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Cruising Suriname: A Path Less Traveled

At anchor in the Perica River
Cruising Suriname - At anchor in the Perica River

After the tropical downpour, the dense jungle foliage sparkled in the first rays of sun. The giant trees and the rig of our boat reflected in the calm, tea-colored waters of the forest stream. Around us, the forest awakened; animals started calling, chirping, clucking and humming. Colorful birds and butterflies flutter around the boat. Suddenly, there is a loud, crashing sound on the other side of the river and a group of monkeys swing through the trees.

Sounds tempting? This was only part of our experience while cruising Suriname.

The former Dutch Guyana is a friendly, safe and welcoming melting-pot of South American, African, European and Asian cultures (and their cuisines). The official languages are Dutch and Sranan Tongo (a Creole), but most people speak English as well.

The best times to visit this part of South America are the two dry seasons (February to May, August to November).
Suriname is a convenient stop-over for yachts on their way from the Canary Islands or the Cape Verdes towards the Caribbean, as it can be reached on a downwind course with the North Equatorial Current pushing the boat along. Sailing towards Suriname from the Caribbean poses a challenge because you will have the Guyana Current against you on the way south. On the other hand, the same current makes sailing back easy.

The port of entry is Paramaribo on the Suriname River. Although the entrance to the river is well buoyed, it is better to enter during daylight with a favorable tide. (Before entering, call MAS (Maritime Authority Suriname) on VHF # 16.) After sailing ten miles up river, you will reach the capital Paramaribo. There are no marinas as few yachts pass this way, but anchoring is possible in front of the Torarica Hotel. With the wind blowing in from the sea, conditions can get choppy and uncomfortable in the four knot tidal stream. Nevertheless, it’s practical to anchor here with supermarkets, cheap food stalls and restaurants nearby.

To obtain clearance, you must first go to the Foreign Police and then the Immigration Office. This is a bit complicated as the offices are in different parts of town, but the staff are friendly and after two days you are the proud owner of a visa and ready to explore the country.

Paramaribo offers some interesting sights like a fort, an impressive wooden cathedral and a pretty town center with colonial houses, but the real attraction is the rainforest. Suriname has more than 1000 miles of navigable rivers (charts are available at MAS), some cannot be entered by sailboats because of bridges, but two interesting routes remain open: the Corantijne River, near the border to Guyana, and the Commewijne, with its feeder rivers, Cottica and Perica, not far from Paramaribo.

The Corantijne, with its numerous islands and sandbanks, poses a challenge for the navigator; however, the Amerindian villages on its shores make it culturally very interesting. We decided to go for the simpler option and sailed up the Commewijne where different eco-systems are located within a small area. Our whole trip took us only 41 miles up the rivers, but we felt as though we were in the heart of the jungle.

The Commewinje is similar to the Suriname River—a broad stream with rapid, shallow waters the color of milky coffee. For the first few miles you have to stay within the marked channel, there are small villages on the shores and water taxis with strong outboards buzzing between them. The river soon gets narrower and deeper and once you pass the last village (Alliance), traffic is scarce. From there on it’s only you and the rainforest. Shortly after Alliance, the Cottica River branches off. This river is still murky, but already there is less current, it is deep and there is good holding for the anchor.

The next feeder river is the Perica. Because of the humic matter, its water is clear but so dark it resembles black tea. We dropped anchor here, secured the boat with a line to a tree to avoid being swept against the shore at the turn of the tide, and stayed for a week, alone, in our own little paradise. We had pictured ourselves waiting motionless in the dinghy for hours in order to get a glimpse of the wildlife, but it wasn’t necessary as plenty of animals came close to the boat. A hundred meters downstream lived a family of otters splashing around noisily. Five minutes after we went swimming next to the boat, a giant anteater picked the same spot for a bath. While I was doing the laundry in a bucket on deck, a group of monkeys stopped in a nearby tree—maybe to study human behavior!

The only disadvantage is the clouds of mosquitoes that attack after sunset. Malaria is rare in the coastal regions around Paramaribo; however, malaria and dengue fever do exist in some parts of the country. Don’t let this deter you. We recommend you put nets on all hatches, buy some repellent and enjoy the jungle experience of Suriname!

For further information, visit our cruising blog: www.pitufa.at

Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and their cat Leeloo set sail in June 2011 on their yacht Pitufa. They cruised the Mediterranean, Cape Verdes and Suriname. They are now exploring the Caribbean and enjoying the ‘bare-foot route’ while trying to stay off the beaten track.

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