As if our honeymoon wasn’t adventurous enough, we also decided to go on a swamp tour of New Orleans. The city has a rich history and is well-known for being the birthplace of jazz, its delicious cuisine, and for throwing the best Mardi Gras celebration in the world! However, the city is also deeply connected and defined by its relationship with the weather and wildlife. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which caused levees to collapse and terrible flooding, is still felt throughout New Orleans and the surrounding areas to this day. But not all of New Orleans’ relationship with nature is doom and gloom. The magnificent Mississippi River courses through the heart of NOLA to end its 1,000 mile+ journey at the Gulf of Mexico and brings with it an entire ecosystem unique to this region. A quick 20-minute drive outside the city brings you to the Jean Lafitte National Park where you can enjoy Louisiana’s beauty.
Does it get any more New Orleans than this?
We booked our tour through Jean Lafitte Swamp Tour and paid a bit extra for them to pick us up from our hotel. From the moment our bus driver pulled up to the curb the experience was very NOLA. How is that, you ask? Well, as we hopped on the bus and sat down, I noticed a large trombone case on the floor next to the driver and the band-geek inside of me had to know more. I asked him if he played jazz somewhere in town. He did occasionally but not that week since he was busy driving and spending time with his family for the holidays. I mentioned how the night before we had attended a performance at Preservation Hall and what do you know? His cousin was the trombonist in the band! Does everyone in New Orleans know each other? I’m getting the feeling it’s a yes. Our short drive ends at the end of a gravel road where there are a building and a fancy outhouse. We confirm our tour time, pet the black labs that are lazing about, and walk outside to take in the views.
The other tour guests arrived and then we loaded onto the airboat. Each seat had a set of ear protection gear (muffs??) that our boat driver instructed us to put on. They sat tight around our ears but they weren’t uncomfortable. We were then given a safety talk which boiled down to 1) stay seated at all times; and, 2) don’t worry about the alligators but please yell if you spot a cottonmouth snake because they can swim very fast and also they’re venomous.
Swamp Boat vs. Airboat
The tour company offers two types of tours: a swamp boat or an airboat. What’s the difference? The swamp boat has to stick to deeper water while the airboat can access parts of the swamp that is only a few inches deep. This means that on an airboat tour you will see plants and animals that live in the quieter, less-trafficked areas. We chose the airboat tour for this reason because we wanted to see some alligators!
Even with 10 of us on the airboat, we were zipping along the water no problem. I made full use of my hood to prevent my long hair from covering my face. It was incredible to look over the edge and see us gliding over the thick water plants. I wonder who had the idea for the airboat? I think its the closest thing to a hovercraft the regular people can experience. Although, it’s damn loud!
Mr. Alligator, where are you?
Things were quiet out on the swamp. We saw a handful of herons out looking for their morning breakfast. Our tour guide would drive to a new section of the swamp and turn the boat off to look for alligators. Keep in mind, we chose a mid-morning tour at the end of December. Even though it was a sunny day the temperature was still cold. I think this combination made alligator spotting less than ideal. Later on, we did see two alligators but they swam off quickly as our boat approached them. Blimey, I felt like I was on an episode of “Crocodile Hunter”!
Later, we saw a dozen or so medium-sized animals rooting around the shrubs. Our tour guide explained they were nutria, aka over-sized rats. They were introduced to Louisiana in the 1930s as a replacement for mink because their fur looks very similar to one another. But, the demand for fur plummeted during the Great Depression and never fully recovered. Some nutria escaped from the fur farms they were being raised on and did what rats do best: bred like crazy. They have now spread out all over the southern United States and wreak havoc on the local environment. In Louisiana, the state has established a program to control the population. Hunters can apply for a permit and they’re able to claim money for each nutria tail they turn in. Our tour guide says he does this in the tourist low-season and he makes thousands of dollars. But, enough about that, I know you’re really here to see pictures of alligators!
I HELD AN ALLIGATOR!
As I mentioned, the two alligators we saw in the wild swam out of sight in a hurry. Our tour was technically a swamp tour but in our minds, it was an alligator tour! Bless our tour guide because he made our dreams come true and then some. Towards the end of the tour, he stopped the boat and pulled a cooler from his feet. Off came the lid and he pulled out an alligator. We were all shocked. What a magic trick! Check out that little guy! He may look small but he is actually a few years old already. The tour guides take in juvenile alligators over the winter and foster them until it warms up in the springtime. We carefully passed the alligator around the boat. He was calm and warm. Feeling his scales was super cool, too. It was amazing being able to see this dinosaur-like animal up close.
This experience was definitely a highlight of our trip to NOLA and our honeymoon. I would love to go again during a different season to see what the swamp and animals are like. Have you been on a swamp tour? What was the coolest thing you saw?