When New Orleans comes to mind, most think of the wild weeks of Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street and cuisine loved the world over. Since its inception, New Orleans has been built around and both dependent on--and at the mercy of--the surrounding swamps and marshes of the Mississippi delta.
One of the most biologically-diverse wetlands in North America, the lakes and the bayous and marshes that feed off them are fast disappearing. Through years of over-logging, levee building and diversion of the mighty Mississippi, the salty waters of the Gulf of Mexico are encroaching ever faster and threatening the regions' very existence. That's why we say: get out there and check it out for yourself! The more people see what we have to lose by doing nothing to save this ecosystem, the better chance we have to save it.
There are two major areas just 35-40 minutes outside of New Orleans: Bayou Barataria in Jean Lafitte Preserve and the bayous of Lac des Allemands. Airboat Tours from New Orleans are the most popular way to see the Cypress swamps; the other option is pontoon-style covered tour boats (which we'll cover soon in another article). One of the advantages to touring by airboat is the ability to go deeper into the swamps where larger tour boats, equipped with outboard motors, cannot go; another is the smaller size and intimacy. One can choose from large 16-passenger airboats or smaller, faster 6-passenger boats.
Your captain/guide will get you to the areas you want to see quicker and cut the fan to glide in close to wildlife. These local guides--having spent their lives hunting, fishing, trapping and working in the swamps--have a familiarity and love for the area and the gators (alligators are territorial and tend to stay put), allowing them to get close without scaring them, providing guests with an up-close adventure and pictures to prove it. Some guests are lucky enough to hold a small alligator or even help the guide wrestle one into the boat!
Transportation for New Orleans airboat tours is offered to and from French Quarter and Downtown hotels, or visitors with transportation can drive themselves for around $20 per person less. Most tours run from 1.5 to 2 hours, and with transportation about 3.5 to 4 hours total.
One of the most often asked questions we get are: when are the alligators are out and active? Cold-blooded reptiles, these ancient animals have remained virtually unchanged since the days of the dinosaurs. They're dependent on the sun to warm their bodies, and when it cools down in the winter, are obviously not as active and hibernate in their own way--similar to bears--but still come out on warmer, sunny days to sunbathe and feed. Alligators can be seen year round, with March through October being their most active months.
WHAT IS A BAYOU?
The bayous of southern Louisiana are man-made "roadways" through the swamps. Bayou comes from the Chocktaw word meaning "small stream" and bayous feed off of local lakes, such as Lake Pontchartrain on the east bank of the Mississippi; Lake Salvador and Lac des Allemands on the west bank of the Mississippi. The first bayous were created to transport harvested Bald Cypress trees through the swamps to the lakes where they could be cut and processed or loaded for shipment throughout the world. Natural gas and oil exploration led to more being cut through the swamps. You'll also hear more colorful history: the pirate Jean Lafitte used these bayous to move goods into New Orleans for sale, and to elude the authorities and establish a safe haven for his men and plundered goods. In New Orleans and its swamps and bayous, history doesn't die or fade away, it still hangs in the air of the present, making it a singular place.