Paramaribo, Suriname's capital, is fascinating, with its parks, colorful buildings, gardens, houses built on stilts and friendly people. Stay there for at least two nights (three, if you're taking any day trips), even if it's just to sample the city's terrific restaurants, architecture and nightlife.

Start with a visit to the Central Market on the waterfront. You'll quickly discover that Paramaribo (or "Parbo" as many residents call it) is a wonderful mixture of the modern and primitive—watch the dugout canoes maneuver between oceangoing steamers. Also visit the Palmentuin (palm gardens) and the museum (Amerindian artifacts). Don't forget trips to Fort Zeelandia, the dozen or so casinos, the enormous all-wood Cathedral of Sts. Peter & Paul (one of the world's largest wooden buildings) and the Numismatich Museum.

On Sunday morning, head for Independence Square to watch the city's famous songbird competitions. In these events, two small birds (called twatwas) sit in adjacent cages while their owners record the number of times each bird sings in a 15-minute span. (It's more interesting than it sounds.)

If you're looking for a day trip, go to the Beracha Ve Shalom Synagogue, about a 30-minute drive from town, to see wood carvers (be prepared to pay some cash to photograph them) and, if possible, attend the voodoo ceremony in Neger Creek. Two-day trips up the Maroni River in a motorized dugout canoe are popular, as are longer expeditions to see the Bush Negroes (forest-dwelling descendants of escaped slaves) and Amerindian tribes of the same area.

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