Hot, steamy Suriname is a gumbo of cultures. In Paramaribo, the capital, you'll find ingredients from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America: Towering palms shade tidy green squares and colonial brick buildings, Bush Negroes, known as Maroons (forest-dwelling descendants of escaped slaves), arrive in town to sell their traditional wood carvings, Javanese Muslims crowd into a mosque sandwiched between a synagogue and a Hindu temple, and Dutch-style wooden houses edge mangrove-lined riverbanks.

Outside the densely populated capital, however, the inhabitants are spread very thin—with only 6 people per sq mi/2.5 sq km. Most of Suriname—more than 80%—is covered with dense rain forest, reachable only by airplane or riverboat. All that virgin timber is sought by numerous international logging companies, and Suriname's government has granted logging rights to a few of them. But protests by international environmental groups and Suriname's citizens have also prevented the wholesale destruction of these forests: In 1998, the country created one of the largest rain forest reserves in the world, a 3.95 million-acre/1.6 million-hectare corridor that links Raleighvallen Reserve in the northern part of the country with Eilerts de Haan Gebergte Reserve in the south.

Suriname does not have the range of attractions of most other South American countries, and many of its accommodations and infrastructure are still underdeveloped. It does, however, have interesting jungle life worth exploring—for those willing to brave the stifling heat, humidity and insects—and both adventure and cultural tourism are rapidly expanding. While much of the interior has remained inaccessible, an outstandingly efficient government-sponsored organization originally called NV METS or Movement for Eco-Tourism in Suriname—now, Metsresorts;—works with indigenous people to organize visits to upriver villages and nature reserves (with rustic accommodations).

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