A tour of the Commewijne Plantation Loop

10/12/2019 14:31

Written by Philip Briggs

Commewijne Plantation Loop Suriname by Ariadne Van Zandbergen www.africaimagelibrary.comThe Commewijne Plantation Loop covers a 60km road that runs past several of the more popular sites © Ariadne Van Zandbergen

The historic district of Commewijne is named after a wide waterway that has served as an important trade conduit since the 17th century, when the first of many plantations was established along its banks. Due to its proximity to Paramaribo, many of Commewijne's top tourist sites are most regularly visited on a day trip from the capital. These include the pedestrianfriendly Peperpot Nature Park, the historic Fort Nieuw Amsterdam and centuriesold plantations such as Mariënburg, the site of an abandoned sugar factory, and Katwijk, the country’s only surviving coffee producer. Most of these sites are regularly included in organised tours, but can also be visited independently without too much effort, or explored whimsically by bicycle.

Peperpot Nature Park

Squirrel monkey Peperpot Nature Park Suriname by Nancy van den Ende ShutterstockSquirrel monkey is just one of the many mammals you're likely to spot here © Nancy van den Ende, Shutterstock

Centred on the disused Mopentibe Plantation only 5km southeast of central Paramaribo, the 26ha Peperpot Nature Park protects a small but astonishingly biodiverse enclave of lush swamp forest in the heart of an otherwise rapidly urbanising area. The park is renowned for its varied fauna, which includes several mammals and more than 250 bird species, and is bisected by a short cycling and walking trail that ranks as perhaps the best birdwatching site in the immediate vicinity of the capital. This park is particularly rewarding for visitors who don’t have the time or means to travel deeper into the Surinamese jungle.

Nieuw Amsterdam

Fort Nieuw Amsterdam Suriname by Ariadne Van Zandbergen The Fort Nieuw Amsterdam Open Air Museum houses displays on the history of the fort itself, as well as of the Commewijne plantations, the transatlantic slave trade and the Ashanti Kingdom © Ariadne Van Zandbergen

One of the most popular day trips from Paramaribo is to the modest hamlet of Nieuw Amsterdam, which stands on the east bank of the Suriname River at its confluence with the Commewijne, directly opposite Leonsberg and about 10km northeast of the city centre. The administrative capital of Commewijne District since 1907, this small settlement is dominated by Fort Nieuw Amsterdam, which was built in the mid 18th century as a first line of defence against naval attacks on Paramaribo and the plantations of Commewijne. The strategically located fort was the most important military installation in Suriname for at least a century thereafter, and it would go on to serve as the country’s main prison for long-term offenders from the late 19th century until the 1960s. Extending over some 15ha of green swampy land drained by several canals, the fort today operates a rewarding open-air museum.

Mariënburg 

Marienburg sugar factory Suriname by Homo Cosmicos ShutterstockAn old tractor at Mariënburg Sugar Factory © Homo Cosmicos, Shutterstock

Situated around 6km east of Nieuw Amsterdam, Mariënburg is probably the largest town in Commewijne, with a population estimated at around 4,500. While the town itself is of limited interest, the nearby Mariënburg Sugar Factory makes a worthwhile excursion. The old director’s house, next to the parking area, has been restored as a minimuseum dedicated to the history of Mariënburg and its sugar factory. There are also two large monuments in the old factory grounds. The one in front of the mini-museum commemorates the first Javanese workers to arrive at Mariënburg in August 1890, while the other, about 100m to its southeast, is dedicated to the 24 labourers killed during a strike action in 1902. The best guide is the enthusiastic Mr Soekhardi, a former factory worker who can almost always be found at the site. 

Alkmaar

The most easterly town on the south bank of the Commewijne River is Alkmaar, which lies about 12km upriver of Nieuw Amsterdam at the junction of the surfaced road leading south to Tamanredjo Junction on the main Albina Weg. Sometimes referred to locally as Goedoefrow (a corruption of the name of a former plantation owner that literally means ‘rich woman’), Alkmaar supports a slightly smaller population than Mariënburg, but is rather more sprawling in nature.

Coffee beans Katwijk Plantage Suriname by Dirk M. de Boer ShutterstockPlantage Katwijk is Suriname's last remaining coffee plantation © Dirk M. de Boer, Shutterstock

Alkmaar’s main touristic claim to fame is that it’s the gateway town to Plantage Katwijk, which lies about 3km further east along the dirt Tjetje Weg (signposted to Bar Jurgen). Katwijk is currently the sole remaining coffee plantation in Suriname, growing a combination of arabica and robusta varietals, which it then processes and packs on site for its own KW brand. It is also one of the oldest Commewijne plantations, established in 1746 when the governor of Paramaribo issued some 200ha (530 acres) of land to the 13-year-old Alida Wossink, who developed it as a coffee estate with three successive husbands prior to her death in 1785, and gained a reputation for being a particularly harsh task mistress ‘who, for the slightest mistake, had her slaves whipped’. Katwijk underwent several changes of ownership prior to being bought by its present owners in 1974, but coffee has evidently remained its primary crop throughout its long history. Informative 3-hour guided tours explaining coffee production, and ending with a cup of home-grown KW coffee and a dip in the swimming pool at the plantation house, cost SRD 50 per person.


Discover more about the sights of Commewijne in our comprehensive guide: 

Suriname the Bradt Guide by Philip Briggs

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