In my quest to try and completely write a “top 5/top 9,10,15” etc. list from all of the places I’ve ever been, I’m lagging very far behind. So much so that it was well over 3 years ago that I visited Paramaribo in Suriname for the first time and I’ve yet to properly cover my time there even though I loved the city! Suriname was one of the countries in South America I wanted to see the most mainly because I had rarely ever met somewhere from there or who had been there. That sort of intrigue and the voyage into the unknown constantly inspires, and I hope it rubs off on you too.
I wanted to go and check Suriname out and I made it a priority, cutting out days of my Colombia and Venezuela time just so that I could head to Suriname. Suriname is a former Dutch Colony in South America with a very interesting history. The Dutch once swapped New York for this place with the British. Something to do with sugarcanes. What this means is, that when you go backpacking in Suriname, you’ll have almost the whole country to yourself.
Before you get to backpacking in Paramaribo, you’ll need to get your Suriname Visa first. I got mine eventually in Caracas, which was a mission but I did it. I later revisited Suriname and got a double entry Suriname Visa in Cayenne, French Guyana. IN terms of getting to Suriname, I have entered the country three times:
1. By flight into Zanderij Airport
2. By boat into Albina from French Guyana
3. By ferry into South Drain from Guyana
When I was based in Paramaribo I stayed in two different places. The Guesthouse Amice is excellent – wifi, breakfasts and a back garden pool. We also went self catering once to the Etienne’s Unique Fajalobi Apartments. And I now proudly present you with my top 15 sights from the city of Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname.
Waterkaant is a must of course – it’s a UNESCO World Heritage listed street. You would swear that you are in the Netherlands. The Dutch influence of these buildings is clear to see. Perfect for a stroll and the avid cameraman/woman.
A tongue twister if ever there was one, and there was one and this is it. Get your gob round this one: Onafhankelijkheidsplein!
Onafhankelijkheidsplein is the main square in downtown Paramaribo. The Dutch influence won’t wear off I assure you, but if you want to know, translated into English this means “Independence Square”.
It’s a grassy area which (as you face the river) has the Waterkaant to the right, the Presidential Palace to the left, Fort Zeelandia ahead and a statue of Pengel, the former Prime Minister and a popular figure. On Sunday mornings the square becomes part of a Tweetyfest! A local bird singing competition.
3. Presidential Palace
Suriname is a relatively “new country” well it was formed in the 1970s, but the parliament building sits proudly in Onafhankelijkheidsplein. This is apparently only open to the public on the 25th November. It’s an elaborate white building with a Suriname flag flying in front of it.
4. Arya Dewaker Hindu Temple
Suriname is an eclectic mix of religions. There isn’t another country in the world quite like it (yes not even Singapore). All these religious buildings sit side by side throughout the city. The Arya Dewaker Hindu Temple is worth checking out. There was also a cool one near my hostel/guesthouse.
5. Mosque Keizerstraat
Religion will feature in four separate elegant buildings in my Paramaribo top 10 and rightly so. I loved free spirited Paramaribo. Anything goes here. As the Lonely Planet once wrote (something similar) laid back Amsterdam meets the Wild West on a hill where Palestinians and Israelis live and eat side by side in harmony. You better believe it. On Keizerstraat sits the massive Mosque Keizerstraat the National Mosque of the country. In South America you’d do well to find better Mosques than this one. Somewhat epic.
6. Neveh Shalom Synagogue
I’m not sure if this is a world’s first or only or not, but it sure as hell sends out a positive message to the rest of the planet. DIRECTLY next door to the Mosque. Yes – Synagogue and Mosque side by side. Amazing stuff. Say a prayer for Palestine and Israel as you dander nonchalantly past. Inspiring.
7. St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral
This elegant Catholic Cathedral provides Paramaribites with their Roman Catholic fix, while at the same time it is the largest wooden structure in the Western Hemisphere! That’s crazy isn’t it? It even beats the USA to this label. Locals will claim it’s the biggest wooden structure in the world, but there are rumours that New Zealand and Japan have bigger ones. Stop by, admire and go on in…
The blue and yellow colours are memorable and you can get inside.
8. National Football Stadium
I was intrigued by Suriname when it came to football. As a keen football fan, this former Dutch colony really could have been World Champions! Eh? Yes really – Dutch players such as Edgar Davids, Ruud Gullit, Aron Winter, Regi Blinker, Clarence Seedorf and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Also for some reason, despite being a South American team, they play their World Cup qualifiers in the Central American section and they also don’t enter the Copa America. I reckon given their talent, they would be a dark horse for World Cup qualification if they entered with their stronger neighbours – the country borders Brazil.
Down the years Suriname have beaten the USA and Denmark in internationals, but lost their only ever match against the Netherlands. Apparently there is a new bigger national stadium built, or in progress. When I was there I headed to the Andre Kamperveen Stadion and was able to get into the stands and onto the pitch. Collectors will LOVE the joint Suriname and Netherlands shirts available.
9. National Assembly
Also situated off Independence Square is the National Assembly building. The constitution is written in Dutch, entry isn’t permitted to backpackers, normally.
10. Stichting Surinaams Museum
Down by the waterfront, to the west side is a small museum. This is a good place to check out relics remaining from the colonial times and some local art and exhibitions.
11. Fort Zeelandia
Fort Zeelandia is a typical Dutch Fort and though it’s not too touristy or popular it does give you a good idea of the Dutch influence here. Once they build a fort you know they mean business.
12. The Palmentuin
I was actually warned that this leafy area near the parliament is where all the tramps, druggies and suspicious characters hang out. I never went there at night but during the day it seemed like a cool place.
13. Royal Torarica Hotel
As a backpacker, this place breaks the bank, but having a snoop around is always allowed and this swanky hotel has a cool bar. It won’t break the bank to pop in for an ice cold Parbo – incidentally Surinamese beer is among the best I’ve tried. I loved Parbo beer.
14. Waag (Weighing House)
A bit of a sad history here at the Waag. Here they used to weigh slaves and the best ones would make it and be exploited and over worked. The lighter ones would end up mal nourished. Rumour has it that this building is ironically now a restaurant. It’s on the Waterkaant.
15. Commewijne River
Escaping the madness (!) of central Paramaribo isn’t too hard. Buses and mini buses janut all around town and you can take a boat trip on the Commewijne River. Most people use it as a gateway to the Nature Reserve and Sugar Cane tours which are outside of Paramaribo itself. Check out my Suriname Sugar Cane Tour review.
Those 15 things should keep you occupied for a few days in the capital of Suriname. Here are some of my videos from backpacking in Suriname and exploring Paramaribo: