After a night out roaming Bourbon Street with a Hurricane in hand and singing one too many late-night piano numbers at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar, a trip to the warm, Louisiana swamp might not be a top priority for New Orleans visitors the morning after. But it proved to be a great way to unwind after exploring the city at its raucous best.
Cajun Encounters has been leading visitors and locals through the Louisiana swamps for more than 20 years, so you can be sure you'll see a gator or two. They also offer city tours and plantation tours, but swamp tours are their bread and butter.
Gator feeding during a Cajun Encounters tour in Honey Island Swamp. Photo Credit: Patrick Sgro
After a bus pickup at the Windsor Court Hotel in the French Quarter, we drove about 45 minutes over Lake Pontchartrain to Honey Island Swamp in Slidell.
We boarded our 22-person, flat-bottom boat just as the rain started to trickle down. Our guide, Troy, reminded us how lucky we were to be in one with a roof and gave us a colorful safety introduction sprinkled with some good ol' Southern humor.
During our two-hour tour, Captain Troy knew where to find the biggest gators and all about the endemic Louisiana flora and fauna. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the trifecta: gator, raccoon and pig all in the same camera frame.
There are five tour options throughout the day, starting at 7:30 a.m., if you drive yourself. With hotel pickup, it costs $56 for adults and $36 for children under 12. Without hotel pickup, it costs $29 for adults and $19 for children under 12.
DIY on the bayou
More active travelers who are interested in seeing a gator or two can jump in a kayak with Bayou Adventure. It's run by husband-and-wife team Jeff and Shannon Bordelon, whose Southern hospitality is palpable right when you walk through the door of their Lacombe shop.
Here guests can do a self-guided tour, renting a kayak or paddleboard with a life vest and map for $39 per day. Bayou Adventure will also drop off and pick up guests at the bayou.
During our self-guided tour, we paddled gently down the Cane Bayou with a fierce storm fast approaching and an Abita beer in hand. We listened to the crackle of the thunder in the background and the screech of eagles, osprey and blue herons as they soared through the trees. We didn't see any otters, turtles or alligators, but they are often spotted during a leisurely kayak through the Northshore bayou.
Travelers can also sign up for a guided swamp tour or sunset paddle for $55, one of Louisiana's can't-miss excursions. Roundtrip transportation can be arranged in advance for groups in the New Orleans area at a rate of $69 for the first person and $10 per additional guest.