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.
PIN THIS POST: