For most people heading to Louisiana, the bright lights of New Orleans are the real draw. Not to mention the revelry of Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street. But if you’re going to be in the Big Easy, why not try something really wild: a tour of the swamps!
Southeast Louisiana is dotted with swamps and there are many tour companies that will pick you up at your hotel and take you out of the city to start your adventure. The swamps are wide areas where the flat plains turn to soft bogs with waterways running through them. Louisiana’s swamps feature cypress trees that are supported by complex root systems that allow them to grow on wet land and even out over shallow water and are covered by a canopy of moss. The boggy ground is covered in marsh grasses and vines with occasional pockets of quick sand.
The swamps are home to several species of birds, since Louisiana is along the migratory path of many flocks. Great blue herons, snowy egrets, South American nutrias, and even pelicans can be seen in the swamps. There are snakes, including poisonous varieties like the water moccasin, which can live in the canopies of cypress trees.
The real king of the swamp is the American alligator. Because alligators are cold blooded, they control their body temperature by alternating between the water and the land. This makes them most active in the summer months when their bodies are warmer. But even in winter months, you can expect to see several gators of varying size.
A good swamp tour (and there are many companies available) will pick you up at your hotel and drive you out to the swamps where there will most likely be a visitors’ centre. Many of thes visitors’ centres have petting zoos, aquariums and terrariums where you can view some of the native species and learn a bit about the ecosystem. Most tours travel by air boat, since they’re light, fast and propelled by large fans at the back of the boat (as opposed to submerged propellers that can get caught in the reeds and roots of the swamp). You can expect to see beautiful cypress groves, a variety of wildlife, and as many gators as you can find in the few hours you spend out on the water. Tour guides are often trained to handle gators and will shock guests by tapping the huge reptiles on the nose or grabbing their tails. And the industry secret for finding gators? Marshmallows. Toss a few of those into the water and you’ll see why they refer to the treats as “swamp crack”.