Paramaribo Suriname...
Of amazing ethnic and cultural diversity

Boy with the Surinamese flag painted over his face.
Boy with the Surinamese flag painted over his face - D. Walker/Istockphoto

Paramaribo (nicknamed Parbo) is the most unique capital city in South America in almost every imaginable way.

To begin with, its size. With 250,000 inhabitants (2011), the capital of Suriname has more than half the country's population.

In fact, the country itself is the smallest in the continent, both in terms of area and population.

Fifteen different languages are spoken at Parbo, a reflection of its amazing ethnic and cultural diversity.

It's composed by Dutch Surinamese, Creole, Lebanese, Syrians, Amerindians, Maroons as well as Chinese, Hindustani and Javanese descendants, brought over as cheap labor by the Dutch in the late 1800's when slavery was abolished.

Beyond the official Dutch (Suriname is a former Dutch colony) and English, that almost everyone understands and is taught at school, the "lingua franca" is Sranang Tongo, the kind of language not learned anywhere but in the streets. It is a mix of Saramaccan, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch.

In addition, Hindi, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese and Saramaccan is also spoken, among other languages.
How is that for diversity?

Tolerance is another word to define Paramaribo, a city that has an Islamic Mosque directly adjacent to a Jewish Synagogue speaks loud about it. They even share the same parking lot during their respective religious rites, should they happen to coincide with one another. I've read somewhere that they have even shared the same security guard for years!

This is further enhanced by the fact that all ethnic or religious groups share the festivities of others. Whether is a Christian, Islamic or Hindi celebration, everyone takes part of it and joins the party.

Naturally, Parbo's cuisine is also a reflection of this broad ethnic diversity, where each group has its own flavors, aromas, spices, drinks and atmosphere.

Waterside at Paramaribo. Suriname
Waterkant (waterfront) in Paramaribo

When it comes to architecture, Paramaribo stands on its own with a very particular style, so unique that the historic inner city was listed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2002.

It shows a fusion of Dutch and European architectural design with tropical design, using traditional local techniques and materials.

Much of Parbo's history is written into its architecture, despite the fact that a few hundred buildings went up in flames and were burned to the ground in 1821 and again in 1832.

And talking about history, Paramaribo was born as Parmirbo around 1650, when British settlers established sugar and tobacco plantations. In 1667 the Dutch conquered Suriname and remained there. As part of a peace treaty -Treaty of Breda - they exchanged New Amsterdam - presently known as New York - for the British territory of Suriname.

During the following hundred and fifty years, a long sequence of wars and treaties involved the Dutch, English and French. In 1815, the Netherlands gained complete control of the colony

Dutch Guiana was integrated into the kingdom of Netherlands in 1948, and a few years later - 1954 - it was granted self rule, except for defense and foreign affairs. Independence took place in 1975, when Dutch Guiana became the Republic of Suriname.

Parbo sprawls along the west bank of the Suriname river, some 12km from the sea. With a tropical rainforest climate, it receives about 2200mm of rain each year, with average (low) temperatures in the range of 22 degrees Celsius and average high of 31 degrees Celsius. Observe the city map.

Paramaribo Attractions

How to Get There

Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport (PBM), also known as Paramaribo-Zanderij International Airport is the main gateway, located at Zanderij, some 45km to the South of the capital. The second airport, for small aircrafts, is known as Zorg en Hoop Airport (ORG).

KLM and Surinam Airways have direct flights from Amsterdam several times a week. Alternatively, you could also fly with Air France from Paris to Cayenne (French Guiana) and do the crossing over to Suriname. From US, Caribbean Airlines and Suriname Airways have scheduled flights departing from Miami and New York. Twice a week there are flights to/from Belem (Brazil) with Surinam Airways.

To/from Georgetown (Guyana'capital) there is an overland connection, using a combination of bus-ferry-bus, a journey that takes around 8 hours to complete.

Where to Stay

From hotels to guesthouses and apartments, there is plenty of accommodation options in the city.

Find and compare best hotel rates in the city.


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