Suriname is one of the world’s best kept secrets. A Caribbean country on the South American continent, bordering Guyana, French Guyana and Brazil, Suriname is much more than you can possibly imagine.
When you casually mention Suriname in a conversation, it is likely that you will receive some quizzical looks. Certainly when I first mentioned that I would be living in Paramaribo, the capital, there were quite a few people who had no idea what, let alone where, I was talking about. The better travelled amongst you might know that it is perhaps the greenest country on earth, with 90% of the country covered in pristine rainforest. You might also know about its colonial past, the beautiful Dutch colonial architecture and the wonderful mix of cultures, each retaining its identity whilst maintaining a strong sense of national unity.
Suriname has a population of roughly 500,000 with about half of that residing in the capital city, Paramaribo. For such a small city, Paramaribo punches well above its weight when it comes to culture, music and arts. Paramaribo is a young, thriving city with a UNESCO World Heritage listed centre that radiates character. Over the last few weeks, I was fortunate to have experienced just some of what Suriname has to offer.
From the 23rd to the 26th of October, if you were walking the streets of Paramaribo, you would have heard the dulcet tones of Sabrina Starke, the modern vibes of Tim Wes and the artful chaos of Ronald Snijders. These were just a few of the big names playing amongst hometown heroes for the 12th addition of the Suriname Jazz Festival.
The festival’s music was as rich as its surroundings, with distinct African, Caribbean and Asian influence. The Suriname Jazz Festival Foundation started the festival in 2002 and it has grown every year since, attracting major international artists and bigger crowds.
The shows were held across a number of venues in the city including the Nationale Volksmuziekschool, Spice Quest, ‘t VAT and my personal favourite the Torarica Pool Terrace. For me there is nothing that compares to jazz on a lazy Saturday afternoon with good food and even better drinks. Of course, Saturday afternoon will soon turn into Saturday evening, and you may find yourself in need of sustenance. In that case, it is time to move off into the exotic wilderness that is the city’s culinary scene.
Zus & Zos is a personal favourite: great live music, hearty local food and a very international crowd (although it can be a little too touristy). If you are looking for something more culturally specific, then there is Javanese (I have been told the best restaurant is Serena), Japanese (Spice Quest), and if you are looking to rub shoulders with the country’s elite over the best Thai food in South America, then it is best you head down to the Garden of Eden.
After you have finished your meal (I would recommend anything with Pom or the local favourite peanut soup), then it is time to head back to Torarica for a second helping of jazz. I was fortunate enough to see the Surinamese-Dutch legend Ronald Snijders, a man who really knows how to work a flute, and a crowd. At this point in the night the crowd really swells and people were shaking off the lazy afternoon by getting to their feet and boogying down on the dance floor.
Now if you have made it through that, and you have energy for more, the nightlife in Paramaribo is not to be missed. Zsa Zsa Zsu is perhaps the best-known club in town, or Havana Lounge if you are feeling like a little Latino hip shaking. If you are in the mood for a more European clubbing experience Touche is a very stylish venue. On this occasion, I made my way to Zsa Zsa Zsu, with its healthy mix of Dutch expats and locals mingling, it is a really great place to meet new people and keep your finger on Paramaribo’s pulse. A little Sranan Tongo (the local language) goes a long way; “Fa Waka?” (What’s up?) will get you a smile and a very talkative friend for the rest of the evening.
Once you are all danced out, it is time to make your way home. I believe that Paramaribo is one of the safest places in the Caribbean; so partying into the late night or early morning is never an issue! If you need a place to stay, then of course there is Torarica (very nice resort style accommodation), Marriott, a little further out of town, but great for business and leisure alike, and for those that are a little more budget conscious there are many other hotels and guest houses.
Now it is time to rest up before your next move. With so much to explore in Suriname, a trip into the interior is a must. There are many tours and trips to see the spectacular pristine rainforests, waterfalls and wildlife in Suriname. So, if you are into eco-tourism, make sure you stop by Orange Tours and make the arrangements, because Suriname rates as one of the best destinations in the world for eco and adventure tourism.
Granted, the jazz festival only comes once a year, but with weather good all year round there is still much celebration to look forward to. Paramaribo is one of the top 10 most interesting places to spend New Year’s Eve. So take some time off and make your way to Suriname, connectivity is much improved with flights to Europe and the US. For a weekend or a longer stay, Suriname offers an experience exotic beyond words!