In general my trip was super relaxing and really made by me, I loved the food in Suriname and Guyana, the mix of cultures and their ability to see through the differences others would see among religions, color, etc and just be Surinamese or Guyanese. The two countries are very similar and at the same time quite different and it seems few Surinamese venture to Guyana (more expensive) but Guyanese go to Suriname (work, party, vacation, shop).
Before we get into the adventure some differences between the 2 countries:
language: Dutch language: English (Creole)
food highlight: Javanese food highlight: Indian roti
music: Top hits + local cultures music: old R&B + own music (Chutney and Soca)
transport: minibus, taxi, boats transport: same just much faster with more in the way
population: 456,900 population: 865,200 (and it´s noticed quickly)
capital: Paramaribo capital: Georgetown
architecture: Dutch architecture: Dutch/British (+colorful, more rundown)
My trip began in Curaçao, a layover for a few days to pass Christmas, chosen because from Bogota the best flights to Suriname are through Aruba or Curaçao. Since I have been to Aruba and had already wanted to visit Curaçao this was the perfect match!
Curaçao is a Dutch colony island off the coast of Venezuela, it has colorful buildings and Dutch architecture with lovely beaches and a peaceful feel. I stayed purposefully at a hostel called Bed & Bikes because I get a little excited to go biking on islands and had planned to bike while there so this was perfect. It is a hostel a bit set back from town but not far either and a block away is a popular bar and restaurant area. I took the bus from the airport when I arrived, but in reality I took the minibus which cost a bit more (bus cost 1 usd, minibus I think was like 1.50 usd –huge difference, right). By taking the bus I was dropped off on the other side of town, aka not as near to the hostel as I hoped, so I had to walk 15-20 minute through town. I enjoyed for about 10 minutes because the town is very cute and to get there I had to cross the long floating bridge (which I later learned and witnessed it opens for boats). Although my time in Curaçao was short, I met some awesome people at the hostel right off the bat and celebrated Christmas with them…which included a beach of course. Besides walking the town and eating at places that were open over the holidays I managed to bike some 40 km to a beach my friends were going to for the Blue Room tour (they rented a car and passed me 10km from the beach lol). Everyone arrived early so while they sun bathed I went for a swim, enjoying the calm waters of Santa Cruz Beach and checking out the marine life farther out. Blue Room was pretty cool (cost 22usd) but as soon as i learned you can hike there I wished I had known before but either way I enjoyed swimming more at each stop the boat made.
Christmas although we all seemed to be trying to avoid it was still celebrated among us, we even saw a Santa run that they do the night before. (FYI I speak of Christmas as the 24th because most of the world celebrates this day)
I left Curaçao on the 25 and arrived at night to Parimaribo, Suriname (I flew Insel Air with luck since there are many stories of very delayed flights). It wasn’t until the next day that I began exploring the city which was literally a ghost town since they follow the Dutch tradition of a 2 day celebration for Christmas. Luckily around 3 pm some food places opened as I was surviving on the mini markets run by Chinese! I do not recommended a visit here on the holidays, unless you are okay killing time and have no rush to do anything…with this it sure set the tone of the trip for me. It was only until the next day (27th) that i could learn about tours and get moving.
Originally I had planned to cross the border and enter Guyana by day 2 but my hosts from airbnb recommended staying for the New Years Festival (Owru Yari), which they said was unique because they light long strings of firecrackers, so I convinced myself to stay until then. (No real hostels here, it was airbnb or booking.com for guesthouses – hotels obviously exist). I jumped on a tour because I couldn’t find information on how to get to the places alone and now I was stuck in Paramaribo more than I wanted to be…unfortunately there were not many tour options for a couple of days…an easy Brownsburg 1 day tour (recommended place but I wanted the 2 day option)…Kini Patti (a resort in the interior)…and Bigi Pan (of all I felt I could do alone).
I choose Kini Patti because it was a 3 day tour (all inclusive – except drinks). It was a drive to the end of the road in Suriname (Achoknee – spelling not sure but pronunciation yes) then a 1 hour trip on boat. There are several resorts along the Surinamese river so now that I know the process you could get a minibus in town to Achoknee (maybe 3 hours) and jump on a boat and ask to go to one of the resorts or try to wing it. I recommend you call a resort and reserve then make your way there there, if you wanna save money. I might also recommend Pink Bay which is farther down (2 more hours on boat) and seems more authentic then where I stayed. If you are trying to look for cheaper accommodation, call, they might have something else they can offer at a bit lower price, I was able to get a lower price because I stayed in the older cabins, no air con and away from the wifi….this was for me perfecto, I didn´t want fancy, I wanted relaxed and untethered (I mean a hammock for me would have made me happy).
By the way I am sure you are wondering, mosquitos and climate….Mosquitoes yes they are present, deeper in the interior you do need malaria meds but here you are still fine, DO get yellow fever vaccine, bring mosquito repellent, spray clothes with repellent before you travel (if you can b/c in Colombia I couldn´t find the spray ) or use long breathable clothing at least and use the mosquito nets at night. In this season December/January mosquitoes seemed fine, I did get bit quite a bit but that is another story! Climate, in this season it is the end of rainy season so bring a jacket or well it is hot and humid, just go with it or wait it out. I found it to be perfect weather, rain was either sprinkles off and on (no jacket needed, as soon as I put it on I had to take it off and laughed at myself every time lol) with occasional downpour maybe 20 minutes or less (in the cities you can find cover below awnings), then from time to time it does rain nearly all day :(. In general expect hot and humid (dress/shorts weather with hope for a breeze).
Kini Patti was nice but overly relaxing for my tastes. We did a walk in the jungle (nothing exciting), ate a LOT of yummy food, sat in the falls, read, and I swam in the river 1x. The best though was the visit to traditional and non-traditional Maroon villages which I enjoyed lots (Since most tourists are Dutch or from the Netherlands, I got a special English tour, alone, aka more questions answered, more time taken, more seen). The difference between a traditional village and non traditional is they practice Voodoo (be careful taking photos of people and houses – ask – as they all have souls and feel like with a photo you can later harm them) whereas non-traditional villages (about 25%) are a mix of Christian religions (really a mix of Christian traditions with some traditional village aspects). Important to know is this is not a bad type of Voodoo like you hear about, they are interested in appeasement or what goes around comes around, so even if a resident kills someone they wont touch them, instead shun them from society because to do harm back has eventual consequences for them. Also note that rituals of those who practice Voodoo are quite long, for instance funerals can be celebrated for a year. —-Look up Saramaca for more details —-
Being on the river in any way was always a great experience…water was high when I visited so we didn’t have to get out and push or slide down any rocks (bummer I would have enjoyed that). Also I loved the drive out to Achoknee as you pass the savannah with it´s very pretty white sand ground..the contrast was awesome to the jungle and village houses.
I really would have liked to go the Raleighaven and Voltzburg but I missed that tour (4 day tour) or Kasikasima (far away, beautiful, expensive)…I used Orange Tour agency (a Dutch agency) but there were many other options.
Returning from this tour it was nearly NYEve and in Paramaribo the party starts at 12 PM…don´t go late like me or you will miss it! lol Anyway I would have loved seeing the cool tradition of putting meters and meters of firecrackers together and lighting them off to blast off evil spirits of the past…they are all red so it leaves red paper all over the city. When I say meters long I mean think of a plaza or small park in any city and think of it with a trail of firecrackers going around it with loads of people watching a few meters away! They are long but obviously quick to explode. It is estimated that about 10 million USD are spent on fireworks for this holiday! WOAH! I was late because I was hungry and searched everywhere for restaurants open when in reality everywhere on the street they sold fresh food…now if only i had walked one street over I would have seen it all…humm. I also thought it took place from 12 – 6 pm and not all at once. By the time I arrived it had started raining and I found out why it was a festival until 6-7 pm….the streets literally turn into Carnival! No one cared about the non stop rain, yes this day of all days it rained all day…to the point that I was too cold and wet and eventually went home. Anyway the streets were packed with people, so many people that I have no clue where they all came from since the Paramaribo isn´t big at all but everyone was here and more! People carried coolers, found a stage and listened to the music getting wasted…you couldn´t move in the crowd, it was warm though and fun…also littered with bottles and wet firecracker paper…ha ha a complete mess that I jumped into several times while joining in on some Parbo beer of course. I liked the bands they had for sure, some rap, reggae, dutch bands and top hits. Due to the rain though a good chunk of people watched and drank under the awnings which i though was pretty lame…I did it once but got bored…more fun dancing. This for me lasted until 5pm (I had arrived at 2pm) when I was soaked, freezing and somehow managed to get lost on the way back (I blame the beer lol). I was over it by the time I got home and just chilled until about 8/9PM when we sat down for dinner.
To ring in the new year we were quite the mix of cultures, the hosts, a German guy (8 years in Suriname), his boyfriend an Ameri Indian, Surinamese hindu neighbor, the 2 girls living in French Guyana (1 from France the other Belgium) and myself. The food a mix of German and local Creole food not finely paired with wine, beer and rum. HA HA HA The company was excellent and we were later joined by some Surinamese neighbors of African descent. To ring in the new year David, the Ameri Indian host, lit a 2 meter firecracker, it was a hoot as he hung it from the fence under the awning, so f***in´ loud, red paper flying, smoke and us about a meter away taking videos, laughing, running, receiving champagne and hugs…and well, welcome 2018!!! We continued lighting fireworks for the next hour (I felt like a kid again on 4th of July – happy happy camper) and then watched all the neighbors light their massive firework displays for about another hour. We never made it out to the clubs (there are like 3 popular ones for NYEve in case that is more your thing), nor had we planned to hit the clubs. A relaxed, bombastic and cultural welcome to the New Year :D.