A heritage capital with a lively mix of cultures
THET WOODEN CITY: Paramaribo, the pretty capital of Suriname on the northeast Atlantic coast of South America, is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed gem that was under the rule of The Netherlands from the late 17th century until 1975, and Dutch is still the official language. Paramaribo is widely known as the Wooden City; stroll along Waterkant (waterfront) on the Suriname River, where nearby streets are lined with white, timber Dutch colonial buildings. The 1730 Presidential Palace near Fort Zeelandia overlooks Independence Square where, on Sundays, men bring their caged birds to sing for the public, and festivals are held. The Catholic St Peter and Paul Cathedral is one of the biggest wooden structures in the Americas. More: surinametourism.sr.
NATUREN NURTURED: For 22 years marine expert Moen Moeli has been researching pink dolphins ( Sotalia guianensis) near Paramaribo, where the Suriname and Commewijne rivers merge. He guarantees that if you go out in his traditional tent-boat you’ll spot the protected mammals. “They hear the sounds if we’re talking and come over to check us out,” he says. He has lost three mobile phones when dolphins have knocked them out of his hand as they jumped into his boat. With about 90 per cent of Suriname covered in rainforest, it’s an animal-spotting and birdwatching paradise. More than 720 species of birds have been identified here and mangrove swamps and mudbanks attract arctic and boreal shorebirds, flamingos and black-collared hawks. A canoe trip through the swamps to the Atlantic Ocean from Margarita, about half an hour down river from Paramaribo, is a real adventure as boats are lifted over dyke ramps, built to prevent flooding. More: surinametravel.com.
PICK OF THE CROP: Frederiksdorp is a nearby former coffee and cocoa plantation on the banks of the Commewijne. Accessible only by bicycle or by boat, it’s upstream from other former plantations and gives a feel of what life on these huge farms used to be like, with old buildings and the former cocoa drying floor still intact. (In the 1650s, English colonists and Sephardi Jewish refugees from Brazil introduced sugar cultivation. In 1667 the colony was ceded to the Dutch, who finally abolished slavery in 1863, replacing Africans with Javanese and Indian contract labourers.) Dine next to the old prison cells in the 1873 police station. New Amsterdam, with its two old gunpowder storehouses up the river towards Paramaribo, was built as a fort to protect the plantations from raids, often by escaped slaves, known as Maroons, and is now a museum and art gallery.
IN HARMONY: About 250,000 people — half of Suriname’s multi-ethnic population — live in Paramaribo, where it’s common to hear the Creole expression “no span” (“keep cool” or “don’t worry”), reflecting the city’s laid-back nature and religious harmony. Formerly known as Dutch Guiana, Suriname’s population is a blend of backgrounds: East Indian, Indo-
Paramaribo’s inner city, top; historic houses near Fort Zeelandia, above; birdwatching by motorised canoe near Frederiksdorp, above right; natural Jacuzzis at Danpaati River Lodge, below