When I visit a new place, I think, "I have to do as much as I can. Who knows when I'll be back?" After all, tomorrow isn't promised. That's why I fit in as much as I could on my short trip to New Orleans. I booked a swamp tour ($29 a person without transportation; $59 with pickup) at Honey Island Swamp, about 45 minutes outside New Orleans, through Cajun Encounters. I pictured an airboat speeding through the swamp, but that's actually a different tour. We rode on a larger boat that fits about 20 people. While it wasn't an airboat, it does get pretty breezy -- and chilly.
To be honest, I had low expectations about the tour given that I had just been on the most amazing wildlife tours in Costa Rica. I doubted I would see many animals. I was just there to see new scenery and enjoy the ride. I would take what I could get, I told the captain. Some people said they'd like to see crocodiles or alligators, but he quickly corrected their mistaken notion that crocodiles live in the area. Only alligators live in the swamp. The hour and a half tour starts on the river and then goes into the swamp. The captains bring with them a bag of marshmallows and some dog food to feed any animals they see. I wondered the ethics of that, but what do I know? The tour was in a protected area. We spotted an otter swimming in the water before we came across a raccoon standing in the water. He seemed to know the captain and showed off his cuteness to earn himself some treats. I nervously squirmed in my seat as the raccoon came within two feet of the boat. "Please don't jump on," I thought. We continued on our ride and soon saw another raccoon that also wanted marshmallows. In the trees we spotted several woodpeckers, and white snow egrets also roamed the swamp. Minutes later, we came across 15-20 wild pigs. They barreled through the water toward the boat. The captain called them his wife and kids, because he's fed them for years. We watched the spectacle for a while before it was time to head back. The captain told stories of pigs being devoured by alligators during tours, including one with a bunch of terrified third-graders. I couldn't imagine the carnage.
Once we exited the swamp we went down the river again to see camps on stilts. The captain told us that during Katrina the water rose up to 25 feet above the level it's at now. I imagined how frightening and dangerous that must have been. After a 15 or so minute ride we arrived in an area about 2 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, where he said a couple of alligators were known to hang out. We spotted those two small gators, stopped for photos and then headed back. While we didn't see that many alligators -- it was just the start of the season -- the tour was worth the cost to see the landscape and views.
Have you been on a Louisiana swamp tour? What did you think?