Louisiana’s Original Super Highway: Cajun Pride Swamp Tour

Lisa Fritscher April 13, 2011 No Comments

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Louisiana Wetlands

The wetlands form an important storm buffer for New Orleans

Just outside New Orleans, solid ground gives way to swamps and marshes. Swamps technically refer to water over land, while marshes refer to land over water. Southeast Louisiana has an eclectic mix of both. When New Orleans was settled in 1718, the wetlands provided a great deal of protection from hurricanes, slowing down storms as they crossed the mixture of water and solid ground.

As New Orleans grew into the most significant port city in the antebellum cotton trade, new channels were cut to divert the Mississippi River and make it easier for large ships to reach the docks. Construction of these channels continued well into the 20th century. These channels, particularly the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, made it impossible for the wetlands to replenish themselves and they began to disappear. The receding wetlands were implicated as one of many causes that led to the disaster in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Southeast Louisiana bayou

The bayou offers a slower pace of life

Meanwhile, the bayou, a Native American word for slow water, defined the Louisiana way of life outside the city from prehistory through the 20th century. Even today, many homes are built facing the water, allowing boat travelers to pull up to the front door. Roads may connect to the back of the house, but the front is still considered the “company entrance.”

Swamp tours, often conducted by those who have lived on the bayou for generations, are easy to access from New Orleans. These tours allow visitors to traverse the bayou, learn more about the local Cajun population and experience the state’s abundant wildlife up close. We chose Cajun Pride as our tour operator.

About Cajun Pride

Cajun Pride Swamp Tour Boat

Our tour boat

Although Cajun Pride is a local staple, manager Paul Bair took the reins only the day before our visit. A highly knowledgeable swamp tour operator with nearly 20 years in the business, he has ensured a seamless transition and top-notch guest experience. He was full of stories, including the fact that local police officers sometimes stop along the bridge to feed the alligators!

Tour boat operators are carefully screened and chosen for their combination of skill and knowledge. Our boat driver lives on the bayou in a modern home built in the traditional Cajun cabin style. He says that in the small bayou communities, there is no need to lock the doors. At worst, someone might “break in” (by walking through the open door), make a cup of coffee or borrow a cigarette from an open pack, clean up after himself and leave again. Worlds apart from the big city of New Orleans!

Feeding Bayou Alligators

The alligators love marshmallows. Who knew?

Cajun Pride owns a vast swath of private bayou in the Manchac Swamp. The privacy ensures that your tour will not be interrupted by water skiers or pleasure boaters. The animals are calm and used to the tour boats, protected from hunting and other human dangers.

About Manchac Swamp

Investigated by the team from A&E’s Extreme Paranormal, the Manchac Swamp is considered one of the most haunted spots on Earth. As the legend goes, the area was cursed by a voodoo queen, leading to the 1915 claiming of three small villages in a massive hurricane. The swamp is also one of the alleged habitats of the rougarou, a mythical Cajun swamp monster.

About the Tour

Louisiana Swamp Tour Alligators

Guides are excellent at getting you right next to the wildlife

Tours depart from LaPlace, approximately 27 miles from downtown New Orleans. Shuttle bus service is available for an additional fee, and pickups are offered from most area hotels. If you choose to take your own car, follow the directions on the website rather than using your GPS. Several brands of GPS give directions to the middle of a residential street rather than the docks.

You can take a swamp tour only, or combine it with one of many additional tours. Several historic plantations are located near the boat dock, making them an excellent choice for a combination tour. Alternately, you might choose a tour of New Orleans.

One boat is wheelchair-accessible, so call and request it when you make your reservations. The shuttle buses can accommodate collapsible strollers and wheelchairs, but does not have a wheelchair lift or space for larger wheelchairs or ECVs.

Feeding the Alligators Louisiana Swamp Tour

Guides feed raw chicken to the occasional alligator

The swamp tour is fully narrated by an expert guide. The tour route is filled with dozens of alligators, snakes, birds, nutria (rat-like creatures that can approach the size of a small dog) and other water-based wildlife. The guides are excellent at spotting animals from quite a distance, and bringing the boat around to place you right next to various creatures. Along the way, you will also hear stories and legends associated with the unique Cajun bayou culture.

Gator Feeding

One of the most exciting parts of the tour is the feeding of alligators and other wildlife. The guides use marshmallows to lure animals closer to the boat. The sweet treats seem equally popular among gators, turtles and even birds. Additionally, the guides feed the occasional gator with raw chicken attached to a long metal pole. The gators excitedly go after the chicken, allowing you to take photos of them leaping from the water.

Beyond the Animals

Bayou Cajun Cabin

This Cajun cabin is still maintained

Along the banks is a tiny abandoned cemetery, its iron fence nearly destroyed by time and weather. It is the only remaining evidence of a vibrant community of 300 people. This was one of the villages completely wiped off the map by the Great Storm of 1915.

You will also pass a small, traditional Cajun cabin. Although it has not been used as a home in more than 50 years, it is still maintained. The floating cabin can operate as a houseboat if needed. When school education was mandated, bayou kids had to traverse the waterways by boat, sometimes for several miles until they reached solid ground. Then they had to walk to school. This was tough on small children, so many families simply took the house to shore and tied up while the kids were at school, moving back to their home location at night.

In 2009, the CW network introduced a television show called 13: Fear Is Real. Isolated in the Louisiana bayou, contestants had to face a series of difficult and frightening tasks to avoid “death.” In a twist designed to make them fear each other as well as the situation, the show also introduced a “death box.” The secret holder of the box could “kill” fellow contestants. The last contestant standing won $66,666. Although not well-received critically, the show highlighted the creepy side of the Southeast Louisiana bayou. The show was filmed in Manchac Swamp, with Cajun Pride’s assistance. Some of the tasks took place on Cajun Pride boats.

Tips for Parents

Swamp Tour Baby Alligator

You'll even get to hold a baby alligator

We shared a boat with kids of all ages, and everyone seemed quite content. There is so much to look at, and many of the kids competed to see who could spot animals first. The scarier aspects, such as the legend of the rougarou, are handled with good humor, making kids more likely to laugh than cry. The guides carry a baby alligator on board, and pass it around to guests. Keep your camera ready, as this is a great photo opportunity! Snacks and beverages are allowed on the boats, but there are no restrooms on board. Check out the small but adorable gift ship attached to the tour office.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

Tags: , Reviews, Travel Excursions

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