New Orleans was described by one of her original settlers as "Nothing more than two narrow strips of land about a musket shot in width" surrounded by "canebrake" and "impenetrable marsh." As the city grew, settlers began clearing the vegetation and filling it in with soil, creating the current footprint of New Orleans which is over 300,000 acres of dry land from converted swamp.
So what did New Orleans look like to those original settlers, take a Swamp Tour to experience it first hand. Not only are these tours fun for whole family, but they give you insight into the wetlands surrounding New Orleans, the plant and animal life as well as how the original settlers lived.
I have done the Cajun Pride Swamp Tour, twice. The tour cruises through a privately owned nature preserve on the southwest corner of Lake Ponchartrain. This company uses covered pontoon boats for their tours. On the south side of New Orleans, there are tours that use airboats and go through marshes as well as swamps.
What is the difference between wetlands, swamp and marshes? Wetlands are low lying land areas saturated with water permanently or seasonly. Swamps are the hardwood forests within wetlands, in south Louisiana the hardwood trees are predominately Cypress Trees. Marshes are the areas that have few trees and are made up of grasses and herbaceous plants.
The dense vegetation has a wild beauty in any season. The Wild Iris' bloom in the Spring. In the summer the Swamp shows its dense verdant mood. Fall brings the happy faces of the bright yellow Swamp Sunflower. In the winter, the Cypress Trees drop the needles and the stark contours on land and water are visible. There is no bad season to take a swamp tour.
The star of any swamp tour are the alligators. If you visit the New Orleans in the winter months, you are less likely to see these reptiles. They have a tendency to hangout at the bottom of deeper spots in the waterways, where the water is warm in the winter. They avoid the chilly water on the surface.
The female alligators lay their eggs in late June and early July. The hatching occurs from mid August through early September. Alligators grow between 2 inches to 12 inches per year. The alligators pictured in the right two photographs above are hatchlings from the previous year.
While reptiles are king in the swamp, it is full of mammals as well, including raccoons, nutria, and wild pigs. They make a tasty meal for the alligators along with fish, frogs and birds.
Can you image living with no electricity, gathering rainwater in a barrel for drinking and sleeping in a mosquito infested area with no screens on the windows? The early settlers of Louisiana were definitely hardy folk!
The knowledgeable guides share detailed information about the environment and creatures that live in the wetlands as well as a few tall tales about the people who first lived in these swampy areas. The trip is interactive and fun. There are usually alligator hatchlings for everyone to pet.
Most Swamp Tour Companies run multiple tours daily, seven days a week. Many will pick you up and drop you off from your hotel. A tour generally runs between $20 and $25 dollars before transportation costs, with discounts for children and seniors. You can also purchase combination tickets that offer a City Tour or a Plantation Tour in conjunction with your Swamp Tour.
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We found some delightful places to stay through them.
Ritz Carlton, New Orleans - Splurge Worthy
Roosevelt Hotel - Historic Luxury
Royal Sonesta, French Quarter - Best Location Luxury
Place d'Armes - Best Location Budget Friendly