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Suriname travel guide

This unexplored corner of South America is a haven for nature lovers. The brave can search for crocs, anacondas and piranhas lurking in Suriname's swamps and rivers

Tucked away in the forests of the Guianas, Suriname doesn't stand out as a must-see destination when planning a trip to South America. It’s a speck on the map, easy to overlook in the enormity of its continent - but dismiss it at your peril. With its wealth of nature reserves and protected parkland, Suriname is a little-explored playground for trail-blazing wildlife-lovers and adventurers.

This part of South America was a northern European enclave: Holland and Britain’s toehold on the continent, with the French next door in French Guiana. The Dutch decided to go it alone and in 1667 the British swapped their interest in Suriname for a trading post in North America called New Amsterdam. It’s better known today as New York.

Suriname didn’t boom in quite the same way. Runaway slaves and indigenous Indians allied to form the Maroons, bosnegers to the Dutch, to raid plantations and settlements. Eventually slavery was abolished and to keep the plantations going successive waves of Chinese, Hindu and then Javanese workers were shipped in.

Present-day Suriname’s cities are hubs of vitality, with grand buildings built by the Dutch colonists now seething with activity. They benefit from an incredibly diverse population, with European, Asian, Amerindian and Caribbean influences reaching into the cuisine, attractions and lifestyle.

Venture any distance from town and you’ll find yourself in rampant wilderness. The southern hinterland of rainforest and savannah is largely unspoiled, and 13% of the country is now under official environmental protection. While other countries have roads, Suriname uses rivers: dugout canoes make key communication links between villages and small rural towns. In this remote region just a handful of lodges offer a low-key, sustainable welcome to the few travellers who make it this far off Latin America’s ‘Gringo Trail’.

Part of the reason why so few people visit Suriname might be because its beaches, though often beautiful, are rarely easy to get to. They are if you’re a turtle: a 2003 survey found 45,000 turtle nests on Suriname’s Atlantic Coast, making the country one of the best places in the world to see this endangered underwater marvel in the wild.

In many ways, Suriname is incredibly un-South American. Thanks to the legacy of its colonizers, Spanish is spoken sparingly - the national language is Dutch. If you want to see a side of South America few others have experienced, this is the place to come.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Take a Coastal Roadtrip. West of Paramaribo, a scenic road (something of an unexpected treat in Suriname) runs past salt ponds, paddy fields and the Scottish settlement of Totness
  2. Talk Turtle. The Galibi Nature Reserve is one of Guiana’s most famous sea turtle nesting areas. Look out for olive ridley, leatherback, green and hawksbill turtles
  3. Go Amerindian. The villages that scale the banks of the Maroni Estuary are authentic places to immerse yourself in the local culture. Travel by dugout canoe past crocs and anacondas
  4. Hide Away. The remote Wia-Wia Nature Reserve on the Atlantic coast is heaven for birdwatchers, with beaches, mangrove swamps and mudflats to explore
  5. Hike a Trail. Carve a route through the rainforest of Brownsberg National Park, 130km south of Paramaribo, and keep an eye out for spider monkeys, macaws and parrots
  6. Dine Diversity. Celebrate Paramaibo’s ethnic mix by sampling a different national cuisine every night. The range goes from Hindustani to Creole with plenty more between

Wanderlust tips

Don’t hang around in Paramaribo for too long: get out of the city and into Suriname’s many national parks and reserves. If you’re planning to travel independently, be advised that there are few roads, so self-drive and public transport options are limited. Chartered planes are generally your best bet of getting around and dugout canoes are often the only way to reach remote villages and lodges.

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