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If you’re visiting the city of New Orleans, no trip is complete without experiencing the wildlife in the nearby swamps and bayous. A number of tour operators traverse the watery swamps for a chance to see alligators, wild boar, eagle, and more. There are numerous tour options ranging from slow-moving, educational tours to fast-paced airboat rides. Plus, several tours combine an experience on the water with a visit to Louisiana’s famous plantation homes. Here are the best swamp tours near New Orleans.
Best Full Day Tour: Plantation Brunch and Swamp Experience
New Orleans is known for its fantastic, unique cuisine, so foodies can appreciate the “Plantation Brunch and Swamp Experience,” which combines an outdoor adventure with a taste of local epicurean dishes. Start the full-day experience (8.5 hours) off with a tour of the famous Oak Valley Plantation followed by a brunch of crawfish etouffee, sausage gumbo and fresh fruit. Next, visit the Laura Plantation for an in-depth, award-winning history tour to learn about the lives of the Creole women, slaves and children who lived on the plantation. Finally, explore the Manchac Swamp, a privately-owned wildlife refuge and learn about the legend of “Rougarou,” the Cajun werewolf. Transportation from the French Quarter is included.
Best Budget: New Orleans Swamp and Bayou Tour
If you’re on a tight budget but still want to experience the marshes and swamps surrounding New Orleans, the New Orleans Swamp and Bayou Tour is a fantastic, affordable option. The two-hour tour explores the Honey Island Swamp on an open-air vessel and is a great way for families to spend time together. The journey is more educational and slower-moving than some high-speed boats and gives travelers a chance to learn about the Cajun culture, myths of the swamp and wildlife while spotting wild boars, alligators, osprey and more. The tour departs from Slidell (about an hour from New Orleans), so you’ll have to drive to and from the departure port.
Best Airboat Ride: Small Group Tour by Airboat
If you prefer to depart from New Orleans (instead of driving to a meeting location in the outlying area), the two-hour, “Small Group Tour by Airboat” is a convenient option with an air-conditioned coach that departs from downtown. Once you reach the departure port, get ready for a thrilling airboat adventure and up-close encounters with alligators. The airboats feature stadium-style seating (so your view isn’t obstructed) and the captain will provide narrative and time for photos as well as a high-speed ride at speeds up to 35 miles per hour. Be aware that you will see more alligators during the warmer months because they hibernate in winter.
Best Multi-Day Tour: New Orleans Super Saver Swamp and Bayou
Those interested in spending a couple days exploring in depth should consider bundling a plantation tour with a swamp and bayou experience. The New Orleans super saver package is a cost-effective way to see both the famous Oak Alley Plantation and the watery swamplands. On the first day, travelers are transported by coach to a covered boat for a wildlife-spotting tour followed by a bayou nature show for up-close photos of animals, and information about Cajun culture and food. On day two, visit the plantation lined with 250-year old knotty oak trees for a fascinating peek into the past. Viator users remarked that the drivers were extremely knowledgeable as well as entertaining.
Best Eco Tour: Eco Swamp Tour
While some tours are all about catching a glimpse up close of an alligator (and often feed them to get those photos), the New Orleans Eco Swamp Tour is ideal for those who want to leave a smaller footprint and not disturb the wildlife. The two-hour tour begins at the Pearl River Boat Launch (about 45 minutes from New Orleans) on an intimate, six-passenger tour boat. Led by a professional, local ecologist, travelers have a chance to spot bald eagles, alligators, wild boar, deer and more. With a small group, passengers have a one-on-one experience as they travel through the Honey Island Swamp.
Best Post Cruise: New Orleans Shore Excursion Half Day Airboat Combo
If you’re returning from a Caribbean cruise and are seeking a fun activity in New Orleans before your flight home, the “Half Day Post Cruise,” excursion will pick you up from the Port of New Orleans directly (or from your hotel). The 5.5-hour tour begins with a thrilling airboat ride in Cajun country through secluded bayous and marshes while searching for giant catfish and alligators. Next up is a visit to Destrehan Plantation, a gorgeous, antebellum home built in 1790. Here, costumed guides provide a history of the plantation as guests walk the grounds and slave quarters. If for some reason the cruise ship is delayed and guests cannot attend, they are fully refunded. Be aware that luggage storage is not offered.
Best Customizable: Private Swamp Tour
For a private day or night tour that is fully customizable – yet affordable – consider the “Private Swamp Tour” from Pirate Ventures. The tour departure time is up to you, providing added flexibility for travelers. Meet the guide at Jean Lafitte Boulevard before setting off to a private swamp for the boat tour. On the way, you’ll pass a local fishing village and learn about crab and crawfish traps before traveling deeper into the swamp to search for gators, raccoons, otters, fish and more. The tour is led by a family who has lived in the area for more than 60 years, and the boats are extremely quiet so that they won’t disturb the wildlife.
Best Combo Tour: Destrehan Plantation and Swamp Tour
If you can’t decide what tour to do, the “Destrehan Plantation and Swamp Tour,” provides a taste of everything at a reasonable price. The half-day (six-hour) tour bundles a thrilling airboat ride, transportation from your hotel, as well as a one-hour tour of the Destrehan plantation – listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Travelers can also walk the grounds on their own and visit the slave revolt museum – located on the property. The airboat ride offers both a fast-paced journey and a slower, wildlife-spotting cruise with time for photos and narration from the guide. Lunch is not included so pack some snacks (or purchase one at the plantation).