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Undiscovered gem of the Amazon

Article - January 26, 2012
Suriname's awe-inspiring beauty, harmonious multicultural make-up and unrivalled cuisine dictate it is the “must see” destination of 2012. And beyond.

Potential for tourism growth in Suriname is limitless. In particular, due to the unspoilt nature of the territory, the breathtaking array of wildlife and the bewildering biodiversity there now exists – thanks to wise, longstanding environmental program and protections – exceptional opportunity for eco-tourism. Some of the country’s natural assets, such as the waterfalls at Raleighvallen Nature Reserve, have been described as ‘spectacular’ (Lonely Planet). And Falisie Pinas, Minister for Transport, Communication and Tourism (TCT) says visitors will literally be “in awe” of what Suriname has to offer.

However, it could be argued that the country’s greatest asset lies in the smiling, laid-back charm of its people, and in the extraordinary cultural diversity, tolerance and harmony that prevail. As TCT Minister Pinas explains: “Suriname is the only country where descendants of slaves (maroons) have maintained and developed their unique culture. We have a history of tolerance amongst the diverse ethnic groups, we also have the uniqueness of having a Muslim mosque side by side with a Jewish Synagogue, and they peacefully greet each other before morning and evening prayers…”

In this respect, he says Suriname really is “the other Caribbean, the heart of the Caribbean...”

OUTSTANDING NATURAL BEAUTY

More than 3,000 km of rivers that drain the Amazon flow through Suriname; a growing attraction is river-cruising. As the official Suriname Tourism website says: “Our rivers are our highways into the interior, and are both the most exotic and most common way to reach remote lodges and camps. Most expeditions to the interior include some travelling in local dug-out canoes or ‘korjalen’, but in the coastal districts and on the major rivers our more comfortable river cruise boats are the way to travel. The unfolding scenes along the riverbanks, visiting villages as you cruise further into the interior, and sighting giant otters in Kaburikreek, are experiences not to be missed...”

Thanks to centuries-old sustainable management by the indigenous peoples, and intelligently-planned protections, many in existence since the 1960’s, the territory retains astonishing biodiversity. At the Raleighvallen Reserve, for example, visitors can observe sea turtles, eight kinds of monkey and more than 450 species of bird.


Surinamese’s rich history is also best appreciated from the rivers. In the picturesque Commewijne District, many of the old plantation houses are accessible only from the water. In particular, Jodensavanne, the fascinating 17th century Jewish settlement, is an increasingly popular boat trip from Paramaribo.

Also attracting visitors are activities such as sport-fishing (peacock bass; tukunari), tracking and jungle expeditions, as well as trips to traditional, indigenous villages. Places like Palumeu, a peaceful Amerindian village now warmly welcoming visitors, point to a sustainable way forward beyond traditional logging and hunting activities. But Minister Pinas also believes wonderful opportunities lie in large scale heritage and cultural events such as the Miss India Worldwide beauty pageant, which Suriname will host in February 2012. The event is expected to attract an audience of over 300 million.

Mr. Falisie is keen to underline practical developments: in the past four years 30 new hotels were built, including the Marriott and the Best Western. There are new banks, restaurants, traditional-style markets and international-standard casinos, while the revamped Port of Paramaribo has been recently awarded ‘Best Port of the Caribbean.’

“We also have the rehabilitation of the Port and Airport of New Nickerie, and the rehabilitation and upgrade of the JAP Airport in progress. The Zorg en Hoop Airport is being upgraded for domestic air transport as well…” Moreover, Suriname is a stopover  of choice for both the Caribbean and Latin America, and is already established as a strategic bunkering location for the cruise industry.

A RANGE OF FLAVORS

Diaspora tourism is another aspect being developed. “Most tourists that come here are from our community in Holland – about one third of our community lives in the Netherlands.” But when it comes to eco-tourism, Minister Pinas believes the majority of visitors will hail from the U.S. And that when they arrive, by boat or plane, they will be “in awe” of the natural, cultural and indeed culinary diversity. Suriname’s cuisine, he says, proudly, delivers “a unique explosion of culinary treats unrivaled by any other. Influences are wide-ranging and exotic, the legacy of many ethnic groups – African, Portugese, Lebanese, Chinese, Hindustani, Amerindian, Creole - fused and fired in a South American cooking pot. Visitors can enjoy a Chinese Dim Sum breakfast or a roll with ‘bakkeljauw’ (salt fish), or they can lunch on an East Indian ‘roti’ (savoury pancake served with curried potatoes and chicken) while, for dinner, the country’s famous ‘Brown Beans with Rice’ is a must.

And after you have eaten, you can wander into the tranquility of the hibiscus, bougainvillea, and oleander- scented rainforest. Or take a leisurely boat trip to a former colonial plantation. Or do a spot of shopping, for gold and silver jewellery, in Parimaribo’s historic quarter, where every transaction is infused with humour, grace and old fashioned cordiality.

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