Joanne Coughlan

14 April 2018

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Paramaribo, Suriname

I’m on a research trip with my wife Kate, doing our homework for a tour to what is collectively knows as The Guianas. We travel from Guyana to Suriname, flying into the capital city on a small “caravan” flight, arriving at a small airstrip in the middle of town. Originally we thought we had landed at the world’s smallest capital city airport but as it turned out, we’d arrived at a domestic airport for local flights from the region, not the international airport (phew).  

The main centre near the old Dutch fort, Zeelandia, is dotted with beautiful old wooden houses. Some have been totally renovated and reflect their former glory but sadly, others have been badly neglected. Money – or lack of it  of course – is the problem. Suriname is a poor country with very low wages. The old part of the city has been UNESCO-listed since 2002. While strolling around what is a great walking city you can see why it was so important to preserve.  

After the fort the first stop is the herbal markets where you will find promise of a natural remedy from the Amazon jungle to fix anything you may have, or might get! There’s a lot of weird stuff for sale here but everything, according to the locals, has a medical purpose. Next door is the local produce market with all kinds of food from fruit and veg, fish, various meats and a whole lot more. Don’t be surprised if while walking around the market the locals stare at you as not many tourists visit this city.  

Among the many places of interest are three very interesting religious sites. Firstly, St Peter & Paul Basilica dates back to the 1830s and used to be a Jewish Dutch theatre. It’s said to be largest timber building in South America but then others claim the same title. Next door to each other is the Keizerstraat mosque and the Neveh Shalom synagogue, testament to the rich religious and cultural history in this city – the locals are very proud of their tolerance towards all faiths. We visited all three sights but it was the synagogue with which I personally felt a connection, being of Jewish faith. It’s a large building with a very small congregation I’m told – a rabbi has to be flown in from overseas for the high holy days.  

Paramaribo and the surrounding suburbs and towns has wonderful local and colonial history. There is ample entertainment in the city and surrounds for the savvy traveller. See the best of it with Blue Dot Travel’s small group tour.

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