With Dr Felicity Nicholson
Suriname, like most tropical countries, is home to several diseases unfamiliar to people living in more temperate and sanitary climates. However, with adequate preparation, the chances of serious mishap are small. To put this in perspective, your greatest concern should not be the combined exotica of venomous snakes, stampeding wildlife, gun-happy soldiers or killer viruses, but something altogether more mundane: a road accident.
Within Suriname, a range of adequate (but well short of world-class) clinics, hospitals and pharmacies can be found in and around Paramaribo. Facilities are far more limited and basic in the interior. Wherever you go, however, doctors and pharmacists will generally speak fluent Dutch and some English, and consultation and laboratory fees are relatively inexpensive – so if in doubt, seek medical help.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.travelhealthpro.org.uk (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
Suriname is generally a very safe country for travel, judged by almost any standards. Indeed, the biggest concerns for most travellers should probably be insect-borne diseases such as dengue fever and road accidents, particularly for cyclists. It should also be pointed out that, as is the case almost anywhere in the world, breaking the law – in particular by using or handling illegal drugs – could land you in trouble.
Suriname is probably as safe as anywhere for women travellers. That being said, women travelling alone are frequently subjected to high levels of hassle in the form of staring, whistling, flirtatious behaviour and lewd propositions. Paramaribo is particularly bad for this sort of thing, though it might happen anywhere. Generally, make it clear that you are not interested, firmly but without being openly unfriendly, and you’ll soon be left alone. If hassle is persistent, it may sometimes help to pretend you have a husband at home or waiting for you (in which case wearing a wedding ring is accepted as ‘proof ’). It would also be prudent to dress more conservatively than you might at home, not so much to avoid offending local sensibilities but because it will help deter unwanted male attention. And while this attention can become cumulatively annoying, and some women travellers find it disrespectful or upsetting or both, we have heard nothing to suggest it might tip over into genuinely threatening behaviour.
Homosexuality, though legal, has a much lower profile than in most European countries. Nevertheless, while Suriname is probably not suited to anyone seeking an active gay scene, gay couples are unlikely to encounter any problems with discrimination in hotels and other tourist institutions. The homosexual age of consent is 18, two years higher than the heterosexual age, but this is seldom enforced. The law does not recognise homosexual marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships, nor does it actively protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. Since 2011, the country’s most prominent gay and lesbian organisation LGBT Platform Suriname has held an annual Gay Pride march called OUT@SU every 11 October to coincide with International Coming Out Day.
Travellers with a disability
Suriname, in particular the deep interior, is not generally well suited travellers with mobility problems. Transport and accommodation away from the few main roads tends to be basic, often involving boat rides that would be risky to anybody who cannot swim. Travellers with disabilities wanting to visit Suriname should liaise closely with an upmarket local operator who is aware of the exact nature of their disabilities and what limits these might impose on them.