The Modernist Architecture Nerd’s Guide to Suriname and Guyana

Architecture is always top of mind when planning our travels.  We will often make detours to out of the way locations if we find out a building or monument of particular interest is located there (looking at you, Pleven, Bulgaria).  For die hard modernism and brutalism fans, planning an itinerary based on hopping from modernist relic to relic is easy in places like the Balkans, Baltics, or Central Asia.  When venturing off the beaten path in the Americas, to places like Guyana and Suriname, for instance, the game becomes a little more difficult.  

David and I hadn’t done any pre-planning in terms of architecture tourism for our recent trip to Guyana and Suriname – in that way, it resembled our trip to Southeast Asia last year, where we happened upon beauties of the New Khmer style designed by Vann Molyvann.  But Guyana and Suriname lacked the direct colonial influence of the French that allowed for an easier transfer of modernist styles and forms from Le Corbusier to architects in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.  Suriname and Guyana, on the other hand, are better known for wooden colonial architecture from the British and the Dutch – the likes of which in Paramaribo are listed under UNESCO World Heritage.  That said, while walking among British and Dutch colonial structures in various states of (dis)repair crowding the streets in Georgetown and Paramaribo, we found a great number of modernist examples worth going out of the way for (if you happen to be a concrete fetishist, that is).
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The Massive Green: A Primer on Travel to the Suriname Interior

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.untitled-2433jpg_32719525563_o

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. Read more

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. Read more

A Day Trip to Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Though Suriname came to be the real star of our recent trip to South America, we actually started our trip in the country of Guyana, just to the west of Suriname.  We were there as flights were more convenient to Georgetown than to Paramaribo from Miami – and as an excuse to check another country off our list.  There isn’t much information on traveling in Guyana in the blogosphere, but the one place we knew we needed to visit in the country was Kaieteur Falls – the highest single drop waterfall in the world.

The falls were first discovered by non indigenous peoples in 1970, when a British surveyor and geologist assigned to the territory stumbled across it on a routine interior scouting mission. Since then, the falls have been featured in several mainstream media, from the Werner Herzog film, “The White Diamond,” to the less intellectually stimulating Animal Planet program, “River Monsters.”  To be completely fair, I was more familiar with the latter prior to our visit. Read more

But Wait, Where is Suriname?

Hey kittens, it’s about time for David and I to head off on a corporate-sanctioned adventure of ten days or less.  This time, we’re heading to South America, a continent neither of us has ever visited.  Machu Picchu, you ask, or perhaps Patagonia?  I hear Brazil has some lovely beaches, too, right?  All of those destinations, while lovely, seemed a bit too mainstream for us (or, let’s be honest, flights were a bit too expensive and required too much transit time), so instead of Ipanema or Buenos Aires, we’re off to the least visited nations on the continent: Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana!

If you’re thinking, “Where is Suriname?” then you’re in good company.  The most Googled thing about Suriname is “Where is Suriname?”  Most folks, upon telling people I was heading there, thought it was in Africa.  Others, taking a clue from the film adaptation of “The Silence of the Lambs,” thought it was in Asia.  In truth, Suriname, along with Guyana and French Guiana, is nestled into the least explored section of the Amazon Rainforest, on the Northeastern corner of the South American continent. I probably don’t need to say this, but the region is largely untouched by foreign tourism. Read more