuses and taxis ply the main routes along the northern coastline and few services go south. Taxis are more expensive, but if you can share the cost with several people, you will be glad to find them much more comfortable. Buses and minibuses are cheap but crowded. For an overview of schedules and connections, also international ones, see thebussschedule.com.

By Boat

If you want to visit the interior, you will be likely to get around by boat a lot as this is often the only means of transport. This also applies to the border rivers penetrating into the interior. Most services are not scheduled but are part of a package deal, including flight, accommodation, food and local transport.

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Red Tape

If you want to visit Suriname and you are not a citizen of one of the following countries, you have to ensure that your visa papers are in order. If you want to apply for a visa please contact one of the Suriname Consulates listed in Contact. Citizens of the following countries do not need a visa to enter Suriname:

Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica (for holders of diplomatic and official passports only), Colombia (for holders of diplomatic and official passports only), Cuba (for holders of diplomatic and official passports only), Dominica, Philippines, Gambia, Guyana, Grenada, Hong Kong, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Malaysia, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela (for holders of diplomatic and official passports only), South Korea.

In most cases you will receive a single-entry visa. So you only will be able to enter Suriname one time with that visa. In most cases this is no issue, but it can become an issue if you want to combine your trip to Suriname with a visit to for instance Guyana or French-Guiana. When you arrive in Suriname it is important that you inform the authorities where you are staying. Therefore you must go to the foreigners registration office in the 'Nieuwe Haven' within a week after your arrival. The customs-official will remind you of this.

As of November 2011 citizens of the following countries can obtain a single entry 90 day tourist card for USD25 or €20 (cash) at The Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport: Netherlands, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Paraguay, Peru, United States of America, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela.

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Money

See also Money Matters

In 2004 the Surinam Guilder was replaced by the Surinam Dollar (SRD), which is further divided into cents (100 cents = 1 dollar). There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, 100 and 250 cents, and notes of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 SRD. Their are however also notes of 1 and 2,5 dollar, which go under the name of a muntbiljet. (translated a coinnote)

1 Surinam Dollar is worth about 0.27 - 0.28 Euro.

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Work

Working as a foreigner in Suriname without a work permit is illegal, though granted, there is not much of a force to stop you. However, relations do exist between the Netherlands and Suriname for work exchange programs and extra labour, especially those of skilled classes.

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Language

Dutch is the official language of Suriname. For some basic Dutch see the Dutch Phrasebook

Besides Dutch there are over 20 other national languages spoken in Suriname. Most of the people talk a couple of these languages, and also English.

Sranang Tongo was suppressed by the Dutch for many years but it is now the most widely used language in Suriname. It was previously called nengre or negerengels (Dutch, "Negro English"). Suriname has a large immigrant population, many of whom do not speak Dutch or English, but everyone is expected to know Sranang Tongo. There is very little written material in Srannang Tongo but, if you know English, it will not be hard to learn.

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Eat

Because of the ethnic diversity there is a variety of exotic food available: Indian (specially roti with chicken), Chinese, Javanese (Indonesian), Creole.

Although Indonesian food might seem the appropriate name, the Indonesian people in Suriname are mostly if not all from the island of Java. And Java has its own cuisine, distinct from other styles of Indonesian food. Furthermore, the food has evolved to a more Surinamese culture and is thus very different from food you'd find in Java. Nevertheless it tastes great and you should try it.

Creole food can be found everywhere in Suriname, with dishes like cassava soup, pom (an oven dish with milled tajer-tuber and salt meat), pastei (an oven dish in puff pastry) and brownbeans or peanut soup with tom tom (dumplings of cooked bananas).

East Indian food is less spicy compared to original Indian food, but still a well appreciated meal. Very popular is roti, pancakes filled with chicken, potato and kouseband (long beans) prepared with masala. Bara is a fried cake of beans, like a donut, dripping from fat.

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Sleep

There are several good hostels and guest-houses available in Paramaribo and Nickerie. See the appropriate page for more information. When going into the rainforest it is best to buy a hammock in Paramaribo. Some guest houses in the forest provide hammocks, but these tend to be less hygienic, since washing machines are not that available in the forest. Bring mosquito repellent and sunblock when going into the forest.

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Drink

Suriname wouldn't be the tropical paradise it is without its wide variety of great fruit juices. Even the well known orange juice is a sensational taste, but do not hesitate to try great tropical fruits like passion fruit (known locally as 'markoesa') or soursap, better known as Guanábana (locally known as 'zuurzak'). Since locals have an appetite for sweetness, sugar is added to most juices you buy in bottles. For pure juice it is best to ask for fresh made juice. In the city it's also possible to get shaved ice in different flavours from the local vendors, which is very refreshing in the tropical climate.
The Javanese have a pink (and occasionally green) coloured drink called dawet, which consists of coconut milk. Try to get a local 'east-Indian' to make you a glass of lassi if you have the chance.

Try the local 'Parbo-beer', which, when it comes in one litre bottles, is called a 'djogo'. In 2008, Suriname finally got Parbo beer in a can, which was somewhat of a major event in the country. Guinness is a popular import beer, and for that reason Parbo also brews a very decent own stout variant: Parbo Stout and their own rums: Borgoe and Black Cat. Of course imported beers, whiskeys and rums are also available.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Suriname. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Suriname) where that disease is widely prevalent. A yellow fever vaccination is recommended anyway when travelling in Suriname.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Suriname. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Malaria is prevalent in the country, except along the coastal areas and in Paramaribo. It is recommended to take malaria pills and take other normal anti-mosquito precautions as well. Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

If you are concerned about safety try to avoid venturing at night alone. Try using a bike when possible. When in Paramaribo at night, avoid the Palm Garden as this is a well known crime site where much drug trade is done. The police force is only so large and can only protect you to a certain extent. Therefore, stay where you know police protection is offered. So please, use common sense when venturing outside downtown, which in itself can have problems. Do NOT venture to the bush (binnenland) alone.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See als International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

Suriname flag

Map of Suriname

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Capital
Paramaribo
Population
435,000
Government
Constitutional Democracy
Religions
Christianity (Catholic, Protestant), Hinduism, Islam
Languages
Dutch, English, Sranang Tongo, Hindustani, Javanese
Calling Code
+597
Nationality
Surinamese
Local name
Suriname

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This is version 38. Last edited at 10:52 on Jun 1, 15 by Utrecht. 30 articles link to this page.

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