Spot the alligator: Louisiana swamp tour
I’m a fan of the TV series True Blood. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a story about vampires and other mythical creatures, based in the deep south of the USA.
When we went to New Orleans at the tail end of our epic driving trip through North America, I wanted to visit True Blood land. And what better way to do it than with a Louisiana swamp tour.
Before we got to the swamp, Dave and I tried to guess how big the biggest alligator we’d see.
“Perhaps it’ll be as big as the boat!” exclaimed Dave.
“If it is, it better not bump us out of it!”
Horrified at the thought, I was still itching to see a giant alligator.
Unfortunately for me, when we began the tour we discovered that because we’d come late in the year (the beginning of November) the large alligators had already gone into hibernation.
But we did see some smaller ones (about three feet in size).
But alligators aren’t the only animals you can expect to see on a Louisiana swamp tour. We saw a giant blue heron, a tiny green frog who our guide caught and showed to everyone on the boat before he jumped away, and countless racoons.
We were told there were snakes in the trees and although I kept my eyes peeled – I was worried they’d fall into the boat! – we didn’t see any.
My favourite animal of all though was the turtles. Bunched up together in little families along the logs along the river, their slow movement made them look a little clumsy but that just made them all the more endearing.
We were told there were wild pigs and even though our guide called for them, we didn’t see them come down to the water.
Our guide told us this horrific story where he was on a tour one night and he called a pig down to the river. His name was Lucky.
Well, it was Lucky’s unlucky day because as he began to drink at the water’s edge, a giant alligator sprang out of the water and ate him while he squealed in agony.
The children on the boat were crying and the parents were doing their best to calm them as this unexpected event happened before their eyes.
Peace in the swamp
The shocking pig incident aside, I found the swamp to be a very peaceful place. I really expected it to be scary, and I’m sure it is at night, but during the day I found it beautiful.
It was serene and calming to drift down the swamp’s waters as the sun shone dappled light through the trees.
We motored out to a fishing village which is accessible only by boat. The locals who live there year round fish in the area, but some people have holiday houses there which they only visit seasonally.
Built on stilts jutting out onto the water, some of the houses were certainly in a better state than others.
Curious, I asked our guide whether the locals swam in the water in the summer. I expected him to say no, but in fact they do. Although they share the waters with the alligators, the reptiles don’t bother them and our guide couldn’t remember of any attacks.
Humans are the biggest threat
Alligators have much more to fear from us than we have from them. Even though the area is a protected sanctuary, hunters are allowed to get a permit to shoot the alligators.
The hunters tie meat onto the trees and when the alligators jump out of the waters to grab it, they get shot.
Hardly the India Jones wrestling style I had in mind.
But don’t worry, if you want an alligator head as a souvenir but don’t have the ‘skills’ to hunt one for yourself, you can buy them from the gift shop.
They farm them especially so tourists can take away this gruesome gift.
Needless to say we didn’t buy one.
We received half price tickets from Cajun Encounters for this Honey Island Swamp Tour. But as always, our opinions are our own.
What you need to know:
Cost - If you drive to the swamp yourself, tickets are US$22 per adult. Cajun Encounters will also pick you up from New Orleans, and tickets including this transport cost US$43 per adult.
When to go - We were disappointed the alligators were hibernating, so if you want to see some big alligator action we would recommend going during the months of summer and spring.
How to get there - It took us about 40 minutes to drive from New Orleans to the swamp. The address for the swamp is 55345 U.S. 90 Slidell, LA 70461. The exact directions can be found on the Cajun Encounters website.
Carmen: We set off on the first tour of the day to see some swamp action. Joined with a number of other tourists, it was the perfect weather for a swamp tour. The sky was bright blue and the trees were swaying gently in the breeze.
Dave: And then we saw him – our first alligator. Unfortunately alligators this size would be the biggest we could expect to see as the others had already hibernated for the winter.
Carmen: We spotted a great blue heron, the largest of the swamp birds. They can stand up to four feet tall and have a wing span of more than six feet.
Dave: Then our guide let rip with the motor and our hair flew in the wind.
Carmen: After a race down the river we entered the protected swamp and spotted our first raccoon.
The guides tease them out with marshmallows to get the raccoons close to the boat. I’m not sure how good the marshmallows are for these cute little creatures, but this one seemed to like it.
I thought the inside of the swamp would be eerie but it was strangely beautiful. As we drifted slowly through the water I took a chance to sit back and relax.
Dave: We spotted another two alligators. Surprisingly, people hunt them during hunting season, even though it’s a protected wildlife area.
Shortly after the alligators we spotted this green swamp frog.
Carmen: We headed deeper into the swamp and our guide told us that the trees have what look like roots sticking out of the swamp – these are called cypress knees. The trees use cypress knees to make their bases more stable. The green algae is an invasive species introduced only in the past decade from Asia.
Dave: And just like that, our tour came to an end. Envoking images from the TV series True Blood, this swamp tour was an event to remember.