Swamps and Bayous- what’s the difference?
The swamp- it may not sound elegant, but the truth is this untamed wilderness extends an invitation to experience unique encounters and spectacles around every bend. Whether it be for the willful wily gators, rugged wild boars or the many great Aves of the sky, this uncharted back-country is a natural treasure trove with something for everyone. The best way to experience Cajun country up close is to visit New Orleans’s bayous and swamps first hand.
“Bayous and swamps? Aren’t those the same thing?”. Well, lets go over the minuet difference here. Swamps are indeed those big marshy flooded-looking areas found in low lying lands. Bayous on the other hand, are the slow moving, connective outlets and waterways that you idle through when navigating the swamp. Your tour guides will tell you everything you need or want to know about the swamp and bayous and their uncanny animal inhabitants. That’s right, gators aren’t the only thing to see in the swampland! Let’s take an in depth look at which tours can help you make the most of your time, and what else you can discover and uncover in New Orleans diverse swampland.
Which tours to take & what to expect
Keep in mind that you won’t be confined to only swamp boat tours as a way to experience the New Orleans’s flourishing swamp habitat! Other popular tours include airboat tours, kayak tours, as well as combination visits with one of NOLA’s acclaimed plantations! Plantation visits often combine a tour of the swamp area and even serve a lunch, so make some room in your stomach and your day to enjoy these additional excursions.
I suggest you look at the options of GetYourGuide. They offer a lot of different experiences and you can always cancel for free up to 24 hours in advance. Check out these tours for example:
Swamp boat tours in New Orleans
You’re in luck! New Orleans’s famous swamp boat tours are plentiful, so even if you decide to do a tour some-what last minute, your chances of making a one will be pretty high. These swamp and Bayou tours can last anywhere between 40 minutes to 2 hours depending on who you go through, as well as if you decide on an “eco” or “conventional” tour.
Best swamp boat tours:
- Go for this Eco Swamp Tour if you want an unforgettable Eco-tour experience of New Orleans bayous that run in small groups of six or less. This particular swamp tour utilizes a customized flatboat that can navigate easier so as not to damage the swamp’s flora, and all the while fully educating you on the swamp life and its potential posing threats. For only $71 USD per person, you will get a cozy eco boat tour that lasts for two hours, and runs on the beautiful Pearl River where you will experience tranquil exposures to this compelling ecosystem.
- For a more conventional tour, give this New Orleans Traditional Swamp Tour a go! They might feed the gators, but they feed you too! For only $55 USD per person, enjoy a delicious Cajun style lunch is included on this traditional adventure through the beautiful Barataria Preserve of the Jean Laffite National Historic Park. Spend 5 hours interacting with the swamp on this 4 hour total excursion, where you will venture on with a local guide, learning the secrets of the untamed swamp along the way.
Expectations can slightly differ depending on which type of bayou tour you choose in the New Orleans area. Here, your eco-tour is more likely to be in a smaller sized, quieter group aiming for natural encounters and viewing of the plants and animals in the swamp. Your conventional tours will typically be in a medium to larger sized group where your guide won’t be shy to offer “baited” animal viewings. Either way you can expect to see a lot of what the swamp has to offer, and experience something surely supercalifragilisticexpialidocious for the entire family!
How to prepare for the swamp boat
Depending on the weather, you will want to be prepared.
- Wear sunscreen, even if it’s not a particularly sunny day
- It may be wise to either cover-up with long sleeves or pants if you’re sensitive. You will be visiting a natural environment where mosquitos live!
Pre-apply bug repellent at home, or use a natural repellent such as lemon-eucalyptus oil in a carrier like coconut oil and apply it topically. (Studies shows this natural repellent to rank third in strength just behind the chemical repellents DEET and picaridin!)
What to wear and bring
You will be in a casual swamp environment but the most important thing is to wear what’s comfortable. Ideas for what to wear include:
- Sandals for your footwear
- Shorts and t-shirts are also suitable
- Long pants or jeans
- Hats are also recommended.
- A light coat or rain jacket are suggested if the weather is chilly
- Don’t forget your camera!
NOLA’s Air Boat Tours
Airboats, those flat pontoon-looking boats that sport what seems to be a giant house fan on the back? Well, sort of, yeah! Airboats ride on just a few inches of water, and actually do use engines that reach speeds up to 35 miles per hour. While there’s really not much need to go that fast while you’re trying to view wildlife, it sure is fun! The swamps can stretch over long lengths and cover a lot of area, so a speedy airboat can be useful for getting from one area to another quickly.
My Top-Pick Airboat Experiences:
- For a thrilling adventure out on the bayous, try this New Orleans Airboat Ride! Led by Louisiana local, you can expect an authentic experience with real “swamp people“. This tour offers the opportunity to speed through the swamp on a large airboat for only $75 USD per person, or small airboat at $100 a pop. Depending on your needs, both boats will allow encounters with the swamp wildlife. Enjoy group thrills on the big boat, or interactive experiences on the small boat!
- If you prefer a cheaper swamp tour in New Orleans with an airboat, I can suggest this tour. For $55 USD per person you’ll get to see lots of gators and at the same time experience a thrilling ride on the airboat.
Though they can be a blast, the downside of airboats can be the noise if you don’t know what to expect. Airboats tend to be extremely noisy and this can in turn, shock a lot of the wildlife you are trying to view, potentially scaring it off. The up-side is that in comparison to a conventional swamp boat, you’ll be touring New Orleans’s bayous on airboats that were made to take you to less accessible areas of the swamp.
These boats can prove to be a fun tour, however they are not for everyone, and not exactly the option for those who tend to prefer “risk free” activities. Airboats are not required to have seatbelts for example, but the coast guard does require railing, so you will have some security if you opt for one of these tours! Certain regulations are set in place to ensure your safety on an airboat, however this does mean there are some restrictions.
Those restricted from riding an airboat include:
- pregnant women
- anyone with a back or neck injury
- sometimes small children under the age of five
- those who do not meet height requirements (for children)
You’ll want to check with your company of choice beforehand to be certain if you or a loved on qualifies for this experience. Most of the companies offering tours will also not allow those to join who cannot board the airboat on their own without requiring assistance.
How to prepare for an airboat
If you do not fall into one of these categories and decide that airboats are the activity for you, you’ll want to prepare accordingly to ensure a comfortable trip.
- Pre-apply your bug repellent or natural bug remedy before leaving
- Pack a few snacks and some water (just remember to stuff your trash or recyclables in a bag or pockets so they don’t fly off into the swamp)
- You can opt to bring a refillable water bottle, as they’re usually heavier and with a lesser chance of flying overboard.
- Extra ear plugs if sensitive to loud noises, however most companies do also offer ear protection.
- Your camera preferably with a strap you can hold onto securely
What to wear and bring
It is recommended to wear:
- Light long sleeves and pants
- A raincoat or poncho
- Sunscreen, as tours can be hot and Louisiana swamps can reach above 94 degree Fahrenheit in the summer!
Kayak tours in New Orleans
A kayak tour of the vast New Orleans swamp area is a great way for adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts to catch a glimpse of wildlife first-hand. As you glide atop the water, you will have an engaging perspective while paddling past gators and nutria. No boat-tops obstructing your view of the sky here, just peek up and enjoy the majestic birds of the swamp soaring over head.
They’re good for you & the environment!
Kayak tours can be considered one of the most Eco friendly and non-invasive options for viewing New Orleans’s pristine swamp area. You will have total control to maneuver around small areas, allowing you to view more and avoid crashing into the beautiful natural features you want to see. Not to mention, there are no loud engines disturbing and scaring away animals from their habitat! Kayak guides tend to have a good reputation for being passionate and educated about everything in the swamp, giving you a full experience.
Best kayak tours to take:
A great and truly eco-friendly kayak tour is the Manchac Swamp Mystic Wildlife Kayak tour! This exciting group tour takes you on a 3 hour adventure paddle through the historic Manchac swamp area. You will be provided with all required gear and paddle lessons. This is a fun trip for all ages and levels! Your guides here care for the environment aim to let the swamp “show itself off” to you. Tours costs about $66 USD per person.
Looking for something a little more relaxed? Try the Manchac Swamp Small Group Kayak Tour on a 2-3 hour trip complete with a local guide. This tour is for those seeking a relaxing slow current ride in a bayou that was once home to the logging ghost town of Ruddock. With full attention from a passionate guide who is knowledgeable about the swamp environment, you can’t pass up a this great personalized tour. Everything will be provided for you on this trip, including transportation, all for just $66 US per person.
Is it safe?
So, you’re wondering if it’s actually safe to be kayaking amongst alligators in Louisiana right? Tour companies joke “we haven’t lost anyone yet!” and they will of course, instruct you on the safest maneuvers for touring NOLA’s swamp and bayous in a kayak. Mainly, keep your elbows away from the water and you’re golden! You should be able to enjoy a perfectly safe and unique experience on the water, and yes, even beginners are welcome on these tours! Kayak tours in New Orleans can last from 1.5 hours, 2-3 hours, 5 hours, or even up to an entire day if you wish. Along the way, your knowledgeable guide will inform you of the cultural value and history of the swamp, as well as information about the different wildlife features you pass along the way.
How to prepare and what to bring
Preparation can vary depending on the length of your tour. Longer tours usually offer a lunch or snacks, while the shorter tours of 2 hours or less just recommend bringing along some water. Regardless, you’ll want to be sure to:
- Take some water
- Beware of the sun and be sure to apply an appropriate amount of sun protection.
- Apply some repellent or your natural bug remedy before getting on the water as well. Although bugs don’t tend to be that bad during the day, it’s still a good idea.
- A dry-bag is also a great idea if you feel the need to bring anything other than water or snacks with you, however taking valuable items are not encouraged
- A camera or Gopro with a reliable strap so you don’t loose it to the swamp!
What to wear
Make sure you’re comfortable! Wear items like:
- Lightweight, breathable clothes that you’re happy being active in.
- Shorts and short sleeves are also fine
- Hats and polarized sunglasses are highly recommended! The water can act as a reflector and particularly for longer tours, it is important to protect your eyes and face from the sun.
- A lightweight rain jacket is suggested in anticipation of light rain showers.
- Outdoor sandals or flip-flops are typically preferred by guests
Combination plantation tours
You can find many kayak, airboat and swamp boat tours offered in combination with plantation viewings. Also note that most plantations are located roughly an hour to an hour and a half outside of the city, so ground transportation is usually included or optional when you book.
What exactly are southern plantations?
You might wonder what’s so great about New Orleans plantations and what they are even used for. Well nowadays, they are really just used for museums and attractive viewing, as very few families still utilize them for living. Some do however still run as working growing plantations! Each plantation mansion and its many quarters harbor a slice of history, as well as the traces left behind from the families and slaves that ran these estates, including period antiques. In the 1800’s, most plantations in the south cultivated cotton, while Louisiana actually owed their wealth to their massive sugar cane plantations. Sugar cane was cultivated, harvested and sold all up and down the Mississippi River which made for the perfect “freeway” to fame that allowed owners to connect to major markets.
There are many companies that offer combination tours of the plantations and the swamp via swamp boat, airboat or kayaks.
Super combination tours to try:
- A popular full day excursion like the Oak Alley Plantation & Airboat Combo Tour is sure to be the highlight of your trip to NOLA. You start your tour at the Oak Alley Plantation, known as one of the most ‘picturesque’ in all of Louisiana and boasting epic scenery that will make you feel as if you’ve stepped into a scene from Gone with the Wind. After your guided tour at Oak Alley, you will be on your way for your high-speed thrills through the bayous! Your airboat tour lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, the perfect amount of time to soak in all that the swamp has to offer before your included transportation takes you back. This all inclusive tour will only run you $144 US per person!
- This exciting 5-hour total Historic Plantation and Swamp Tour combo offers the relaxation and family fun you’ve been searching for. Enjoy a guided tour through the lovely Destrehan Plantation overlooking the vast Mississippi River. You will then prepare for some up-close gators time on a swamp boat tour at the magical Manchac swamp area! Tours run for only $90 USD per person!
If you book on GetYourGuide you have full support and an easy cancellation option up to 24 hours in advance before your intended activity!
How to prepare and what to bring
Of course, if you opt only to participate in the plantation viewing portion of a tour, you will want be sure to wear comfortable footwear for walking. Otherwise:
- Dress for the weather
- Bringing along water to hydrate is always a good practice
If you do decide to combine your plantation visit with a kayaking or swamp boat tour, you should plan accordingly, and can ask more about what to bring when you book.
What you can see in NOLA’s swampland
Regardless of what kind of NOLA swamp tour you end up choosing, it’s guaranteed you will come across a wide variety of the fauna and flora that is typically found in Louisiana’s swamp and bayous.
Popular swamp fauna includes:
- American alligators (or Gators, as the locals call them!)
- nutria (semi-aquatic giant river rodents)
- wild boars
- snapping turtles
- Birds (diverse species including the great blue heron and great egret)
- bald eagles are known to be spotted in the swamp!
Unique swamp flora will adorn your path from every angle, setting an eerie, magnificent scene for the swamp. Popular plant life in the swamp includes:
- Spanish Moss (decoratively draping from every tree)
- Cyprus trees, a striking element of the swamp
- Tupelo gum trees, rising up from the water
- Water Hyacinth (floating lavender-colored flowers)
- swamp Rosemallow (aka Hibiscus Grandifloras)
- Muscadine (berries are used to make wine & jam)
- Chinese Tallow
The swamplands in southern USA are unlike any other, and you are sure to see a combination of plants and wildlife that will leave you astounded. Don’t be shy to ask your guide wild or specific questions about the flora or fauna, that’s what they’re there for!
Being kind when you can’t rewind
We can’t rewind back time and take back the impact we’ve made on the environment in the past, but we can choose how we handle our current and future actions! To be candid, this refers to eco-friendly verses conventional tours of the swampland. When visiting a sensitive ecosystem, one is usually informed of or already sticks to the basic rule; Take only pictures, leave only footprints! Now that you have been informed of this fundamental rule, you may use it as a tool when deciding on which kind of tours will suit you, and how you can fully experience the marshy magic that awaits in New Orleans’s swamps and bayous.
Conventional versus eco tour
“Conventional” Louisiana gator tours are those which are typically run by locals who sport louder engines on their boats, packing-in lots of guests for a (sometimes crowded) tour. Conventional New Orleans swamp tours have recently accumulated some complaints regarding guides driving their boat into trees and other natural features along the way, with less regard for the environment. By far, the largest standing complaint rests with the tour guides feeding the alligators and critters of the swamp with marshmallows and other treats, sometimes even hand-feeding them just to draw them in closer to their boat and guests.
In contrast, “Eco-friendly” bayou tour in New Orleans run with smaller or even private groups, typically using quieter boat engines, and NEVER feeding the animals. This allows you to have real, all-natural encounters in the swamp. Along the way, your eco tour guide will also give you more detailed and factual information about the flora and fauna found in the swamp’s ecosystem. Their goal is to help you experience New Orleans’s swamp culture without intruding on it.
Note that not all listed “Eco-tours” are actually eco-friendly, but simply use “eco” as a label to attract tourists. You can check reviews, regulations, and information about a company if you’re worried about it being a true eco-tour or not.
- Airboats are incapable of going in reverse, and don’t have breaks .
- Alligators can run in short bursts on land at over 11 miles per hour!
- If you’re scared of gators, you can always eat them! NOLA offers a variety of alligator based dishes, including alligator sausage, gator Poboy sandwiches, and even gator cheesecake!
- The largest gator ever recorded was found in Louisiana measuring at 19 feet and 2 inches long!
- Louisiana has the largest population of alligators in the world.
- If an airboat is too loud for you, try out one of New Orleans’s riverboat cruises! The Creole Queen historical river cruise offers a relaxing option to cruise on the Mississippi River!
The best time to go to NOLA for swamp tours
Technically, there really is no bad time to go. You will be able to coordinate your trip with a swamp tour year round. I know what your thinking, you want to avoid hurricane season just in case, right? This time typically occurs from June through November, but don’t let hurricane season scare you off just yet.
Locals say the best months to do a tour are actually April, October and November because of the clear paths without the summer grass, which can usually reach over six feet tall! These months offer clearer views, and higher chances of seeing the many migratory birds as well, including bald eagles. Temperatures can also be more pleasing in the later months, and if it’s a sunny day you are likely to see plenty of gators! Depending on your goals and tour type, your guide or booking agents will help you decide the best time of day to do your tour.
Take it from me
Whether you’re staying in New Orleans for a while, a or just stopping in for a quick visit, you will certainly want to save a slot in your itinerary to tour Louisiana’s magical swamp ecosystem. Plus, not everyone can say they’ve been to a swamp, let alone seen a gator in person! Bring your camera and enthusiasm to remember your visit to this captivating Cajun culture, and take back something that will last a lifetime.
I suggest to book your tours through GetYourGuide. On this website, you can find a lot of different swamp tours in New Orleans which you can always cancel for free up to 24 hours in advance. You never know when plans change!
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.