Navigating Paramaribo 101
“A hospital bed is just like a still standing taxi whose meter keeps running.”
-translated from the traffic tips on the back of the Surinamese International Driver’s License
Warning: Driving in Paramaribo may cause high blood pressure.
To say that traffic in Paramaribo is chaotic is an understatement, but I’ve been told that driving in India and France is worse. Picture yourself in a non-violent video game involving street traffic. Add in a handful of stray dogs and pedestrians trying to cross road; bikers in the narrow lane next to you; motorcycles zooming in and out of traffic; huge crater holes in the sand, brick, and asphalt roads; stopped buses and cars parked halfway in the street. You’ve now got a perfect picture of Suriname traffic. It used to work okay, but as the demand for vehicles and the metropolitan population grew, the streets did not. Many intersections that should have traffic lights do not. But as always, the underlining flow of contradictions that surrounds everything in this paradise also applies itself to transportation. Of the few traffic signals that do exist, some are solar powered – an environmentally friendly and unique energy conservation arrangement.
Obviously, you have also noticed that Surinamese traffic is left-handed. The cars, mostly Asian imports, are built with the steering wheel on the right side. Some foreign cars have the steering on the left-hand side which makes navigating the left-handed traffic very dangerous.
For the American or Dutch visitors, getting used to handling the gear box and emergency brake with the left hand is quite an adventure. You can almost always recognize a foreign driver in traffic; they turn on the windshield wipers to signal a turn and aren’t sure whether they have the right of way at an intersection. The right of way indication is a white, triangular shaped, red trimmed sign with arrow pointing forward and a cross stripe through the middle. Like the stop sign, it is usually found somewhere 10 to 20 feet before the actual intersection, on the left side of the street, of course.
Always slow down before an intersection, no matter how small it may be. Although the legal city speed limit is 40 kilometer per hour (24 mph), no one, except the leerling (student) vehicles ( marked with a white letter “L” against a blue background) really obliges. Since the most immediate impact threat to you as a driver in a right-steering vehicle is coming from the right-hand side of a road perpendicular to you, always look right and then left before crossing an intersection.
Getting a driver’s license in Suriname is a costly and timely investment. The legal driving age is 18. Foreign driver license holders need to obtain an international driver’s license prior to driving legally in Suriname. There is no guarantee that a person will be issued an international driver’s license in Suriname, so it is a good idea to request an international license from your country of citizenship. If you manage to obtain a Surinamese international license, it must be accompanied by the foreign license at all times. The Surinamese license is laminated and twice the size of a normal license; it probably won’t fit in your wallet.
Surinamers also have a “secret” street language. Friendly driver’s honk to let bikers, buses, and motorcycles know they are passing. A honk or two can also mean, “Don’t back out!” or “MOVE” (to dogs)! Flashing of bright-lights can mean a number of different things; it is either a signal to give another driver the chance to go; saying that your headlights are blinding; or signaling that there is a road block up ahead. If someone screams or mouths, “U mang pang pang” (foul language) at you, they are very upset with what you’ve done.
Expect to spend a lot of time in traffic, especially downtown. The worst times to be on the road are during morning rush hour, when schools get out (around noon), and evening rush hour (between 4-6pm). Downtown is always crowded and a labyrinth of one way streets and halted public buses make navigation problematic.
It is illegal to use a phone while driving, even at a dead stop. Although speed traps are rare, road blocks are not. Police will often set up road blocks and signal you to stop in a parking lot or at the side of the road. They will ask to see your driver’s license, auto keuring (inspection report), and proof of insurance (sticker on your windshield and/or in paper form). None of them can be expired. The best thing to do is always have the vehicle paperwork in order and fully cooperate with the law officers. Most police officers speak English or at least understand it.
If you plan to buy a car in Suriname, make sure the paperwork is in order and that everything is signed over properly into your name. Most cars are sold for American dollars or Euros, and because of import taxes they may cost a lot more than they do outside the country. The vehicle registration process is timely and complicated and may involve several visits to the vehicle registration department. Consultants can also be hired to help with these occasions.
If your insurance is not up to date or you cannot prove that the car belongs to you, your car will be towed, you will have to pay a very hefty fine to release it from police custody, and you will have to take a taxi home.
Unfortunately, car insurance policies in Suriname do not cover vehicle theft if the vehicle is older than 10 years. New cars are often stolen or bereft of their accessories. That is why they are locked in garages or kept behind iron bars. Before buying any insurance policy, make sure you understand it.
Always lock your car, even while you are in it. There is no guarantee that someone won’t reach in an open window or open a door to get to a handbag. It is best to keep valuables and cell phones in the back seat so as not to be tempted to use them while driving.
Let us first review the main streets you should know. Many of them have changed names over the last few years (AKA column) or change name as they progress through the city (Extension street column). Trying to pronounce them correctly can be a fun family game. Familiarizing yourself with them shouldn’t take longer than a year (if you’re driving). My map is a poor excuse for a map; however, it should give you enough of an idea to get your bearings. Please buy a real map! I’ve divided Paramaribo up by color. Remember that talking on the phone or texting while driving is prohibited. Safe travels!
North Paramaribo = yellow
South Paramaribo = red
Downtown Paramaribo = green
Kwatta = gray
|MAP NUM||FORMAL STREET NAME||AKA (FORMER NAME)||EXTENSION STREET||LANDMARK|
|1||Anton Dragtenweg||Courtyard Marriott Hotel|
|2||Dr. Sophie Redmondstraat||U.S. Embassy|
|4||Henck Arronstraat||Gravenstraat||DSB Bank|
|5||J. Lachmonstraat||Coppenamestraat||Roopraam Roti Shop|
|6||Johannes Mungrastraat||Choi (South)|
|7||Johan Adolf Pengelstraat||Wanicastraat||Water tower (poelepantje)|
|11||Tweede Rijweg||Lallarookweg||Hermitage Mall|
|14||Zwartenhovenbrugstraat||(1) Van’t Hogerhuysstraat(2) Martin Luther King Weg (aka -Highway)|