When I was young, swamps—along with mummies and pyramids—fascinated me. Everything I thought of the word “swamp,” it would conjure up fear and mystery, weaving through the willowy trees with a little wooden boat. As with everything mysterious, there was no rising or setting of the sun in my mind; even in the middle of the day, I pictured it pitch black. Of course, that’s not quite how it happened when I actually got there.
A visit to New Orleans is almost incomplete without getting down and dirty into the swamp, which is filled with gators, herons, and all other types of wildlife.
If you’ve ever seen The Princess and the Frog, you’ll have heard of the New Orleans bayou filled with swamps. New Orleans is basically an island surrounded by swampland. Unfortunately, some of the natural swamps around New Orleans had been drained so that homes could be built on top of that land before they were recognized as the natural gems that they are.
We took one of the swamp tours found on the outskirts of the city. They’re all pretty similar in how they run their tours, the main objective being to see as many gators as possible!
At first, we saw very little gator action. Sure, we had these blue herons all over the place, but where were the gators??
As we cruised down the swamp, sometimes hitting speeds up to 30 miles an hour—if you know me, you’ll know I was absolutely thrilled about this—the driver would be scanning the horizon, looking for peekaboo heads to come popping out of the water.
One of my favorite sights other than seeing the gators were these little dinky houses lining the sides of the swamp. Call me crazy but there’s something really quaint about living here, floating on top of the swamp in a tiny fishing house.
After a while, the driver’s efforts paid off and we saw our first gator! Because the tour operates so frequently, the gators are all named and well-known throughout the parts. I can’t really recall any names right now, but it was important that you knew that.
He would entice the gator to come closer by skidding a few marshmallows off the surface of the water. We were told they love marshmallows but personally, I think they would just love any type of food that we’d give them.
Once they were intrigued and came closer to the boat, he’d move on to hot dogs on a stick! Wouldn’t mind being a gator if you’re fed hot dogs all day. I love hot dogs.
Sometimes, he would try to get a smaller gator close enough to the boat to attempt a grab. I’m not sure if he’s done it before or if he was just trying to freak out the passengers on the other side, but either way I’m impressed already.
A note on responsible travel
I’m not sure how exactly I feel about feeding the gators hot dogs and marshmallows. Something about that is so utterly unnatural. I mean, hot dogs and marshmallows have to be the most man-made thing you could feed wildlife.
In addition to that, getting the gators so accustomed to seeing humans about and being fed by them is also a point of contention. In any other national park, I know that contact with wildlife is extremely discouraged. Bears are shot if they’re tagged more than once after visiting a local town. The tour operator did say something about gator-hunting season so it feels a little unfair.
Either way, this was a cool experience and the closest I’ve ever gotten to see wild gators!
Have you ever been on a swamp tour? How do you feel about them?