There were two things that I wanted to do in New Orleans no matter what: see some plantations and go on a swamp tour. I poked around the internet, trying to figure out what tour group we should go through, and found quite a selection of options with varying reviews. Still, I settled on Cajun Encounters as it offered a dual trip for a swamp tour and a plantation tour. It looks a little pricey but please don’t get scared away from the cost: it’s well worth it.
Booking: If there was anything that I disliked about the trip it would be the booking process. My friend who I vacationed with dealt with booking and it seems a little more confusing than it needs to be. We had reservations for the trip but didn’t pay on the spot which could be good if you had transportation issues but it left us with a little less security that we were guaranteed a seat (which ended up being something not worth worrying about). The women that my friend dealt with for booking were giving differing instructions over the phone and made our pick up location be a thirty minute walk away from where we were staying while we later found out the company had pick-ups much closer to where we were. While waiting for our pick up the first morning there was some confusion of when it would arrive and those we called weren’t entirely helpful.
The General Tour Idea: You are picked up by a van that displays Cajun Encounters on the side (if you’re meandering around New Orleans you may spot these vans here and there) which is air-conditioned and rather comfy. This is fantastic as my friend and I went to New Orleans without any mode of transportation. We didn’t want to rent a car and we flew in so having a van to pick us up and take us out of the city was great.
I suffer from having long legs that usually are squished into seats on buses, trains and planes but I certainly had enough leg room in their vans. The bus driver takes you to your destination and both on the way there and back he tells stories of the area or points out different sites to give insight into how much you’re actually seeing. Once at your destination you’re handed off to either plantation tour guides or swamp tour guides and your driver is there to pick you up when you’re finished and even accommodating enough to drop you off wherever you need to be, even if it’s not at your original pick up location.
The Swamp Tour: The van trip to the swamp was incredibly informative as we passed the different wards of New Orleans and our driver pointed out the very wide area that was under water after Hurricane Katrina. It was kind of mind-blowing. You remember the news coverage of it all and how devastating it was but to see the area and judge the distance in real life is quite overwhelming. Some buildings were still a mess and others still had the water marks from when the water came in from the lake.
As we left the city and crossed Lake Pontchartrain, towards New Orleans East, we began to see bayous which our guide pointed out. I would have thought it a creek but lucky for us the tour guide was informed (as I am sure they all are). He dropped us off at the Cajun Encounters swamp tour location and we joined the line to get our tickets. They had bathrooms on site which look like a close cousin to a port-a-potty but they’re actually quite clean and air-conditioned. There’s pre-packaged food as well, plus snacks, but if you want something bigger you’ll have to wait or pack your own. There is a couple of picnic tables outside that you can sit down and eat at. However, if you think you are going to eat prior to your tour you might not have enough time so plan accordingly.
Tourists are given a rubber bracelet that’s of a specific color and you’re split into groups through that. My friend and I had red, white, and blue on our bracelet and joined up with others in our group before we met our tour guide, Bishop.
This guy was exactly how I imagined someone from a swampy area to be. Funny, full of jokes, and with that Southern twang I felt like I had truly come to the swamp. Bishop had us laughing but also informed. If we had a question, he answered it, and he tried his best to give us the best tour possible.
After loading the boat we headed out onto the water and I have to say: I was greatly surprised that there weren’t any bugs. Typically I am like a juicy hamburger in the eyes of mosquitos and I thought I was surely going to be chewed alive at a swamp. Maybe it was the time of year (late May) or maybe it’s a misconception on my part but I wasn’t bothered by bugs at all. In fact, I was more so bothered by bugs in New Orleans proper than at the swamp.
Bishop introduced us to various wildlife in the swamp, explained the type of trees we saw (that certainly do not exist around Washington, DC), and pointed out locations that you could still see how hard they were hit by Hurricane Katrina.
It was fascinating, funny, and informative and when my friend and I both got on the bus to head back to the Crescent City we agreed: not only was it money well spent but we would take another tour through this company again.