Suriname Travel Guide
As a nation with a population that is barely the size of the US state of Wyoming, it is easy to blow off Suriname as a viable destination in South America.
However, its history as a colony where indentured labor was brought in from Asia by the Dutch means that its present-day population consists of a mix of people that stands out distinctly from the rest of the continent.
People here can trace their lineage to nations such as India, China, Laos and Indonesia … far from the usual countries of origin that most people have in South America.
Where else in South America can you find a population where there’s an even mix of people that observe the Christian, Hindu, and Islamic faiths?
What’s more, despite the fact that they live in close proximity to each other, everybody here co-exists in harmony, setting an interesting example for the rest of the world.
Currency: Surinamese Dollars
Languages: Dutch, English, Sranang Tongo, Hindustani, Javanese
What To Do
Begin your time in Suriname by exploring the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral. Best known as the largest wooden structure in the Western Hemisphere, the interior is breathtaking in its scale, as everything from the pillars to the pews is constructed from cedar that has been locally sourced from the abundant forests found in the interior of the country.
Battling everything from tropical disturbances to termites over the years, this church is just one of a variety of buildings within the downtown area of Paramaribo that has earned it a UNESCO world heritage site designation.
While the Dutch Colonial structures will attract much of your attention during your time in the capital of Suriname, another defining attribute of this nation is it surprising diversity, and there is no better place to witness this then by visiting the Suriname City Mosque.
Not only does this Islamic house of worship testify to the drastic differences inherent in this country compared to the rest of South America, but the fact that it is located next to the city’s Jewish synagogue also speaks to the harmony that exists between the varying cultures that call Suriname home.
During the early days of the French trying to establish a colony in this portion of South America, the fortress that is now known as Fort Zeelandia was built to defend their beachhead here.
In the time from its founding in the 17th century, the British conquered this fort, ruling over it for a brief time, after which the Dutch took it, who then changed the name to Fort Zeelandia.
While it is a popular tourist attraction in the present day, things were a little less cheery during the military regime that ruled the country in the 1980’s, as this fortification served as a detention center for political prisoners, some of whom were tortured for information on their contemporaries.
Within the grounds of the fort, there is also a museum that chronicles the daily lives of the first settlers of Suriname.
Here, there are full reproductions of a pharmacy, a shoe shop and the local jail, as well as exhibits that contain pictures, furniture, clothing and other personal effects that settlers from places such as China, India, and Indonesia brought with them to this strange new world on the other side of the globe.
For the most part, the Suriname interior contains intact virgin stands of rainforest, with limited penetration of it by the country’s road systems. What you are able to reach will take you to one of several preserves that protect this nation’s environment.
One of the best of these is the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, which was inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage site in the year 2000 for protecting over 16,000 square kilometers of untouched rainforest habitat.
Throughout its flat to slightly mountainous terrain, you will find many species of bird, and you will also have the opportunity to spot some rare cats such as the Jaguar or the Puma, as they are found in this part of South America more frequently than in other, more ecologically-stressed environments.
Another worthwhile place to take in the biodiversity of Northern South America is within Brownsberg Nature Park. Located closer to the capital city of Paramaribo, This park is easier to get to if your time in Suriname is limited. Brownsburg is best known for its population of monkeys, both of the howler and the spider variety.
What to Eat
The food that defines the cuisine of Suriname is composed mostly of the meals that its various immigrants have brought over from Asia and Africa over the years.
If you’re just looking for a snack, they’re having some Indonesian Style Satay is the way to go. Consisting of slivers of marinated meat impaled on skewers and then barbecued over an open flame and served on the side with peanut sauce, you can buy a few and quiet a brief hunger pang, or a bunch and make a meal out of it.
Another cultural influence on Suriname has to do with the presence of Afro Caribbeans: of all the dishes that this cultural group has created over the years, none is as unique to Suriname as Peanut Soup with Tomtom.
Made with plantains, onions, peppers, and diced chicken that is cooked up in a broth made from peanut butter, this full-bodied meal will fill you up until well into the evening.
While there is no official dish for Suriname, people on the ground frequently consider Chicken with Rice and Kouseband as the most popular meal in the country.
Consisting of marinated chicken served over rice with yard beans, it is one of the easier unique meals that you will be able to find on restaurant menus in this country.