For a geography challenge, ask a stranger to find Suriname on a map. The blank look you’ll likely receive is one of the reasons Lonely Planet guidebook refers to Suriname as one of the top “under-the-radar” travel destinations in the world. As the smallest of all the South American nations in both size and population, Suriname is easy to overlook.
The nation’s relative anonymity on the world stage is an advantage for travelers looking for a real adventure. Nestled at the top of South America between Guyana and French Guiana, Suriname offers a lightly settled Caribbean coastline and a dense, wild interior where visitors can immerse themselves in raw, unspoiled nature. By understanding the nation’s unique history, you can plan a vacation to Suriname that maximizes the country’s status as a last frontier while taking advantage of new biodiversity initiatives.
History with A Twist
Think South America and you think Spanish or Portuguese. Neither of these languages is dominant in Suriname, because the country traces its history through colonization by the Dutch. Christopher Columbus sighted it in 1498 and the Spanish claimed it in 1593, but it was the Dutch who ultimately began settlements in 1616, claiming the country as their own in 1667 under the name Dutch Guiana.
Most colonization stories include tails of wild exploitation, but Suriname’s story features more benign neglect. For centuries, it was a secondary possession, never deeply settled by Europeans and barely financially supported. Plantation attempts failed as slaves fled to explored corners of the jungle and the Netherlands focused on its more profitable East Indian colonies. Developmental quirks – such as driving on the left – lingered after Dutch norms changed. The local population was an unlikely mix, with more than 25 percent of ‘locals’ hailing from East Indian homes, with Hindu and Muslim traditions dominating the Roman Catholic culture prevalent elsewhere on the continent.