Learning About A Country On A Drive From The Airport

Love this fat guy in Paramaribo

It’s hard to learn about a culture before you have been there. Everyone usually is curious; what its like, is it going to be dangerous, what you should do, and what you shouldn’t. Being in awkward situations where people can’t understand you is part of the fun!

Until of course, something dangerous happens to you like getting kidnapped and shot at.

When you arrive in a new country you should pay special attention to everything on your drive from the airport. You can learn almost everything about a country once you start driving into the city. Most people travel via plane, but this can also be done when you travel by bus.

I’m currently traveling through the Guiana’s on the Northern right tip of South America and I could really see this in action since I am traveling between the three countries in a matter of days. The greatest variance so far is between Suriname (Dutch Guyana) and British Guyana.

When I first arrived at the airport in Georgetown the plane landed just in front of the airport. Most small airports don’t use Jetways to get on the airplane, you simply use a ladder to get on the tarmac and walk to the airport. There was air conditioning and it was pretty clean as well.

Customs was friendly, I picked up my bag, I claimed the 3 million snack bars I have packed on my luggage, exchanged a blonde joke with the customs police, and then was on my way.

There was clearly written signs at the airport in Guyana about what the airfare is to the city. This can mean that there is a lot of corruption in the city and at the same time it could mean that they are orderly. Being a former British colony I could immediately tell that they picked up some great customs from the old chaps, unfortunately they didn’t have a British accent.

It wasn’t the typical South American taxi mafia it was more like a mini mafia. Kinda like those 7th graders that think they are tough when they are carrying around superman lunch boxes. I picked the lesser of the evils, the guy with 3 gold teeth. You didn’t know men with gold teeth are trust worthy? They don’t need to rob you they have gold in their teeth!

Architecture in Suriname

The second that I left the airport I could see the poverty throughout the streets. There was garbage all over the roads and most importantly kids on the streets during the middle of the day on a Friday. Kids not being in school is one of the most important indicators of things going wrong with a country.

Whether they are trying to make money to feed themselves and their family or whether the government doesn’t enforce it, kids should really be in school.

No education means poverty and high crime. Another major thing that I noticed is the run down houses in the suburbs that sprouted out from the main city. The farther that you went from the city the more likely you were to see houses made out of wood and other run down houses as well.

Garbage on the streets means corruption because there is a disconnect with the government picking up the trash. Guyana gets billions of dollars a year since they are the lungs of the world, they could spare a few thousand dollars to pick up the garbage. Only 10%-15% of the country is developed while the rest is Amazon rainforest. On great thing as well is that I was able to ask the taxi driver questions.

Now airport taxi drivers aren’t known to be the most intelligent men on the planet, nor would you expect them to know a great deal about their country. The man with gold teeth was very well mannered and could answer most questions about history and other things I asked him about. One big thing that I could tell right away was the diversity. Mosques and Hindu temples a block away from each and other and a constant stream of African Americans and people of Indian descent (both Indians native to region, Amerindians, and those from India).

The arrival in Suriname started with the same exact situation landing on the tarmac and walking to the airport. It was a bit weird because it took forever to get to the airport once we landed and the pilot parked the plane what seemed like a mile away from the gate.

I mean I know I have been eating too many Arepas in Colombia but the pilot didn’t know that. I thought for a moment that the people of Suriname had a fear with distances but I think it was just a new pilot. What a difference when I entered the airport in Suriname.

The place was absolutely spotless, I could have eaten of the floor it was so clean. They had a visa office just before you got to customs which is extremely efficient. You are required to get a pre-approval visa to enter Suriname (most European countries, United States, Canada, and Australia all require a visa). I haven’t seen that in many countries that require a visa.

Kaieteur Falls in Guyana

n Guyana I had to ask the taxi driver to turn on the air conditioning but in Suriname the gentlemen (without gold teeth) turned it on automatically.

I got into Suriname at night, a bit different environment but you can still make the same analysis.

First thing I noticed was that everything was clean on the streets. There was zero garbage until I reached the city center, even then there was only a small amount of garbage which is understandable.

Every building on the way to the airport had their lights on and all of the streets were very well lite. Every building didn’t have bars on their windows either.

It was a Saturday night when I arrived in Paramaribo and there was hardly anyone outside just wasting time. You can see the big difference in-between the two countries already.

Another big difference between the two countries were the driving habits of the taxi drivers and the actual quality of the streets. The streets of Guyana were a complete mess as every bridge that we crossed was in construction, the government apparently has a problem paying the contractors on time which causes delays.

In Suriname, there were no bumps, no pot holes, no stray dogs. The driving in Guyana was very chaotic; the taxi buses would stop in the middle of the road, kids and dogs running out on the street, and the common car horn going off every two seconds.

This is used widely in South America as both a warning and a “get the f* out of the way signal”. On the way to the Paramaribo, Suriname from the airport not one horn was heard. If they were passing a driver they would simply flash their lights and continue. I didn’t even hear a car horn in the city during my stay.

As I’m writing this post I am in French Guiana which also posed many differences as well. I won’t go into all the details but you could tell the French still run this place and the chaos that would ensue if they didn’t. Play close attention next time you arrive into a city and you will be surprised all the things that you learn. Before you even arrive at your hostel or hotel you will find out what to expect if you even just pay attention to the details for five or ten minutes. Sometimes it can keep you out a dangerous situation but most importantly if can prepare you for your trip!


  1. Amazing to see the contrast of the different Guyana countries. Interesting that there is such a significant difference in atmosphere, cleanliness and environment depending on which country colonised it. I’ve heard Paramaribo is really beautiful, and you’ve definitely given us a taste with the architecture photo. Definitely have to include it when I *eventually* get over to that part of the world.

  2. I always think it is amazing how places hang onto elements of the culture of the countries that they were colonies of. I understand that it becomes a huge part of their own culture but especially when some countries fought tooth and nail for independence I find it interesting. Love the ‘fat man’ photo!

  3. Never thought about all you can learn just on the ride from the airport, but it’s totally true. And love your comment about trusting someone wtih gold teeth. 🙂

  4. Your take on knowing a country by observing the ride from its’ airport is interesting but only one perspective of many that entails the truth. Here is my perspective. The walk from the plane to the interior of the airport let me know that I was visiting a natural and not a technological advanced (stressed) country. The laidback attitude of the custom officials (no hurry mon!), and the mixture of houses(old and new) along the highway and the immacule green trees betrayed the country natural (peaceful)mentality. Nine out of ten times you could trust a taxi driver with gold teeth (especially if you are caucasian) taxeing to them is a lifelong career not a quick get rich now scheme, your fear of robbery is illusional. The children playing is not a sign of poverty the kids are out of school for summer break (Guyana literacy is one of the highest in South America). Yes the sanitation condition is deplorable but name me a country that functions without polical corruption. Bottomline! you can’t truly judge a place immediately on a onetime visit.

    1. Thanks for the comment Apuat but I wouldn’t agree with your assessment, there are different ways of viewing things but you can tell a lot about the things you see on the drive from the airport. So far my assessments have been dead on based on what I see on the drive from the airport. If you spend enough time in a country you can judge a country after you get to know its culture and you speak to locals. Guyana is the 3rd poorest country in South America. Thanks for the comment!

  5. I completely agree! Good post. I love the drive from the airport, or first bus trip in a country, looking around and getting a sense of the place. I also find the more the taxi driver tries to rip you off the more corruption in the place.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *