A Love Letter to Paramaribo, Suriname

95% of the time, David and I travel fast.  Because we’re constrained in time off from our jobs, we try to see as much as possible in a very condensed amount of time.  This typically results in us spending a couple nights here, and a couple nights there; never spending much time in a single place before jetting off to our next destination.  However, Paramaribo, Suriname was a game changer for us.  The city grabbed hold of us hard as soon as our tiny prop plane sputtered into Zorg en Hoop, Paramaribo’s domestic terminal.  On our short cab ride from the airstrip (it is an international airport by technicality – it has two flights a day to and from Georgetown, Guyana – most of its traffic is to and from Suriname’s dense jungle interior) we saw places of worship from no fewer than four world religions, dense jungle flora the likes of which we hadn’t seen previously, and wonderfully intact examples of Dutch colonial architecture.

There’s a long list of cities David and I have grown to love over the course of our travels: Sarajevo, Bosnia, Sofia, Bulgaria, Riga, Latvia, and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan come to mind.  But we didn’t linger in any of these as long as we did in Paramaribo.  Reflecting on our time in Parbo, as it is known affectionately, there wasn’t one single thing that made us fall in love with the city.  But rather, we fell for the sum of its parts.

So, without further ado, here are the five things that made me fall in love with Paramaribo, Suriname:

Wooden architecture. The influence of the Dutch is everywhere in the city.  It’s visible in the language and the food, sure, but mostly in the city’s architecture.  Stray one block from the city’s center, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by beautiful examples of Dutch Colonial architecture – so much so that, if it weren’t for the rapidly encroaching verdant greenery, you could mistake the town for Amsterdam fifty years ago.  The Surinamese have taken great pains to maintain its historic buildings – in fact, the main tourist stretch of the city, the Waterkant, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We found that the most enchanting buildings, however, were found three or four blocks from the Waterkant.  In the periphery of the tourist core (which honestly only comprises two or three city blocks) there sit countless once-whitewashed houses, with paint now crumbling due to decades of persistent equatorial humidity.
It’s all in the details
. Much like we appreciate the intricate ironwork in post-Soviet nations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, we found public buildings in Paramaribo to be incredibly well-adorned with custom sculptures and adornment.  The most intricate and ostentatious examples seemed to be attached to the more modernist public use buildings in the city – the National Post Office and the Bank of Suriname being two prime examples.  But we also found this taste for the extravagant amidst everyday residences – showcasing the Surinamese love of all things flashy.

Street advertising. Paramaribo is not Coca Cola country.  While one can certainly spot the global ubiquitous logos of the cola giants, the most common advertising is of the local brew: Parbo Bier.  Other than that, the walls of the city, built around houses, shops, and sports fields, are blanketed in colorful advertisements of local products and shops.  One of the things we loved most about the city was turning a new corner and discovering new products, ranging from dog food to newspapers. Tropical weather.  We visited Suriname at the height of the coldest, wettest Winter in Seattle of the past ten years.  Stepping off the plane (albeit in Guyana) was a breath of humid, tropical, and very fresh air.  We may not be the most resilient travelers when it comes to extreme heat, but the weather in Paramaribo – hot as hell, with air thick like marshmallow fluff – was a welcome change from our damp and dreary home in the Pacific Northwest. Less than the heat itself, however, we loved what sprung from it.  The wildest, tropical flowers and vines, inundating every building, occupied or not, brought to mind “Heart of Darkness” or the fictional Dharma Collective from “Lost”.  No building or sidewalk was exempt from the advancing greens, creating a very tangible push and pull between the human Paramaribo and the aggressive, primeval nature lurking just beneath its surface and around its rougher edges.Surinamese people. Far and away the best thing about Paramaribo, however, was the people.  As two white, English-speaking men in the city, we stuck out like sore thumbs.  Everywhere we went, we were spectacles.  But rather than take advantage of us and our lack of knowledge of our surroundings, local Surinamese people approached us, made conversation, and tried to assist in our cross-cultural fumples.  Suriname is a vastly diverse nation, with populations descending from no fewer than six different backgrounds (the most populous being indigenous Amerindian, African, Hindustani Indian, Javanese, Chinese, and Dutch) – and we were treated well by members of each group, despite our lack of Dutch and Sranan Tongo (the lingua franca derived from mixing native languages of the peoples listed previously).  To the Surinamese of Paramaribo, what was more interesting than our skin color was simply our presence in their nation:  Why were we in Suriname?  How do you find Paramaribo?  Are the people friendly?  The answer to all three were: 1) On vacation, 2) we love it, and 3) absolutely.  After having spent so much time in the Balkans and former USSR, places that, while known for their hospitality, may take a while to warm up to, it was a real check to meet people so genuinely and quickly engaged with us and where we were coming from.

In all, we spent the lion’s share of our time in Suriname in Paramaribo – cozied up in our charming B&B a short walk from the city center on Costerstraat for five of the six nights we were in country.  The time we spent there gave us a real affinity for the city, and allowed us to get to know it and its people quite well, at least relative to how we usually get to know a place.  We made local friends who showed us around the ins and outs of the city, and found a favorite roti restaurant (that writeup to be coming soon!), and found ourselves daydreaming about buying up a fixer-upper on the outskirts of town, and adopting tens of local street dogs.

Either way, if you’re in the market for a truly offbeat destination (one that your friends won’t be able to find on a map, no less), consider Suriname and its enchanting capital.  And if you need more reasons than the five listed above, reach out to me, and I’ll be happy to chat your ear off about our love for this least visited nation on the South American continent.

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16 thoughts on “A Love Letter to Paramaribo, Suriname

  • March 13, 2017, 10:32 pm

    I love the wooden architecture too! Concrete, Wood, and Kitsch 😉 I’m actually really glad to hear the people were friendly there. I think the stereotype of Central and South America being dangerous is so sad. Your comments about how people in the former USSR are friendly and take a while to warm up reminded me of when I went to Finland. I’m so used to living here that when I was in Helsinki I remember thinking, “Wow! The people here are SO friendly.”

    • March 14, 2017, 8:40 am

      I know, I’m going to have to expand my blog title! Though there is a concrete post coming up about Guyana and Suriname, don’t worry! 🙂

      It’s weird about Eastern Europe/former USSR because I find the people there really lovely after a while, it just takes a while to thaw their frozen hearts…

  • Geoffrey Bartelmes
    March 14, 2017, 8:48 am

    Yes, the people are so friendly and love tourists especially if you aren’t from the Netherlands. Not to many tourists from the USA these days so hope that improves. A safe country to explore in the city or the jungle! Not much of a mention of the food there besides the roti which in good but the Indo, Chinese or local foods are better. A short drive to the north of the city to Blaugrond and it’s many Warungs (cafes) to indulge in Indo/Javanese food is a must. The city is awash in Chinese restaurants with the influx of “New” Chinese and is a can’t miss either with Northern fare besides the standard Southern Chinese food.

    • March 14, 2017, 8:51 am

      Geoffrey, you beat me to it! I have a writeup coming on the Warungs we visited in the Commewijne.

      We didn’t eat any Chinese food while we were there, but I suppose that’s just a reason to return!

      Thanks for your comment!

  • March 14, 2017, 12:24 pm

    Just recently found your site thanks to George @ TBB and have been enjoying every post since then ??

    • March 14, 2017, 12:43 pm

      Thanks for the note, Dima!

      I’d love to pick your brain about your miles game – it’s something I’m terribly bad at, and have always meant to spend more time learning. Mind if I shoot you an email?

      • March 14, 2017, 1:56 pm

        Sure thing, shoot me an email

  • Tanis
    March 15, 2017, 3:27 am

    Great piece! Beautiful pictures. I myself am from Suriname and I never thought of the street advertising like you described it. Loved it every bit. Thanks. I am looking forward to your other articles.

    • March 15, 2017, 9:37 am

      Thanks for your kind comment, Tanis, and I appreciate you stopping by!

      More articles on Suriname and beyond coming soon. 🙂

  • March 20, 2017, 8:40 pm

    I follow you on Insta and didn’t realize you had a blog. Glad it dawned on me today to check it out! Guyana/Suriname/French Guiana are pretty high on my list of places I want to explore so I’m going to dig into what you’ve already posted and look forward to what’s coming. Actually found your Insta due to my interest in Kyrgystan (another place I have yet to get to), so I’m happy to see we’re on similar travel wavelengths!

    • March 21, 2017, 10:34 am

      Great to hear from you, David! Guyana and Suriname were absolutely wonderful, and very different from places my David and I typically travel to. We actually missed French Guiana because we fell so head over heels for Paramaribo. 🙂 That said, we’re hoping to return to the region soon!

      Kyrgyzstan was great, too, albeit quiet different from South America. It’s just so dang hard to get to!

      What’s on your travel list this year?

      • March 21, 2017, 11:11 am

        I’ve already done Qatar, Tanzania, Senegal, Egypt, and Portugal this year. Also have visits to France, Armenia, UAE, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Austria on the books. I have a yet to be determined trip also coming up with the family, but will likely be somewhere like Hawaii or Greece.

        • March 22, 2017, 3:50 pm

          Some of my favorite places in there! (Armenia, Bulgaria, BiH…) – and we’re hoping to go to Senegal in 2018! Can’t wait to read about them on your site.

          I couldn’t find a place to subscribe to new content – any way you could add me to a subscription list? nick@concreteandkitsch.com 🙂

          • March 23, 2017, 12:29 am

            You know, I never even thought about having an option to have people subscribe. I always think of my blog as a fun project I do for myself and a few friends/family that like to follow along. So thanks for the idea, I just spent the last hour adding a subcription box to the site. I added you just now. I’ll be in touch perhaps when I ship off to the Balkans! And I hope to have Senegal posts up before you head there. I’m currently over a year behind on posts. Ooops.

  • March 29, 2017, 7:51 pm

    I admit I’ve never heard of Suriname before. It’s just not on most travelers’ radar, but I can see what you’re talking about. Perhaps being a less traveled place it has maintained its authenticity and untouched charm.

    • March 30, 2017, 12:42 pm

      It’s that idea that takes us places like Suriname – the feeling that tourism hasn’t impacted a culture in a significant way yet lends to authenticity in a very tangible way.

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