The ins and outs of Suriname - The Amazon's beating heart

The Beating Heart of the Amazon, that's how locals refer to Suriname. It sounds so incredibly exotic doesn't it? And you will certainly receive a mostly heartfelt welcome from Suriname locals. well, most of them anyway.

Crime Zones

You probably should avoid some locals in the Palm Garden (Palmentuin) area of Peramaribo, particularly after dark where there are limited police resources and frequent incidences of violent crime. Also, in most areas of Suriname petty crime such as pick pocketing is increasingly common, particularly in the business and shopping districts of the capital.

Unfortunately, there is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS so if you are a victim of violent crime, especially rape, you are strongly encouraged to seek immediate medical assistance.

There are also a few exotic and not so exotic crimes to be aware of in Suriname. Crimes like car theft and theft from cars is relatively infrequent, but does occur, especially in areas near the business district. Use your common sense and don't leave packages and valuables in plain view in vehicles.

Also, there have been a few reports of carjacking within Paramaribo, mainly in residential areas, so again, use your common sense and lock your car doors and windows.

Travel to the interior, or the Beating Heart of the Country is usually trouble-free, but the Police presence outside Paramaribo is minimal, and banditry and lawlessness are occasionally of concern in the cities of Albina and Moengo, the district of Brokopondo and along the East-West Highway between Paramaribo and Albina, and the Afobakka Highway in the district of Para. If you plan on traveling to the interior, you are advised to make use of well-established tour companies for a safer experience.

Getting Around

Getting around Suriname is relatively easy, if you are organized and know about some of the pitfalls that is. Taxis in Suriname are not clearly identified; they do not display the "Taxi" sign and there no meters in the taxis so you should always negotiate a price before you set off

It is not advisable to travel by Public minibus. They are poorly maintained, overcrowded and the skill level of drivers is variable at best. You will most certainly be taking your own beating heart in your hand if you choose to use these buses.

Most roads throughout the country are not well maintained. The rainy season means that large potholes are common. In rural areas it's quite common to encounter farm traffic or livestock on the roads, just take it easy and be patient. Roads in the interior of Suriname are sporadically maintained dirt roads that pass through rugged, sparsely populated rain forest. These roads are not lit and there are no service stations or emergency call boxes. Travel with caution and try not to drive at night.

Also, you should only ever use official border crossings when travelling between Suriname and Guyana as there is an ongoing border dispute between these two countries clearly the Beating Heart of the Amazon doesn't extend it's warmth to this area!

There are many internal destinations to the true Beating Heart of the country which can only be accessed by air. Small aircraft operate to a number of these areas, but you should be aware of the potential risk of these services and flights, especially from bad weather.

Local Laws

Many communities in Suriname, particularly in the dense rainforest areas are traditional communities. You must be respectful of their culture, particularly when taking photographs.

Some of the inland communities have superstitions regarding certain aspects of nature and holy sites, so always ask permission before taking a photograph.

Cash is King

The Beating Heart of the Amazon operates basically as a cash economy. There is currently only one bank that accepts foreign ATM cards - the Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. Exchanging money outside of an exchange house or "cambio" is illegal and dangerous.

Drug Penalties

Penalties for drug offences, including possession, are severe and include lengthy imprisonment in local jails. Serious crimes, such as murder, may attract the death penalty.

Health

Medical facilities in Suriname are very limited. Doctors and hospitals usually require cash payment prior to providing services, including for emergency care. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to a location with suitable facilities would be necessary, and this is usually to the United States (read huge medical bills!).

You should get the vaccination for the following diseases before travelling to the country:

  • Yellow Fever (for all travelers over 9 months of age)
  • Hepatitis A & B
  • Typhoid
  • Meningococcus
  • Rabies
  • Revaccination / booster shots for Measles, Mumps and Rubella and Tetanus-Diphtheria

If you are getting cozy with a friendly local be aware that the rate of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections in Suriname is high. You should exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in friendly games that may expose you to risk of infection.

Malaria is a high risk throughout the year in the interior of the country with the highest risk area along the eastern border and in gold mining areas. Chloroquine-resistant strains of malaria are prevalent. Other insect-borne diseases (including dengue fever, yellow fever, filariasis and leishmaniasis) are also a risk to travelers. Take all measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent at all times.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including hepatitis, typhoid, leptospirosis, schistosomiasis, tuberculosis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. You should boil all drinking water (for at least one minute) or drink bottled water and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

So, there are many ways in which the Beating Heart of the Amazon can make your pulse rise a little, to stay on the safe side, take our advice and use common sense.

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