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Louisiana is a great destination for families. If you're visiting the Pelican State with kids, make sure to explore its wilder side of swamps and bayous. We did just that in our trip to Louisiana and we absolutely LOVED every minute of it. Here are six tips that can help you make the most of visiting the swamps of Louisiana with kids.
1. Safety first!
Seeing alligators, snapping turtles and banana spiders up close is exciting! Just keep in mind that the native wildlife is just that - wild. This isn't a zoo and the animals can be dangerous. Don't scare your kids but do talk to them in advance about not touching any animal unsupervised by a parent.
The kids are very likely to be invited to touch an animal during a swamp tour, so carry hand sanitizer with you to use after the encounter. Reptiles can carry salmonella and other pathogenic bugs and younger children are more susceptible to infections than adults.
2. Protect the kids from mosquitoes.
Swamps have a reputation for being mosquito-infested. Actually, we were surprised to see just how clear of bugs the air actually was when we toured the Honey Island swamp. Our guide explained that swamp water is not as still as it seems. It does keep moving along slowly, so mosquitoes have a hard time breeding in real swamps.
That said, not all watery places are swamps and it's hard to tell the difference just by sight. Some of smaller bodies of water are bayous. Water doesn't flow as much in bayous and as a result, these areas can have a LOT of mosquitoes.
So, come prepared. By that, I don't just mean bug repellant. If your kids are as sensitive as our Dan was (he was 7 years old at the time), a head net may be in order. It's the one item that allowed him to visit the Wildlife Gardens at Gibson without freaking out over the pesky mosquitoes. Of course, long sleeves and long pants helped too -
3. Go on a boat tour in a swamp
You don't have to wander far into Cajun country to take a swamp boat tour. We took ours at Honey Island swamp which is just half an hour away from New Orleans. Several companies offer tours in this wildlife conservation area and most also offer transportation from and to your NOLA hotel.
Tour companies encourage you to make reservations in advance but they also accept drop-ins. Traveling with kids, the last thing you want is to arrive and discover there's no room for your family on the boat. I wouldn't book a tour months or weeks in advance either. I think it's best to check the weather and then book one or two days in advance.
Our swamp tour was pretty awesome. It was fairly spontaneous, en route to New Orleans, and the last tour of that day. The late hour and the cloudy sky made for poor picture quality, sorry about that! I think you can still see how beautiful it was though.
The kids were 7 and 9 at the time, and they both had to wear life jackets.
The first part of the boat tour takes you through a river. Eventually, you reach the more magical areas of the swamp.
The water looks green because it's covered with a layer of floating water plants. The highlight of the swamp tour is the wildlife, and the one animal that
the kids everyone wants to see is the alligator!
The tours don't disappoint. I don't think it's possible to take a swamp boat tour and not see alligators. There's a good reason for that. The tour guides know where specific alligators live and they feed them during the tour. In a sense, these alligators are semi-trained to show up when the tour boats do.
According to our guide, the gators' staple foods are hot dogs and... marshmallow! Why marshmallow? My theory is that it's cheap, easy to store on a boat and easy to stick on the long rod they use to make the alligators jump out of the water for their treat.
Our boys were the only kids on the boat, so the guide let them feed the gators too! Ok, so he helped them a little, but it was still very exciting for our little guys!
And as if that wasn't enough, on the way back, the tour guide opened a storage box and pulled out a baby alligator and a baby turtle. He passed them around and explained more about them. I'm not too keen on using animals that way but he explained that tour operators have special permits to keep these animals for educational purposes.
Visiting the swamps of Louisiana with kids, taking a boat tour is a must! There's hardly any other way to see the swamps, anyway. Whatever you do, don't miss out on that adventure!
4. Experience the swamp at night time
I think that swamps look mysterious at any hour but they become even more so during nighttime. The sound of the wetlands at night is something I will never forget.
You can experience that by taking a nighttime boat tour into the swamps. I'm not entirely sure this would be a positive experience for young children though. Frankly, I think I'd be scared to go out on the water at night.
The cabin was fairly basic, but clean and with a great screened porch. It had everything we needed and was literally on the water of a local bayou. We were glad the porch was screened, as there certainly were a lot of flying bugs around us. We spent the evening sitting in the porch listening to the amazing sounds of the animals. Who knew frogs could be that loud? Giant turtles swam under our cabin and we could see them from the porch!
Visiting the swamps of Louisiana with kids would not have been complete without a nocturnal experience, and this was a great alternative to a boat tour which could have been too scary.
5. Meet the locals
Cajun country is about the culture and people, as much as it is about the natural habitat. The two are connected. Cajun culture evolved around life in the swamps of Louisiana. For us, meeting our hosts, Vernon and Betty, the following morning added a new dimension to our experience.
Over a hearty cooked breakfast, they told us about life in the bayous, past and present. One of their sons joined us and showed us photos of huge alligators he had hunted in the area. Betty then took us for a tour of the grounds, including a visit to the enclosure of their three large breeding alligators and the shed full of their offspring.... Apparently, Betty and Vernon keep alligators just like some people keep chickens!
So, if you get a chance, try and meet the locals!
6. Try the local food
Louisiana is a foodie's heaven. Traveling with kids, gourmet food is not usually what we opt for, but fortunately the local cuisine included some great simple foods. A dish of sausage, beans and rice is simple enough for kids to take in.
In my experience, once we find a local food that our kids will eat (not always easy!) they relish the thought that they're trying something local and authentic. If you're traveling with a couple of finicky eaters, you can try the beignets. They're like little round donuts, so it's hard to go wrong with them.
As always, just have fun! Louisiana is such a special state with so many unique things to see and do, it's the perfect family destination!
Over to you now - have you been to Louisiana already? I'd love to hear more ideas and tips for traveling with kids in the Louisiana, so please share yours in a comment!