"It's a forgotten place," says Allie Almario, vice president of the climbing outfitter Myths and Mountains. "People might think it's in Africa." One of those three tiny gumdrops north of Brazil, Suriname is sandwiched between Guyana to the west and French Guyana to the east. When Almario stepped ashore there some 15 years ago, she was one of an estimated 60,000 annual tourists. Today that figure is closer to 200,000, and it continues to grow—slowly. "The last thing we want is mass tourism," says Rabin Boeddha, a senior policy officer at the Ministry of Tourism.
Thankfully, that's hard to imagine. More than 80 percent of the country is untouched tropical forest, and nearly half of that jungle is protected as the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, a Unesco-recognized park. More than 700 species of birds flit through cecropia and kapok trees. Beyond the coast there are few roads. But the country recently stepped up its game to attract travelers. As of last year, visas are no longer required for Americans, Canadians, and many Europeans. More direct flights have opened from Miami. Most promisingly, the government has tightened timber regulations and introduced stricter laws governing gold miners. It's also drafting a long-term plan for attracting more visitors sustainably with the help of Conservation International, the same group that helped Belize boost its tourism industry.
THE TRIP: Base yourself out of a river-view bungalow at Bergendal, a 6,000-acre resort on the Suriname River about 50 miles from the capital of Paramaribo (from $136 per person). Paddle the river in a kayak or dugout canoe, hike around the old Berg en Dal plantation, or wander through the nearby Brownsberg Nature Park for views of Brokopondo Lake. And when you're in Paramaribo, try moksi alasi, a staple dish of rice with beans and fish or meat drizzled in massouse sauce that's as zesty as Suriname's mix of Indian, Chinese, French, and Portuguese cultures.