The smallest of the Guyanas (the collective term for Guyana, French Guyana and Surinam), this diminutive destination may only have half a million odd inhabitants, but it’s the liveliest of these onetime colonial backwaters. It’s also often overlooked by travellers, which is their loss because Surinam has much to offer.
The country is culturally fascinating. Languages spoken include Dutch, Creole, Chinese and English, which reflects the vibrant ethnic mix of its people. It’s also extraordinarily beautiful: the capital city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its tropical forests are full of wildlife, with an impressive one third of the country protected in nature reserves.
The 17th-century UNESCO capital, Paramaribo, is a good starting point for any trip. Home to a sumptuous collection of wooden colonial buildings, which line the waterfront, the city also lays claim to Central Market, a high-energy bazaar selling everything from quack medicine to fresh fish. At night you can dine on fresh seafood in local restaurants and cut shapes in lively bars, which are far removed from the tranquillity of the rest of the country.
Surinam's main attraction is its tropical rainforest, which covers nearly 80% of the country and harbours a huge variety of wildlife. Ecotourism is well developed here and some of the best lodges in South America can be found in the country’s jungle. With its intricate lattice of rivers, boat is the best way to get around the rainforest and you can take tours to see nesting leatherback turtles or search for other exotic creatures, including Amazon river dolphins, monkeys and, if you’re really lucky, a jaguar.
The country’s diverse cultural roots have also been well preserved: communities of Amerindians and Maroons – descendants of former African slaves – lie deep in the jungle, offering visitors an insight into their lifestyle, harmoniously adapted to their environment. Back in the cities, the busy festival calendar covers an eclectic range of events including jazz jamborees, Easter Carnival and exuberant Christmas parties, which climax on New Year’s Eve with the legendary Surifesta. It’s a wild and wonderful celebration. It’s Surinam in a microcosm.