If you owned Manhattan, would you exchange it for Suriname? That's what the British did in 1667. At that time, Manhattan was the heart and soul of the Dutch Colony of New Netherlands. The British, who briefly occupied what became Dutch Guiana and then Suriname, traded the future Suriname for New Netherlands. Then they renamed it New York after His Royal Highness the (English) Duke of York.
Today Suriname might qualify for another name, the Las Vegas of South America. At the multi-starred Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino, you will find a 15,000-sq-ft casino with table games and some 151 slot machines. There are also Las Vegas-type shows, a wedding chapel, Oriental marketplace, heated therapy pool, an Elvis Presley impersonator, and a Shangri-la pool with a two-storey waterfall.
Weather permitting, the latter is the venue for an outdoor Hawaiian luau, complete with Polynesian buffet dining, and no dearth of mai-tai cocktails. Blink your eyes after reading the Paramaribo hotel names and you will think you are in America's liveliest and fastest growing city - Las Vegas. That is to say, the hotels have names such as Circus Circus, Harrahs, Hilton, Riviera, and Stratosphere. The main difference is the rates, which start as low as $31 in the capital's finest hostelries.
All of the above are located in the capital and largest city, Paramaribo, meaning "city of flowers." It all began in 1613, when a small Dutch trading company was set up near the village of Parmirbo. This settlement is the basis for modern Paramaribo, capital of Republic Suriname, sometimes spelled Surinam. Among sightseeing opportunities are the massive Presidential Palace, the Ministry of Finance building with its statue of the country's most famous politician, the Palmentium or Garden of the Palms adjacent to the president's private garden, the 350-year-old Fort Zeelandia, and the yellow cathedral of St Petrus and Paulus, one of South America's largest wooden buildings. As befits a former Dutch colony, Paramaribo has lots of "Amsterdamish" touches. You will find the Dutch word sraat all over the city. It means street in English.
The people of Suriname speak many languages: Dutch imported by Hollander settlers, Sranan Creole, Sranan Hindi (spoken by the many people originally from East India), Javanese, originally from the former Dutch East Indies, Chinese and Maroon, plus various Amerindian languages. Sranan Creole has elements of English, Dutch, Portuguese, African and East Indian tongues.
Although Dutch Guiana became the independent Suriname in 1975, strong Dutch ties remain. Place names, such as Juliana Top, the country's highest elevation, derive from Dutch royalty. Queen Juliana of The Netherlands was once also Queen Juliana of Dutch Guiana. The Dutch are still Suriname's No 1 trading partner.
Most of Suriname's 2002 estimated population of 400,000 live in or near Paramaribo. Venture into the interior for an excellent adventure of the Tarzan kind. The country is mostly rain forests blessed with an amazing array of tropical flora and fauna. It may be a good idea to see it all now. The government, despite many objections, has given permission for extensive mining and logging in the Suriname interior.
In addition to rain forests and casinos, Suriname is a great place for golfing, sport fishing, bird watching and just plain relaxing in a Las Vegas setting that is less pricey than the North American Vegas.
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