Kayaking In A New Orleans Swamp

About a year ago, I was researching swamp tours near New Orleans and stumbled upon a review for a kayak tour. I had been wanting to go to NOLA for years and see alligators in a swamp. The idea of getting up close to them excited me!

When friends asked me about our plans for New Orleans, I told them I wanted to kayak and see alligators.

The most common replies I heard went like this:

"Why would you want to do that?"

"Wow! You're a lot braver than me."

"That sounds terrifying! Why not just go on regular boat tour?"

As it turns out, alligators are shy. And you are far more likely to be injured on the drive to the swamp than to be bitten by an alligator. 

The only creatures that tried to attack us in the swamp were a few mosquitoes, but even then, there weren't as many as I thought there would be.

So, I wasn't nervous at all when I booked our tour with New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours. It was awesome and we learned so much!

We booked the extended Manchac Swamp Tour. I was told that this is a favorite among tour guides, because it's much prettier than Honey Island and the extended tour gives a greater opportunity to see wildlife. 

On the morning of the tour we met our group at Rampart Treehouse at about 9:30 AM. A ride to the swamp is included in the price, and lucky for us, the pickup spot was only a three minute walk from our hotel.

On the way to Manchac Swamp, we stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom and buy snacks/lunch. The tour includes a break for lunch but the food itself is not provided.

This is my one complaint about our tour: the description on the website left me thinking lunch would be provided, and I wasn't the only one who was mistaken.

It wasn't until we were on our way that another person in our group asked if lunch provided and I was a little disappointed to learn that this was not the case.

A simple sack lunch could have been included, or maybe the company should specify on their website that patrons will have to purchase their own lunch enroute.

Anyway, we arrived at the river just before 11:00, unloaded the kayaks, put on sunscreen and bugspray, tucked our lunches into our kayaks, and took off.

There are no motorized boat tours in Manchac Swamp, so our group had the place to ourselves.

And we were out on the water for about four hours which gave us a nice break from the crowded streets of New Orleans.

The cypress and tupelo trees decked in Spanish moss were gorgeous. We saw a blue heron, an owl, several other birds, apple snails and their bubble gum pink eggs, oyster mushrooms, and lovely palmettos.

And we had our own little buddy: a cute, tiny anole who was hanging out in our tandem kayak with us, running around and changing colors.  

We did spot a couple alligators; one was hanging out only a few feet in front of our kayak before he disappeared in the muddy water.

Obviously, the tour guide has no control over wildlife encounters. And although I had hoped to see more alligators, my husband and I still felt the tour was worth it.

While paddling the bayou, I learned that the best times of year to see alligators are April and October. Spring is mating season when the gators are more active. And our guide said he sees them more in October too when the weather is a little cooler.

We paddled through canals, along a bayou, and into the swamp itself where stopped to eat lunch right there in our kayaks. 

For reference, a bayou is a slow-moving river, and a swamp is a essentially a flooded forest.

Our guide, Alex was very knowledgeable about the wildlife as well as the history of Manchac Swamp. He didn't give a dramatic speech about how the swamp was haunted, but told local myths in a fun yet factual manner.

He spoke of voodoo, and werewolves, the possibility of apes living in the swamp, and my favorite part: swamp lights!

Swamp lights start as gas bubbles made of plants decomposing in the mud underwater. Occasionally these gas bubbles float to the surface and when the weather is just right, they'll ignite.

This happens just before a storm when the air is charged with electric static. This can cause a spark and the bubbles of gas burn blue!

The Cajun word for swamp light is feu-follet which means ghost light. I love it!

In Europe, they call them wisps or will-o-the-wisps. 

I know it's unlikely, but I would love to see swamp lights someday!

Alex shared many other interesting facts such as the scientific theory that the horseshoe-like shape of mature cypress trees acts like a funnel, directing strong winds upward and thus breaking up hurricanes.

If it weren't for the deforestation of these large cypress trees, New Orleans may have a little less reason to worry about oncoming hurricanes.

He also told us that binturongs, or Asian bearcats, were brought to the swamp to be hunted but several survived and their descendants still live there. Unfortunately, we did not see any.

I love that Alex knew and shared a lot with us yet he was quiet for most of the tour. He was there to answer questions but not to entertain us. This made for a relaxing afternoon as we paddled at a leisurely pace, enjoying the scenery.

I wish we'd had time to go on a pontoon boat tour as well so I could compare the experiences, but I have no regrets about our kayak tour.

A pontoon boat tour is cheaper then a kayak tour: about $35 per ticket plus a $30 fee per person for a hotel pick up.

But we wanted to be in the quiet and away from the crowds. And so we felt the kayak tour was worth the extra cost and time.

The pontoon tour guides often feed alligators and allow patrons to toss marshmallows to raccoons. Thus, when animals hear the boat's motor, they come. 

I imagine and I have been told that it's a cool experience, but it wasn't one we wanted. If we had taken our two little kids to NOLA with us, we definitely would have opted for a pontoon boat. 

However, our extended kayak tour was just so beautiful. We got to glide along at a slow pace and navigate our way through the close trees with the Spanish moss hanging over us and the duck weed swirling around us. It was awesome to see numerous animals and to learn so much.    

I definitely recommend a Manchac Swamp Tour with New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours.

Be sure to book your tour in the fall. Prices on flights and hotels in NOLA will be cheaper this time of year too.

Just remember that you will have to buy your own lunch on the way, or buy something more appetizing before meeting at Rampart Treehouse. 

Be sure to bring sunscreen and bug spray and reapply these after your break for lunch. Also, bring a hat and sunglasses, and wear lightweight  loose clothing.

Don't make any other specific plans on the day of your tour because it will take up most of the day. And when it comes so seeing wildlife, keep your expectations low and you'll be more likely to enjoy yourself.

I hope this review is helpful. If you have any questions, please leave a comment.

Would you kayak in a swamp with alligators? 

Hi! My name is Kait. Follow this link to learn more about me and my blog.


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