Located at 55345 on US-90 in Slidell, LA
Overall Score: A
Cost: B (Without hotel pickup, adults: $29, kids 12 and under: $19)
Fun Potential: B
Touring Information: You can catch a tour by Cajun Encounters by driving your own car to their location or having Cajun Encounters pick you up. On their website, there is an option to be picked up at your hotel or at a central place in the French Quarter (941 Decatur Street). The company offers a list of hotels that they pick up from, including a few street addresses to simplify the numerous pickups. If you are booking a tour with transportation to the swamp, be sure to select where you want your pickup from. You must be outside waiting for a full 30 minutes during the pickup window. With transportation, general swamp tours cost $56 for adults and $36 for kids under 12. Approximate drop off times (back at your hotel) are also listed on their website, depending on what tour you choose. Swamp tours take approximately two hours.
There are not many places to tour a genuine, pristine swamp. Marshlands are seldom seen and often hidden. When people talk about visiting New Orleans, they think of Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, the Garden District, crawfish, beignets, jazz, swamplands, and more. That’s why when you’re in the area, touring a swamp should definitely be on your itinerary to get the full New Orleans experience!
My family and I decided to take a Honey Island Swamp Tour with Cajun Encounters. In addition to their swamp tours, they also provide group tours, city tours, and plantation tours. Their swamp tour takes you to one of the least-altered river swamps in America, the Honey Island Swamp (inside the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area). This swamp is quite large, measuring 20 miles long and 7 miles across, with the eastern edge of it just crossing the border to Mississippi.
Cajun Encounters offers multiple swamp tours a day; however the first tour at 7:30am does not provide a hotel pickup. Purchase your tickets online or by phone, and register inside the gift shop once you arrive. There you will pick up a colored silicone bracelet for each member of your party. These bracelets designate what tour you are assigned to. Life jackets are required for all children 17 and under on swamp tours and are provided free of charge. Outside the gift shop, there are numerous bathrooms for guests.
When it was time to start our tour, we were called to our captains by bracelet color. From the parking lot, we headed to the docks to board our boats. Our boat fit approximately 22 people, had two sides of seating, and a cover on the top, shielding guests from the sun and rain. Our captain was also our guide and narrated our journey into the swamp.
We started coasting down the Old Pearl River, looking for gators. As we cruised along, our tour guide gave us a lot of information about the Honey Island Swamp and Louisiana’s rich history of preserving swamplands. He told us about the native trees and wildlife, as well as his own personal experiences in the marshes. He was very knowledgable and welcoming.
While on the boat, I realized that swamplands can be beautiful! The solitude, the plant life, the untouched natural environment…it was surprisingly captivating!
As an animal advocate and vegetarian, I was happy that I was visiting the alligators in their natural habitat. I’m a strong opponent of zoos and was happy to see the gators in the wild. However, it did seem like the alligators were somewhat trained to swim to the boats, looking for food. As soon as we encountered an alligator, our guide called to it. The alligator swam to the boat and our tour guide readied some food. After piercing hot dog pieces on a stick, he placed his stick close to the water as we all got our cameras ready. The bait was held out of the water just high enough that the gator had to reach up a bit to nab it. It was really impressive to see these prehistoric looking creatures up close. Our guide was very helpful, allowing all of us to get great photographs of the gators.
After feeding the alligator, we coasted into an offshoot of the river, into the swamplands where the river narrowed and the treeline got closer. Moss covered the trees. Tree roots stuck out from the water. The water stilled.
Here, our guide lifted up a crawfish trap and pulled out a crawfish. He explained the basic anatomy of the crawfish and welcomed us to touch or hold it. Our guide also found a small garter snake on a tree trunk and allowed people to hold it as well. This was when our guide really shined. Being that there was a blind child on our boat, our guide was very interactive with getting the boy to “feel the swamp”; he made sure the boy felt the hanging moss, barks of different trees, as well as the crawfish and snake. I was extremely impressed with how compassionate and thoughtful our guide was to really give this boy a tactile tour of the swamp.
As we slowly crept deeper into the swamp, we came to a dead-end, with our boat right next to a large group of wild boars. I had no idea we were going to see boars on our tour. The animals weren’t shy at all. Our tour guide threw them food pellets and we watched them stumble around the tree roots to get to the food. The boars seemed very content, wading in the water and searching the mud for plant material and bugs to eat. And yes, you can get splashed by mud if a boar comes trampling too close to the boat; fortunately, on my tour, the mud splatter just missed me.
We cruised back to the Old Pearl River and explored another marshy outlet. While coasting along, people would point out birds, turtles, snakes, and lizards. Our tour guide was very knowledgable and was able to identify all of the animals we encountered.
One part of the tour brought us to an area of the river where people live, deep in the swamp. In order to reach their home, they must have a boat. They live away from stores and roads and only have a few neighbors. I was surprised to see how many of these homes weren’t elevated and were only steps away from the water.
As we continued our tour, our guide wanted to find another alligator for us and sure enough, he knew just where to look. Again, he skewered the hot dogs on long sticks and fed the hungry gators.
Our Cajun Encounters swamp tour was approximately 2 hours along. When we docked the boat, we were helped out by our guide, who gladly accepted tips.
Overall, it was a unique experience for my family of Chicagoans. We visited in March so the weather was lovely – not too hot or cold. Not only was the tour entertaining, but it was educational as well.
All in all, I recommend Cajun Encounters for anyone looking for a fun swamp tour. Perhaps you’ll be like me and find a brand new appreciation for swamps, and understand how important these marshlands are to so many living creatures.
Enjoy your tour!