Cajun Encounters Rated Top Swamp Tour by Travelocity

Cajun Encounters’ Award Winning Swamp Tour is one of the "Top Things to do with kids in New Orleans," as featured by Travelocity on December 30, 2019.

As Danielle Braff writes, “You’ll be on a flat-bottomed boat in the swamp, where you’ll spot and learn about alligators, who will be friendly as long as they’re not threatened. This is true Louisiana.”

The Haunted Truth About Halloween in New Orleans

Last year New Orleans celebrated its Tri-Centennial. After 300 years had passed, this city has had its share of ghosts and witches to now be called, “the most haunted city in America.” These haunted tales have been passed along for generations and always seem to resurface around Halloween.

Like the infamous tale is of Madame Delphine LaLaurie, or the tragic story of Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, and what other city in America has the First Lady of Vodoo – Marie Laveau!

I live near some of the older cemeteries in the city and often marvel at the beauty, peace and tranquility of these hallowed grounds. After researching history about these cemeteries, I came across an article about, “The Feast of All Souls,” or “All Souls’ Day.” In the early history of the city, this day was dedicated to celebrating the lives of family and friends who had passed-on. The day was spent in the cemeteries – cleaning tombs, manicuring lawns and placing flowers. The respect for those who passed is still apparent by the care of family tombs that now date back several centuries.

On a larger scale, Halloween takes on a more festive feel, similar to Mardi Gras Day. Frenchmen Street in the Marigny neighborhood is alive with spooky costume clad revelers as music blasts out from Jazz clubs and bars. A week earlier to get the haunted season rolling, the Krewe of Boo (a family friendly event) parades through the French Quarter and the CBD before ending in the Warehouse District (October 19th). A week later, Vodoo Fest is held (October 25th to 27th) in City Park, just to the south of Scout Island Scream Park that operates throughout the month until ending on November 2nd.

Getting back to our haunted past is like most things in New Orleans – a time to be festive and have fun! To learn more about the city’s haunted past, try a Ghost Tour with Legendary Walking Tours. Neworleanslegendarywalkingtours.com or call 504.503.0199. It will put all this haunted history into perspective with New Orleans’ Joie de Vivre.

– Peter A. Boese

Cajun Encounters – Where Spice and Adventure Meet in Louisiana

Peter A. Boese

What do you get when you combine a 60 pound sack of live crawfish with a 16 foot Alligator in Southern Louisiana? Answer: An exciting party! Well, that is exactly what we experienced at Cajun Encounters last Thursday evening. We had a corporate outing planned at their timber and wrought iron constructed Cajun Pavilion on Honey Island near Slidell, LA. When we arrived, the cooks where boiling water, adding Cajun seasoning, chopping ingredients as they prepared for the party. This gave us time to jump in a few of their custom tour boats and venture up-river through thousands of acres of old Cyprus forest.

The surroundings changed right-away and in no time we were venturing through narrow passages with tremendous sounds of birds, frogs and other swamp creatures that my ears could not identify. Our boat captain and guide explained that this area is known as a prime habitat for some really big alligators and it was our mission to see one of these while we still had enough daylight. We were told that these alligators don’t venture far from where they were hatched and a 16 foot alligator is probably over 70 years-old!

We continued to cruise deeper into the swamp and came across and group of wild feral hogs that were feeding at the edge of the water. The guide commented that none of the hogs were getting close to the water. I asked if that was due to our boat getting closer? He replied that it was most likely due to the fact that we were in an area known for “big gators.” We moved into deeper water close to a channel that ran through an unnamed slough, when all of a sudden a pair of eyes and large nostrils appeared just above the water line. It was the big one, the gator we had been looking for. I have always had respect, and yes – fear for these prehistoric reptiles. I had worked in Africa years ago and knew better than to take a cool “dip” in the nearby river, even though the temperature was over 100 degrees. Those were crocs back then, while these in Louisiana are “gators,” – even so, they both demand the respect and caution of anyone who comes close. From the safety of the boat, we got a really good look at this monster reptile, and so it was time to head back to the pavilion and the Cajun Feast that was waiting for us in big steel pots!

Upon arrival back at the pavilion, a father and son duo where playing tunes on their guitar and accordion while singing lively lyrics in an old Cajun French dialect that was foreign to my ear. I pulled an ice cold Bayou Teche Beer out of a tin wash-basin and took a swig, with a smile, I sensed I was in for a unique experience with these hosts! Just then a very big man came over to welcome me to the party, he called himself “KP” and his handshake was strong, typical for a work-boat captain . KP explained “crawfish season” and the traditions of preparing, peeling and eating these delicious little crustaceans.

I sat a picnic table covered with brown butcher paper with the others as we anticipated this Cajun Feast. I commented that they might serve the food like they do at a Hawaiian Luau – give us a serving tray and ask us to form a line to be served. Boy was I wrong! KP and one of his buddies arrived at our table with what what looked like a small canoe and set it in the middle of the group. He explained that this was a Pirogue (Cajun canoe) and offered to demonstrate how to eat the crawfish served steaming hot with corn, Cajun sausage, potatoes, onions, garlic and a secret blend of spices. We all ate what we thought was a large serving, but KP explained, “a local will eat double what you ate and in half the time!”

After dinner we learned some of the old Cajun dance steps and enjoyed the music that blended-in nicely with the sound of the surrounding swamp. It really gave me an appreciation of the unique culture that the Cajuns have in Southern Louisiana. I am fortunate to have traveled all over the World and have experienced a wide range of cultures; this part of America, with its Cajun culture, culinary traditions, wonderful people and impressive wildlife was a special box to check-off on my bucket-list.

I recommend you try this the next time you visit New Orleans!

West Pearl – Pristine River in Jeopardy

Peter A. Boese

As the communities up-river in Mississippi continue to forge ahead for the construction of a dam they don’t need, I contemplate the possibility of the loss of the Pearl River System down-stream in the state of Louisiana. I am proud to state that I work for a company that operates an award- winning eco-tourism business – taking people from throughout the nation and beyond into the pristine Honey Island Swamp. Earlier this season, the company hosted a Japanese film crew on a tour, and they advised that this experience was the highlight of their tour of the South. This unique eco-system has something for everyone; I expected the film crew to comment on the alligators, but it was the abundance of beautiful birds that caught the eye of the cameraman. The National Audubon Society ranks this ecosystem one of the best in the South for observing a wide range of bird species.
Let’s also consider the people who work on the river. It is not just the local fisherman, but several businesses in the tourism industry operate eco-friendly tours showing an authentic old growth cypress forest to interested visitors from throughout the globe! Many local residents have made careers supporting this important eco-tourism industry that is vital to the preservation of this endangered eco-system. In my opinion, the Pearl River System is priceless and needs to be protected!

Meet The Coasties Behind Your Boat Tour

When you’re in a Louisiana swamp, that life vest better work.

Philly has duck boats. Massachusetts does whale watching. In the Florida Keys, you might go on a snorkeling trip. But here in Louisiana, we do it right with swamp tours.

Innocent enough. If you’re boarding a tour boat to search the bayou for alligators, it seems like your biggest danger is, well, the alligators. And as long as you stay in the boat, you should be fine, right?

At least that’s what I thought.

“Fire, flooding, malfunctioning equipment, structural issues within the boat, faulty life jackets…” Elton Morris, a Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) for the U.S. Coast Guard, quickly ran through a rather threatening list of potential hazards we could encounter when stepping off the dock.

But that’s his job: to see every potential for danger and negate it. I met with LTJG Elton Morris and Chief Warrant Officer Mark Senna on a sunny November day at a boat launch to walk through the steps of a Coast Guard inspection. As a mere civilian, I had no knowledge of what goes into that Coast Guard Certified sticker. What I did know was that thousands of tourists gladly take their lives in their hands every year when they lean over the sides of a tour boat to greet alligators (those gators, by the way, can reach 10 feet long and weigh over 500 lbs). So I arranged to meet two Coasties in person at Cajun Encounters, one of the largest, highest-traffic swamp tour companies in Louisiana, to see for myself how the Coast Guard ensures these boats are safe for the tens of thousands of tourists who look forward to seeing alligators, raccoons, and wild pigs by boat, in their natural habitat.

Enter Elton Morris, whose 12 years in the Coast Guard included an incident with a Liberian boat that was leaking toxic gas; and Mark Senna, who has served the Coast Guard for 16 years in Cape Cod, Boston, Puerto Rico, and now, the Louisiana Bayou.

Your boat captain knows them, even if you don’t.

“People don’t really know what we do, since we work directly with businesses and industry.” Elton was ducking down to check out the life vests. But behind the scenes, these guys are one of the main reasons you can board a boat, bob out into a murky bayou whose toothy gators are waiting just out of sight, and know that you’re actually quite safe.

In fact, the Coast Guard inspects every single commercial vessel that seats 7 or more passengers, from the smallest swamp tour boat to thousand-foot container ships. And they do more than just check for life vests on that yearly inspection: they carefully examine life rings, check the structure itself for weaknesses, test out the equipment, and quiz boat captains to make sure they’re up to snuff. Sometimes the inspection even includes a man overboard drill (an exercise that is no doubt performed with dummies. I was still relieved, as the only person on board who had no real purpose being there, that today’s mock-inspection would include no such test of our captain’s abilities).

I noticed Elton examining one of the life jackets from every angle, brow furrowed. We’ve seen some companies try to fix their own life jackets, even sometimes filling them with cheaper material that makes them ineffective. He explained that to a trained eye, it’s easy to check for that sort of thing by pressing the life jacket and applying pressure to ensure it’s the correct filling.

They’re an ally to the tourism industry.

One might assume that the Coast Guard and boat tour companies are at odds. Especially at a time when the general public seem increasingly wary of law enforcement, a tour operator may be less than thrilled at the idea of men in navy jumpsuits investigating every square inch of their boat, the means to their livelihood.

But Mark emphasized that the Coast Guard’s goal is not to impede industries or get boats off the water, but to help companies keep their passengers and employees safe. “Our number one goal is safety: to protect the families taking these tours, and the crew. This is their workspace.” Any issues that don’t put anyone in immediate danger earn a citation until the problem is corrected. And in a majority of cases, there’s nothing malicious going on: boaters and tour companies who receive a citation were often unaware of the problem, and simply want to find the best solution.

And rest assured, a Coastie performing a routine boat inspection will be armed only with a hammer (smaller than the one you got from Home Depot), a flashlight, and little else.

So what should you look for when you take your next boat tour?

Be aware of your surroundings. Look for the Coast Guard certified sticker, which should be displayed somewhere on the inside of the boat. And if you don’t see it, feel free to ask your boat captain if the boat has been Coast Guard inspected (if there are more than 6 paying passengers, it’s required by law). They’ll be able to show you the latest Certificate of Inspection,which is required to be on board.

And yes, this boat is up to code.

Cajun Encounters works closely with the Coast Guard to ensure all of their boats are inspected on a yearly basis.

No one thrown overboard. No holes in the bottom. Life vests are the right amount of squishi-ness. But do keep your hands and feet inside the ride, please. The Coast Guard can only do so much.

How A Few People Are Saving Louisiana’s Wetlands

Living along a disappearing shoreline, perpetually at risk of extreme flooding, New Orleans residents are painfully aware of the risks that come with living in a city that’s almost entirely below sea level. Protecting the coast itself, and the natural habitats therein, is a huge part of protecting the communities that live there. The task of preserving Louisiana’s wetlands poses complex problems, and requires multifaceted solutions. One small non-profit with a devoted volunteer following, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF), has taken on the challenge.

Lake Pontchartrain covers 630 square miles of southeastern Louisiana, and is only one piece of what is known as the Pontchartrain Basin: a network of wetlands that support a unique variety of plants and wildlife, as well as a thriving fishing and tourism industry. Unfortunately, Lake Pontchartrain and the surrounding wetlands are threatened by pollution and coastal land loss, both of which endanger the diverse plant and animal life unique to the wetlands, and make our communities even more vulnerable to devastating floods. The LPBF was founded to protect the wetlands and the many plants, fishes, and wildlife that live there.

Understanding the Problem

Well, more accurately, the many problems.

Take a look at Lake Pontchartrain’s troubled past for an idea of what we’re facing:

  • The lake used to be the site of extensive oil and gas drilling. Even after the drilling ended, oil and gas structures were left in the lake to deteriorate.
  • For 60 years, the lake underwent shell dredging, which took a harsh toll on the ecosystem.
  • Due to lack of education and knowledge around wastewater management, small businesses and residents have released harmful pollutants into the rivers.
  • Urban development has led to paving over hundreds of acres of wetlands, exacerbating flooding problems.
  • The cypress swamps, hardwoods, and native species have been greatly diminished by logging.

Thanks to all these levels of human intrusion, the entire wetlands habitat is at risk. And because the wetlands serve as a natural sponge for rainwater, that means we’re putting our own communities in greater danger of flooding – that is, if we don’t actively work to correct the trends.

The Solution

Well, again, it’s not that easy: there are many solutions. That’s where LPBF comes in.

  • Since 2001, LPBF has monitored the water quality of the lake on a weekly basis, and to this day is the only organization that routinely tests the water and measures pollutants. They test the lake in multiple sites for salinity, temperature, and other measures that demonstrate the overall “health” of the lake.
  • LPBF also partners with businesses to educate them on proper handling of wastewater. To date they’ve partnered with over 800 local wastewater treatment plants, which have now significantly reduced the amount of contaminated water flowing into the rivers.
  • LPBF has been a pioneer of “green infrastructure” in the area, a process that incorporates absorbent, grassy areas into the city as an effective (and literally “green”) solution to overflowing rainwater. For example, concrete canals are being replaced with grass-lined ones, and green spaces are being built next to parking lots to naturally absorb runoff.
  • The Director of LPBF’s Coastal Sustainability Program developed the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy, a framework for using both natural defenses (such as barrier islands and marshes) and man-made protections (including flood gates and levees), in combination with wetland and habitat restoration, to create better hurricane protection. Louisiana’s State Master Plan now uses this strategy to protect and improve the coast.

What You Can Do

Join the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation to help protect the wetlands. LPBF is always looking for help to raise awareness at local festivals and events, and participate in litter clean-ups. Become a member or volunteer.

Join LPBF

Make a donation. Even a small amount can go a long way to supporting the LPBF, and protecting the environment.

Donate

Make positive choices for the environment. Consider the environmental impact of your next vacation. Support local eco-tour companies that share your concern for protecting the habitat. If you’re planning a New Orleans trip any time soon, take a guided tour of the Honey Island Swamp, where professional boat captains share their knowledge of the ecosystem and wildlife. Our staff members also take part in cleaning up the swamp and surrounding area on a regular basis to keep our swamp healthy and our gators happy.

Book an Eco-Tour

Take a trip to the lighthouse. The LPBF has created a museum highlighting local environmental issues, and the actions that they and other organizations are taking to solve those problems. Impressively, all of this information has been condensed into a beautiful lighthouse on (where else?) the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Take a trip to the New Canal Lighthouse Museum to see everything they’ve done for the area, and take in the beautiful views – it’s a museum experience like none other!

Why We Choose to be Eco-Friendly

You may not want to jump into that thick, green blanket of the Honey Island Swamp, but many rare species call our Louisiana swamp home. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of critters like the snapping turtles, herons, lizards, snakes, and of course, gators, that make up this delicate ecosystem.

Our specially-designed swamp tour boats allow us to share the beauty of this unique environment with visitors and locals alike in a peaceful way: we believe that by providing guided eco-tours, we are not only giving our guests an unforgettable experience of Louisiana, but also inspiring them to notice the amazing natural world around them, and help to preserve it.

Why do we choose to be an eco-friendly tour operator?

As a locally-owned and operated, family-run company that values the natural world around us, it is important for us to give back to our community and to make it a better place. We worked hard to design boats that are perfectly to navigate through the Louisiana swamps, and that are non-disruptive to the animals that live there. Some commercial boats, such as airboats, have been criticized for creating noise pollution, unknowingly hitting sea life, and otherwise disturbing the fragile ecosystems in the water bodies they travel.

But what are we doing to protect this gator habitat?

  • Our boats are efficiently built to glide through the swamps with minimal drag and low emission engines. The flat bottom ensures that we don’t unknowingly disturb the swamp life beneath us.
  • Our employees participate in local waterway cleanup efforts, on land and in the swamps. Our boat captains are passionate about keeping the swamp as pristine as possible, and they make sure to grab any debris they see floating in the bayou.
  • As a partner of the The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation (LAWFF), we are constantly looking for ways to raise funds and provide support for specific projects and programs as well as contributions for general conservation use.
  • We limit our interactions with the gators. And not just because of those teeth! Aside from the occasional gator treat, our boat captains never handle, chase, or corral the gators. They do their thing, and we just try to catch them in action.
  • We’re strengthening our partnerships with other environmental groups and eco-friendly organizations in and around New Orleans, so we can find new ways to help protect the land around us.

Ultimately, the reason we exist is to share our love of all things Louisiana with our guests. By offering a fun, educational experience of the swamps, we like to think we’ve inspired others to take an interest in the world around them, and all the other living things that share this earth with us.

Dedicated to Making a Difference

We’ll continue to share the steps we’re taking toward a greener, gator-friendly future. Until then, we encourage you to think about the environment when planning your next vacation, and support local, environmentally conscious organizations.