Destinations, Family Travel

Going Wild in Plantation Country

Alligator encounters allow families to go wild in Louisiana

Standing in my life jacket on the side of the Manchac swamp, I spot a 4-foot long alligator lounging in the afternoon sun. Belly low, jaw raised and eyes closed, he’s paying no attention to me at all. It is exactly the way I like my alligators.

I suggest to Kirk Duplantis, our tour guide from Wild Louisiana Tours that maybe this sighting from the safety of the shore is enough for today. He laughs. Hard.

“Oh, that one? That’s a baby.” He says as he works with my husband, Ish to lower kayaks into the water. “They get way bigger than that.”

All three of the males in my family break into grins. I am not smiling.

Alligator Wild | Another side of New Orleans Plantation Country

This area of Louisiana continues to surprise me. In the brochures, they refer to it as Plantation Country, and it is easy to see why. The lavish estate homes that line the Mississippi river are holdovers from a bygone era; one that included a brutal slave trade in the wealth-creating production of cotton. That aspect of the state is here to be inspected, reviewed and revisited and we did so. But  my travels have taught me that no place is one thing.

There can be rural parts of a city and flashy parts on a farm.

The trick when travelling to a place with a harsh history is to somehow find your way to the history but also to the stories beyond it. We wanted to acknowledge the past but also to understand what the locals love.

And here, on the historic Manchac swamp, what they love are their wild spaces. We had to explore it for ourselves.

We paddle out past the overpass and soon the only sounds are the wind in the trees and the oars hitting the waters. The sun is hot today and sunscreen and water are passed around as we make our way through the swamps and bayous.  Duplantis shares stories of the Native Americans who first called the area home and tales of the logging ghost town that was once here.

Alligator Wild | Wild Louisiana Kayak Tour

We’re out for almost three hours and there are moments when I forget my concerns about limb loss and settle into the rhythm of the water. As a family of beginners, I’m surprised at how quickly we pick it up. Soon we’re comfortable enough to pause for photos. We spot turtles, herons and egrets as we go.

The alligators play nice and there’s a feeling of triumph when we make it back to shore alive. (Although, the fact that the “baby” is not where we left him makes me a tad uncomfortable.)

The good news is that if the idea of being only a plastic boat away from an alligator isn’t your style, there is another option that gets you close enough to appreciate the animals without constantly wondering if they’re sizing you up for dinner.

Alligator Wild | Cajun Pride Swamp Tour

On a Cajun Pride Swamp tour, we board a swamp boat with a lively captain who takes us into a much more frequented part of the swamp. We aren’t two feet from shore when the first few alligators swim by.

The animals in this part of the swamp are used to the boats coming through, our captain explains. As we ride along we spot alligators, a variety of birds and several families of raccoons on the shoreline.When the guide passes around a skull to give us a sense of just how big these gators can get, the boys go to town with silly photos.

But the tour is about more than the animals. As we cruise, the beauty of the area shows itself. We learn about the importance of the Louisiana Wetlands and Cajun history in the area. The kids are as fascinated by the stories as the creatures. When the tour is over, everyone is surprised at how quickly it went.

At the end of the day, I’m no closer to wanting an alligator in my backyard, but my fears are tempered by a new perspective of the area and an appreciation – and healthy respect – for the wildlife of the swamp.

Always the ham, Cameron mocks his mother in New Orleans Plantation Country.

Alligator Wild | Just the Facts

Wild Louisiana Tours Kayak Trip: $59 per person; Children 12 and under $40 . Transportation can be arranged for a fee. https://www.wildlouisianatours.com/activities/manchac-magic-tour/

Cajun Pride Swamp Boat Trip:  Retail price $27 for adults and $16 for kids aged 4-12. Online discounts and transportation options available at https://www.cajunprideswamptours.com/ 

Our family travelled with United Front Transportation Services throughout our visit.

Looking for more?

This is the second in a series of posts about our time in New Orleans Plantation Country. You can read our first post about our encounters with locals trying to share the history of the area here.

Disclosure: These posts are sponsored in part by the VisitNOPC.com. As always, all opinions are my own.

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