So you are heading to Suriname? You will be visiting one of the least travelled countries in the world! Most people don’t even know where Suriname is. Whilst many flock to Brazil (or Colombia, Peru or Bolivia) to access the Amazon basin, trips into the Amazon in Suriname are wilder and less touched by tourism. This Suriname Travel Guide includes everything you need to know about travel in Suriname, along with the amazing and unmissable things you should see whilst you are there.
Suriname Travel and Tourism
Suriname (pronounced Suri-nam) is the smallest sovereign state in South America and has a teeny population of just over half a million. Tourism in this country exists but it is pretty undeveloped. You’ll see a few tourists around in the capital Paramaribo, but not many.
Tour agencies have popped up in Paramaribo, with many of these offering high quality (whilst kinda pricey) tours into the Amazon jungle, to turtle beaches and more. You can do a few things independently, but it is a little more tricky than other South American countries.
Most foreign tourists we met in Suriname were Dutch. After independence from the Dutch in 1975, relations between these two countries appears to be amicable. In the Netherlands there is a significant Surinamese community.
An incredibly diverse country
Compared to other countries in South America, Suriname is an incredibly ethnically diverse country. This is due to its colonial history. After the British, it came under Dutch rule in the 17th century. Suriname was largely a plantation economy, dependent on African slave labour. After slavery was abolished, indentured servants were brought over from Asia.
Thus Surinamese people are a mix of Afro-Surinamese (Creole and the Maroons), those of East Indian, Javanese (Indonesian) and Chinese descent. There is even a community of people who are of Lebanese and European descent, with a few Brazilians thrown in. Last but certainly not least, Suriname also has an indigenous population.
Food in Suriname
Suriname’s extremely diverse population makes for an extraordinary supermarket and food experience. In restaurants you’ll find Indian rotis and curries, creole dishes, Indonesian Nasi Goreng, your standard Chinese food, Dutch dishes, and if you venture into the Amazon jungle, indigenous dishes. This Asian, particularly Indian influence, makes Suriname probably one of the easiest places to be vegetarian in South America.
Dutch is the official language of Suriname. However Creole, indigenous and Asian language dialects are also spoken. If you don’t know Dutch, don’t worry. Surinamese people on the whole speak pretty good English, although it is useful to download Google Translate on your phone to help you with signs and if you get lost (like we did a few times).
Getting in and out of Suriname
Most people start their visit to Suriname by flying into Paramaribo Airport (Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport). From the airport, Paramaribo is over an hour away by car. Do ask your hotel in Paramaribo if they can arrange a taxi to pick you up from the airport.
You can also get into Suriname from Georgetown Guyana via bus, ferry and then another bus. You can get to Suriname from Cayenne (in next door French Guiana), but it doesn’t sound easy. Travel between all three ‘Guianas’ (Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana) can be tricky.
Getting around Suriname is not particularly easy, but in Paramaribo there is a central bus station where you can ask about the bus times and locations to various places and regions. This is not too far away from the Marron Market.
Not all buses go from this bus station, but at the station you can find out where they go from. There are bus times on the walls, but do check with the actual staff as often the bus times are out of date.
You can also get around Suriname by domestic flights. From Paramaribo-Zorg en Hoop airstrip, you can get to Albina, Avanavero, Botopasi, Cottica, Godoholo, Kabalebo, Moengo, Nickerie, Stoelmanseiland, Tabiki and Tepo.
Visa for Suriname
For Suriname, you might need a visa or Suriname tourist card. If you are from any of these countries, then you can get an e-tourist card. Everyone else needs an e-visa. You can now apply for these online, which is much more convenient compared to when we travelled to Suriname last year! Here are the different visa and tourist card prices.
Places to visit in Suriname
Paramaribo is the capital and the biggest city in Suriname, the area is home to more than 240,000 people. It’s streets are lined with wooden and often colourful colonial buildings. Paramaribo isn’t a bad city, but it certainly isn’t the most happening city in the world (at least when we visited) and often you’ll find restaurants, shops and such unexpectedly closed. Paramaribo doesn’t have the usual pace of a city you’d find elsewhere, it’s far more laid back. You can probably see most of the sights in actual Paramaribo in one day. However, there are a few day excursions you can do from Paramaribo (to see the dolphins or do a sugar cane tour) so it’s a good place to be based to do these.
Things to do in Paramaribo
Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Peter and Paul
Also called the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, this is a charming yellow cathedral smack bang in the center of Paramaribo. If there isn’t a service going on inside, pop in and have a look around. It’s actually apparently the biggest wooden structure in the Western Hemisphere.
This a cute little fort, originally built by the British and then taken over by the Dutch. It’s in great condition, the museum inside is fairly interesting, although there is a lot in Dutch rather than English (fair enough it is the national language!). The shop and bar are pretty nice too. It is worth getting on a tour, however we only saw tours in Dutch but they do offer English tours on certain days. Do note it is closed on Monday, and only open until 2pm on other days.
Suriname City Mosque Paramaribo
The Suriname City Mosque is at the heart of the muslim community in Suriname. It’s a beautiful intricate white and gold building, which is situated right near a synagogue, demonstrating the great cultural diversity of Suriname.
The Historic Inner City of Paramaribo
This won’t take you long to wander around. This area has a large lawn, where events are sometimes held and is surrounded by Suriname’s government buildings, such as the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Justice and the Presidential Palace. Many of these buildings are in the wooden colonial style quintessential of Paramaribo. The area is no Westminster, but it has its charm. And there is the occasional festival or event on the lawn in front of the Palace.
Palm Tree Gardens
The Palm Tree Gardens are small, but pleasant. Tall royal palm trees stretch above you, shading you from the hot Surinamese sunshine. A troop of capuchin monkeys and tropical birds call this park home, although those cheeky monkeys weren’t anywhere to be seen when we visited. Some days you’ll find local craft stores at the entrance to the Palm Tree Gardens and there is a great restaurant called Zus & Zo across the road.
Paramaribo River Promenade & Market
On a weekend it’s worth heading to Waterside Street (near Fort Zeelandia). From there, you can walk along the river promenade, it’s not a long walk but on the weekends families are often out drinking and eating snacks at the local food stalls. A little further down this road is the market (the Marron Markt/Centrale Markt), which is worth popping into for a cultural experience. In this market you can pick up fruit, veg and other goods.
This is a small zoo that showcases a modest number of Suriname’s fabulous and interesting wildlife. However, sadly the cages are a little small for some of the animals. I’d say it’s probably better to just head out into Suriname’s amazing nature and see what it has to offer for yourself.
Dolphin Spotting Tour from Paramaribo
From Paramaribo you can take a half day boat trip to watch the sunset and spot graceful dolphins where the Suriname and Commewijne River meet.
Sugar Cane Day Trip from Paramaribo
From Paramaribo you can do a number of day trips, unfortunately these are often a little tricky to do yourself so it’s often worth doing a tour. One tour from Paramaribo is the sugar cane trail. Through this tour, you can learn a lot about the often dark but extremely significant history of sugar in Suriname. In the days of slavery, hundreds of sugar plantations existed throughout Suriname. Mets, a reputable tour company in Suriname offers this Sugar Trail Tour.
Exploring The Rest of Suriname: Suriname Travel Guide
Brownsberg National Park
Brownsberg is probably one of the closest places to Paramaribo where you can truly experience Suriname’s beautiful scenery, nature and wildlife. Also, the great news is you can actually do it independently.
Whilst many tour companies in Paramaribo offer a day tour to Brownsberg National Park, don’t do it like this! You’ll spend most of your day in a van and won’t get to the jungle at the right time of day to see animals.
Stay for a few nights and explore the footpaths leading to waterfalls and stunning views. During our Brownsberg adventure, we spotted monkeys, a tortoise, impressive giant bugs and so much more. A warning though, the accommodation is basic, but the food at the restaurant is nice and homemade. Here is literally everything you need to know about visiting Brownsberg National Park independently and on a budget.
Palameu (or another rural amazon destination)
If you are heading to Suriname, go where very few have gone before and visit Palumeu. Fly in a tiny plane over the Amazon basin, land on a village football field and venture deep into pristine jungle. Learn about the indigenous communities. See majestic toucans and macaws swoop through the skies. Do nighttime safaris and spot fascinating creatures of the night, with their eyes glittering in the torchlight. Meet snakes, spiders and piranhas.
Whilst expensive, a tour to Palameu or any other village deep in the Amazon jungle is totally worth it. I’d say not to be missed if you spend the energy heading to Suriname. For me it was a highlight of our trip to Suriname and a once in a lifetime experience. Here’s how to visit one of the rural communities in the Surinamese Amazon.
Galibi Sea Turtles
Based in the mouth of the Marowijne River which divides Suriname and French Guiana, Galibi Nature Reserve is a site of great biological diversity and a nesting site for endangered sea turtles. This nesting doesn’t happen all year round though. Between February and August four different sea turtle species come ashore to lay their eggs – the green sea turtle, massive leatherbacks, the Olive Ridley turtle and occasionally the hawksbill. There are two nearby Amerindian (indigenous) villages, called Christiannkondre and Langemankondre.
You can only access the Galibi Nature Reserve by boat from the small city of Albina. And it’s hard to find any accomodation in Albina, so it might be a case of rocking up and seeing what’s available (sometimes a little risky in Suriname!) or using one of the reputable tour companies in Suriname. Orange Tours offers a trip to Galibi, which also includes a quick visit to St. Laurent in French Guiana.
Costs of Suriname travel
During our three weeks in Suriname, we spent £2,300 between the two of us including visas. Budget accommodation is around £22-£25 per night for a double room, with an evening meal costing around £6-8 per person. Our budget included our amazing, but fairly pricey trip to Palameu. I’d say it was worth every penny though and a much more off-the-beaten track Amazon jungle trip compared to the ones you can do in Brazil, Colombia or Peru. Although, these countries tend to be far cheaper when it comes to Amazon jungle trips.
Tour Companies in Suriname
Both Mets Tours and Orange Tours offer high quality tours in Suriname. The companies seem to pool resources together. As Suriname is a tricky country to travel independently, finding a good tour company is pretty crucial.
Tours can be pricey, so Suriname is certainly not the best country for budget backpackers. Although we did meet a few Dutch backpackers making it work. Plus it’s far cheaper than next door Guyana, where for the tours we asked about (ranching) we were quoted thousands of dollars for a much shorter tour.
Do note, it’s worth booking up your tours before you head to Suriname, many of the tours only go if there is a certain number of people interested. Also, both Mets’ and Orange’s websites offer a lot of tours, but not all of these are running at once. Unless you are a big group, you might not have the biggest selection of options offered to you. Even if you aren’t offered the tour you had your heart set on, Suriname has a lot to offer and I am sure you will still have a great time.
Safety in Suriname
I never felt unsafe in Suriname, but then I wander around most of the time with my slightly burly husband. Surinamese people tend to be nice, but reserved and keep themselves to themselves. We weren’t bothered at any point during our visit.
In Paramaribo, there are a few dodgy streets you might want to avoid. Keep your valuables hidden, don’t walk the streets late at night and you will probably be fine. Always check the UK Foreign Office travel advice on Suriname (or your own country’s travel advice).
Do note, if you are British (like us) Suriname doesn’t have a British Embassy. There is one next door in Georgetown Guyana. Having done the journey between Guyana and Suriname, I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest place to get to if you get in trouble! They are worth contacting anyway if you do need them.
Drinking culture in Suriname
During your visit you’ll notice Suriname has a quirk when it comes to drinking culture. I don’t think alcohol advertising is regulated at all, and thus they advertise booze everywhere and beer can be anywhere from 6%-20% strong! Whilst I don’t think many studies have been done on Suriname, I think the country has quite the drinking problem. More than anywhere else we visited, we saw people hitting the bottle. The time of day didn’t seem to matter, and there seems to be less social stigma around it. We often saw people drinking at 10am outside the local corner store or standing chatting by their cars drinking alcohol. However, despite this, I never felt in any danger or threatened.
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