Far and away the number one source of tourism in Suriname is that of the eco-variety. With over 90% of its land mass blanketed in primeval rainforest, it’s one of the best and most convenient places to get in touch with your inner Tarzan. There are numerous eco-resorts dotting the Suriname interior, but those that get the most traffic are a convenient (relative term, I realize) three to four hour bus and an additional hour in a motorized canoe up the Suriname river. Many are in quite close proximity to one another. Despite this, the scale and density of the jungle makes you feel miles apart.
We had decided to stay at Knini Paati, one of the eco-resorts most conveniently located to Paramaribo. Convenience, again, is relative. I must also admit that selecting Knini Paati was in no small part due to Seth Kugel’s writeup on it in the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler column, way back in 2014.
Our ride, Nelson, picked us up from our guest house at around nine in the morning. David and I had been not-so-secretly hoping for a well-equipped van, preferably not overflowing with fellow tourists, and we were justly rewarded. After our pick up, we trundled around sleepy Paramaribo to pick up three other travelers: Wim, born and raised in Suriname, had spent a bulk of his life working as a detective in Holland, and Anita and Carmen, two Hindustani Surinamese women who’d also somewhat recently retired to Suriname after several decades in Europe. Our three companions came to epitomize Surinamese hospitality for us – and we keep in touch to this day.Before embarking on the road to the interior, we stopped at roadside stands outside the city to pick up sandwiches and supplies for our stay. David and I didn’t plan extremely well for this, as I found myself compelled to purchase only local Oreo offerings and ice cream cones for the group.
As we do whenever we’re on such adventures with opportunity for motion sickness, David and I promptly took our grape flavored children’s Dramamine, and proceeded to sleep for most of the trip. Though I’m told that from Suriname’s only road to the interior, there are ample opportunities to see illegal gold mines, small Amerindian settlements, and the remnants of a now-shuttered Alcoa aluminum processing plant. All of which, in more fortuitous equilibrium circumstances, would have held great interest. We were both indisposed, drooling and dreaming of who knows what.
After four hours we arrived to the town of Atjoni, where tourists are dropped from their crowded minibuses and transferred to one of the tens of long, motorized dugout canoes bearing the name of the different eco-lodges on that particular stretch of the Suriname River. It was a hectic, and exciting scene. I would have loved to stay in Atjoni for a beer and some people watching, but we were quickly ushered to our canoe, which cast off and started to head upriver.
The views on the river were fantastic. We were lucky to be traveling while the water was high (when it’s low, it’s common to have to get out of the canoe and pull it over rocks until the water is deep enough), and didn’t see so much as a drop of rain on trip upriver. On the way to Knini Paati we passed Maroon villages (post coming soon) with captivating names like Jaw Jaw and Nieuw Aurora. Every village we passed, without fail, greeted and sent us off with waves and smiles.
We arrived to Knini Paati after about an hour on the water. Olga, the chef of the grounds, greeted us with fresh fruit and fried plantains. After a quick snack, we retired to our respective rooms for a quick nap. From there we spent some time lounging in the Suriname River, lingering in eddies, and letting water cascade over us from rocky outcroppings. It was a pretty amazing scene…except for the lingering feeling I had about various creepy crawlies, big and small, lingering beneath my every footfall.
We returned home to another lovely meal from Olga of cassava, rice, vegetables and spices, before retiring to our rooms. The resort is brand new, having just moved across the river, and had the best beds we slept in during the entirety of our trip in Suriname and Guyana. David and I got to settling in, and that’s when I got a little unhinged…
So I think, for me personally, there’s such a thing as too much nature. While being completely awestruck by the magnitude of the natural surroundings, I also became hyperaware of my personal insignificance in comparison. Anyway, I got in a place that wasn’t so great, psychologically. I don’t know, I thought the rainforest was going to swallow me up.
Despite my minor freak-out about the transience of human life in the face of the massive green of the Surinamese interior rainforest, we did thoroughly enjoy our time there. Knini Paati is an extremely well-appointed group of bungalows, with excellent food and activities. I think that ultimately, the type of tour that is commonplace for eco-lodges in the area may have been a little too cookie-cutter for our taste, with activities filling the days, when mostly we wanted to just relax and listen to the river. We were lucky to be in such a small group, as the activities didn’t seem like such a follow-the-leader exercise as an intimate tour. A normal two day, one night tour will typically include swimming in rapids, caiman spotting, and a visit to a local Maroon village.
Our all-inclusive fee for the two days, including transfer to and from Paramaribo, was 200 Euro per person. Knini Paati has some of the most competitive rates of any of the eco-lodges in the Upper Suriname River area, but feel free to cross shop. All lodges offer pretty much the same range of activities, strung together in a different order.
Communication was rather difficult with the lodge – we ended communicating entirely via google translate (English – Dutch, then vice versa), despite finding out later that Nelson, Knini Paati’s owner, speaks English extremely well. Key takeaway: people in the hospitality industry, nearly without exception, speak English.