In a city known for its delectable dining and abundance of alcohol, physical activity might seem like a daunting way to explore New Orleans. Visitors will find, however, that there is no better way to get an intimate tour and burn off beignets than to bike and kayak their way through the Big Easy.
When I walked into the FreeWheelin' Bike Tours office in the French Quarter, I immediately fell in love with their bicycles. While rental bikes can often be quite rickety, FreeWheelin's American-made fleet is custom-designed to soar over New Orleans' many road bumps.
On their Creole & Crescent tour ($50 per person), bicyclists go through the historical Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, down Esplanade Avenue and Frenchmen Street and through Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park, where many of the city's musical traditions are rooted. A stop is made in City Park, one of the country's oldest urban parks (50% larger than New York's Central Park) and home to the world's largest grove of mature, live oak trees; one is nearly 800 years old.
The tour also stops at St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, home to New Orleans' fascinating above-ground tombs. As the city is built below sea level, New Orleanians are unable to be buried underground. NOLA's Catholic founders were against the idea of cremation, thus creating the necessity for these "cities of the dead."
Kayaking with tour company Kayak-iti-Yak in Bayou St. John. Photo Credit: Jenny Hart
While New Orleans is in the center of the Gulf Coast's expansive Bayou Country, there is only one bayou (a marshy river with no current) that remains within the city limits. Bayou St. John played a pivotal role in New Orleans' establishment in 1718 and is still an important part of the community.
Kayak-iti-Yak, a kayak tour company run by husband and wife Sonny Averett and Sara Howard, has been guiding visitors down the waterway since early 2011. They offer three tours that vary in duration, distance and difficulty.
I went on Kayak-iti-Yak's least strenuous adventure, the Big Easy Bayou Tour, where we kayaked three miles over two hours. Bayou St. John teems with wildlife, and Averett, who studied marine ecology, was quick to provide facts about each bird and fish we leisurely paddled by. We kept our eyes peeled for the alligators and prehistoric garfish that occasionally inhabit the waters, but no luck. So we found enjoyment instead in watching energetic mullet fish jump several feet into the air every few minutes.
Longer tours include a stop at Lake Pontchartrain and the chance to paddle through the edge of a salt marsh. Each kayak comes equipped with a dry bag to keep possessions safe.
Rates start at $40 per person. Visit kayakitiyat.com.