Day Trips from New Orleans
To truly understand the Greater New Orleans area, venture out from New Orleans proper to explore the surrounding plantations and swamps.
After a few nights in New Orleans, you’re probably asking yourself some interesting questions: Where did all those beads come from? Why didn’t I return to my hotel in the same clothes I set out in? Where did I pick up those amazing dance moves?
The best reaction to these queries is never to think of them again and, instead, spend a day outside New Orleans proper getting some fresh air — so that you can return ready for more mornings with even more unanswerable questions. Take an aspirin, put on your sunglasses and head out for a half-day or daylong excursion to plantation country for a lesson in American history or into southern Louisiana’s thrilling backwoods swamps.
Life on New Orleans' antebellum plantations wasn’t just about Southern belles covered in lace and the feather-hatted gentlemen who wooed them. At several beautiful, 200-plus-year-old mansions within a short drive of New Orleans, you can hear the stories of all the residents of the area’s sugarcane plantations and peek into this important era in American history. You’re sure to get a lesson in the issues surrounding slavery and the complex cultural relations of the time.
Once you’ve had a mint julep or two and spent some time with guides dressed in the clothes of the mansions’ heyday, it won’t be hard to imagine yourself living in genteel style amid the massive homes’ Greek Revival architectural details, traipsing beneath canopies of centuries-old live oak trees and flitting around carefully manicured gardens. And you just might come into contact with a few of the plantations’ Civil War ghosts (who probably also had too many juleps, mint or otherwise).
Many New Orleans tour guides offer swamp and plantation packages, or you can take them a la carte.
There’s a photo everyone should have on his or her Facebook page. The scene: You, wearing shorts you don’t realize are way too short, grasping the tail and neck of a teeny-tiny alligator. Your mouth is open way too wide, and you’re shrieking with delight at the bravery you’ve displayed in corralling this miniature beast.
To achieve this composition, book a tour of the swamplands located about an hour outside of New Orleans. Amid moss-laden cypress trees, thick marsh reeds and brackish watery avenues, the Louisiana bayou lurks with local critters: alligators, nutria, gar, turtles, fish and birdlife.
You can meet these Southern ladies and gentlemen of leisure on an exhilarating airboat ride, which will whisk you at 35 to 50 miles per hour deep into the bayou’s intricate network of shadowy riverways.
For those who prefer not to have their carefully quaffed hair blown askew, there are also gently gliding covered tour boats with cushioned seats. Whichever you choose, be sure to wear your best outfit for dangling raw chicken from a stick over the side of the boat — that tasty treat is the best way to see a real-life gator up close.