Suriname

Visiting Suriname's Interior On Your Own

by Mattfromtexas on February 16, 2011

Visiting Suriname's Interior On Your Own

One of the main things we wanted to do in Suriname was to go up the Suriname River, which cuts down the belly of the country, into the rain forest where runaway slaves long ago set up settlements to escape their Dutch captors.

These settlements, now villages, continue to maintain ancient African traditions. It is a place where women still prefer to wash dishes and clothes at the river; the language, Saramaccan, is a spoken language; and the only foreigners you’ll meet are American Peace Corps volunteers, a clear sign that you’ve seriously veered off the beaten path. 

The idea that African villages exist in Latin America was mind-blowing to us. During our time in Suriname, we hoped to learn more about these Maroon villages and to see for ourselves what life is like on the river.
Researching the Interior proved to be somewhat challenging as the Lonely Planet section on Suriname is disappointingly terse and so few travelers ever make it that way. We inquired with local hostel owners about Interior tour options and were shocked to learn that the cheapest tours were still several hundred dollars per person--hardly a deal for a backpacker and hardly reflective of real costs. 

Screw the tour operators! We decided to do it ourselves and were only momentarily discouraged when our new friend warned us: “You can’t go there by yourself. There is nothing but jungle and water!” Oh, yeah?

The following is our how-to guide on touring the Interior. We tell you how to secure transportation from the capital to Atjoni (via minivan or "Wagi") and then upriver to the various Maroon villages between Atjoni and Djumu (via motorized dugout canoe). We also cover places to stay and other general advice.

GETTING THERE: STEP 1 - CATCHING A "WAGI" FROM PARAMARIBO TO ATJONI

Catching a ride to Atjoni (also called Pokigron) is not easy. There’s no bus station or schedule, or buses for that matter. Basically, the way it works is this. At 7am, a handful of minivans line up along Saramacca Straat near the intersection of Prinsen Straat. It is important to note that there are literally hundreds of vans on this street, each going to a different part of the country. They all look exactly the same and generally aren't labeled, so you will have to ask which vans are going to Atjoni. Prices are negotiable, but you will generally pay about SRD$50-70 per person depending on the number of people in your van and the quality of the vehicle. Even if your van is full, the driver will not leave until 9am. The trip to Atjoni takes about four hours. The road is paved half of the way and then switches to gravel.

Here are a few Wagi drivers you can contact to secure your trip to Atjoni.

Kobi - 829-6601 or 868-7710
Jesi - 716-3599
Kwakoe - 823-9406
Kip - 857-4167
Huur - 817-7551
Ali - 820-1047
Salong - 852-6112
Steven - 816-0346
Hendo - 818-8953
Rance - 828-0768
Lloyd - 810-2270
Ewald - 810-3902

GETTING THERE: STEP 2 - HAILING A BOAT TAXI AT ATJONI

When you arrive in Atjoni, you will find a sleepy riverside village with a tiny restaurant (of sorts), a general store, and a dozen or so motorized dugout canoes ready to take passengers upriver. It is a good idea (but not essential) to try and secure a boatman before you arrive in Atjoni. Prices vary according to distance and the amount of luggage you have. Everyone knows everyone else here, so don't feel shy about asking someone to help you find your boatman. 

Here are a few boatmen you can contact with their estimated rates per person.

Servicing the Lower Suriname River (Less than 1 Hour from Atjoni)
Asegede - Kajapaati and surrounding area - Tel: 858-1057 / SRD$20-30
Saba - Gangeston and surrounding area - Tel: 868-1178 / SRD$20-30
Marcado - Abenastone and surrounding area - Tel: 829-6647 / SRD$20-30

Servicing the Middle Suriname River (2 to 3 Hours from Atjoni)
Tjado - Tjaikonde and surrounding area - Tel: 864-5945 / SRD$50-70
Bamos - Tjaikonde and surrounding area - Tel: 854-3156 / SRD$50-70
Tudie - Tutu and surrounding area - Tel: 886-5334 / SRD$50-70
Ramoe - Bendikwai and surrounding area - Tel: 886-3644 / SRD$50-70
Belanki - Pikiseei and surrounding area - Tel: 811-1784 / SRD$50-70
Joel - Futunakaba and surrounding area - Tel: 811-1784 / SRD$50-70
Toma - Botopasi and surrounding area - Tel: 814-6338 / SRD$50-70
*Lanti Boat - Malobi and surrounding area - Tel: 711-1153 / SRD$20
*Lanti Boat - Botopasi and surrounding area - Tel: 820-2609 / SRD$20
*Lanti Boat - Kambalua and surrounding area - Tel: 821-4843 / SRD$20 

Servicing the Upper Suriname River (3+ Hours from Atjoni)
Afante - Semoisie and surrounding area - Tel: 813-2966 / SRD$50-80
Batoe - Semoisie and surrounding area - Tel: 716-9624 / SRD$50-80
Edson - Semoisie and surrounding area - Tel: 818-5313 / SRD$50-80
Maku - Semoisie and surrounding area - Tel: 812-1057 / SRD$50-80
Mardona - Semoisie and surrounding area - Tel: 829 1940 / SRD$50-80
*Lanti Boat - Semoisie and surrounding area - Tel: 710-8092 - 40 SRD
Reuben - Asindohopo and surrounding area - Tel: 811-9366 / SRD$50-80
Lover - GaanSeei and surrounding area - Tel: 817 3117 / SRD$50-80
Chris - GaanSeei and surrounding area - Tel: 812-4476 / SRD$50-80

*Lanti boats are government-subsidized boats that run on a specific daily schedule, usually marked by white flags. They are generally slower and charge extra if you have lots of bags. Make arrangements for pick-up ahead of time so that you don't miss the only boat leaving that day.

WHERE TO STAY

We spent our time in Botopasi, Pikin Slee, and Bendikwai, but after meeting some of the locals and some awesome Peace Corps volunteers, we realized that there are many more places to explore further upriver. Here is a list of the villages, their distance from Atjoni and the details on accommodations. Prices truly range by village and the camp itself. 

Less Than 1 Hour from Atjoni
JawJaw - Camp Isadou - Tel: 870-3344
JawJaw - Djamaica Camp - Tel: 863-6172 (ask for Eto)
Gunzi - Tei Wei Camp - No Phone
Anaula - Anaula Nature Resort - No Phone

1 to 2 Hours from Atjoni
Menimi - Camp Minimi - Tel: 815-2726 / 884-4134
Botopasi - Hotel Botopasi - No Phone
Botopasi - Lil’ Botopasi - Tel: 812-1033 (ask for Rew)
Futunakaba - KotoHati Camp - Tel: 811-1784 (ask for Joel)
Pikinseei - Camp Paseni - No Phone
Danpaati - Danpaati River Lodge - Tel: 047-1113

2 to 3 Hours from Atjoni
Tio Boto - Tio Boto Tourist & Children’s Camp - Tel: 861-7805

3 to 4 Hours from Atjoni
PemPei - PemPei Paati - Tel: 812-1050 (ask for Chapeau)
PemPei - Kumalu - Tel: 822-4932 (ask for Papi)

4+ Hours from Atjoni
Djumu - Awaadon Camp - No Phone

OTHER IMPORTANT NOTES

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when you visit Suriname’s Interior on your own. 

    * The influence of Catholic and Evangelical Christian missionaries has caused some Maroon villages to maintain less of the traditions practiced by their African ancestors. As a result, the religious practices, celebrations, cuisine, infrastructure and general feeling of each village can vary greatly.
    * Although you do not need a tour operator to go upriver, unaccompanied tours of the villages is not recommended and is probably prohibited. Check with your hotel/camp first before venturing off.
    * Bring Cash! No credit cards are accepted anywhere!!!
    * A hammock almost always guarantees you will have a place to sleep.
    * Bring bug spray.
    * The rivers are infested with piranhas. Swim at your own risk!
    * For those of you who want to fish for peacock bass, note that they generally cannot be found in the river as they have all migrated downriver to the reservoir. However, piranhas and other Amazonian species can be caught just about anywhere. I was also told that the fishing is much better the further up the river you go. 
    * A few of the villages have airstrips. With the right planning, you can travel upriver by boat and then fly back to Paramaribo. This is the most ideal option.

SPECIAL THANKS

Tran and I would like to thank our Peace Corps peeps for helping us compile this information and for giving us some of the best memories of our entire trip. Great times. Epic party. Please hit us up next time you’re in Texas!


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