On our last visit to New Orleans, we got ourselves out of bed early and headed down to the National Park Service Visitors Center for their free tour of the French Quarter.
The walk departs from 419 Decatur St. at 9:30 am daily but there's a 25 person limit and spots are given out on the day of the tour only.
Part of Jean Lafitte National Park, the Barataria Preserve is 20,000 acres of forest, swamp and marshland situated east of Lake Cataouatche and Lake Salvador, about 30 minutes south of New Orleans. The preserve makes for a nice day trip from NOLA offering walking trails through the forest and marshland and canoe trails along Bayou des Familles.
Canoeing on the bayou is a great experience, slow moving black water nearly choked to a stop for all the swamp vegetation and cypress trees draped with Spanish moss hang over the waterway. It's altogether quiet and peaceful...that is until you upset a local....you'll be paddling along in complete silence and see nothing but swamp flora covering the bayou, and then, "SPLASH" an alligator will flip over diving to the bottom as not to be bothered and all you are left with is a mouthful of swamp water....
Bayou des Familles has several "nice" size gators, plenty of bird life and if you listen carefully, you might even spot an armadillo digging around along the shoreline.
Canoes can rented at Bayou Barn at 7145 Barataria Bld., contact them at 504.689.2663 or on the web at www.bayoubarn.com
The National Park Service operates a Visitor's Center from the French Quarter. CHECK IT OUT!! My mother and I took a FREE tour of Historic French Quarter and it was a VERY COMPREHENSIVE tour. The tour guide was excellent and the best part is that it once again was FREE. All you needed was to sign up to guarantee yourself a spot on the tour.
I had some time on my hands on Sunday, so I arranged a swamp boat ride from my hotel lobby (US $38). A tour bus drove us a short distance out of town (the view of the city as we crossed over one of the high bridges was very nice) to one of the many mangrove and cypress tree swamps in the Mississippi delta area. This one was called the Barataria Swamps. Once there, we boarded a flat-bottomed boat that had retractable side windows (to keep out the cool morning air) and set off on our journey. It was quite enjoyable motoring slowly along the meandering channels looking at the different types of birds and other small creatures! It was a bit of a flash-back to my days in Papua New Guinea and also the Venezuela Marargita Island tour earlier in the year.
One of the good places to start your historical tour of New Orleans is at the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park. The visitor center is filled with plenty of information about the local area, including all of the different cultures which make it special. You can learn about the Acadians that came from French Canada, the original native populations, and the many European influences from France, Germany and others. This center had alot of great information about how New Orleans came to be, and it was worth it just to stop in and learn a little bit about the city before exploring it.
Picture #1: The entry sign for the visitor's center.
Picture #2: Sarah listening to Cajun pronunciations.
Picture #3: Courtyard outside visitor's center.
Every day at 9:30 a.m., rangers lead riverfront history walks to the Mississippi River, just over the levee from the visitor center, to share the story of how the city began. 25 free tickets per tour are given out beginning at 9:00 a.m. Walks last about an hour. First-come, first-served; each person wanting a ticket must be present.
This was an EXCELLENT tour - each of the three stops encompassed a different aspect of the city: the history of the city, history of the people, and history of the architecture and culture of New Orleans. I lived in New Orleans for 13 years, so much of the history was familiar; even so, I learned some new things too. Our guide, Ranger Danny, was a very interesting speaker and answered questions and had "visual aides" - but it was very conversational, not at all like a lecture. I would recommend this tour to all visitors and locals alike.
NOTE: The tour is FREE, but if you enjoy it, please return to the visitors center and drop a few dollars in the donation box.
Jean Lafitte was a notorious pirate, who raided Spanish shipping in the Gulf of Mexico about 200 years ago. During the War of 1812, the British tried to gain his support, but he turned them down. Later, he allied himself with the Americans, in return for a general pardon.
After the war, he went back to piracy. Shortly after that, he disappeared. No one knows exactly what became of him.
This Visitor's Center provides what information we have about him, and a lot about the early days of Louisiana.
Time was running short, so I decided to take two short trails through the swamp to see the sights. The first was the combination of the Bayou Coquille Trail and Marsh Overlook, which is a flat, easy, 1 mile trail (2 miles round trip) which includes a good chunk of boardwalk, and meanders along a canal. Unfortunately, the wildlife sightings were slim, as a bus full of children had just finished going through. I was treated at the end to one alligator sighting, and I also saw a number of gar in the water. On top of that, the lush green landscape is a great sight to behold. The end of the trail is marked by a large bridge over the marsh (the namesake overlook) - which takes you right above the canal. The trail is very easy and scenic - its a great choice of one to get out and stretch your legs on.
An even shorter trail to take is the one behind the visitor center. It's only a 1/4 mile long, though it hooks up with the Palmetto trail which can take you for a longer hike. Here, there are several species of trees and swamp habitats that are on display for you to check out. I was lucky enough to see a gator that was sleeping right off the trail as well! Again, this is a nice diversion to get out of the car and stretch out on for a few minutes.
Learn about the history and culture of New Orleans and the surrounding area at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, with one of the visitor centers located in the French Quarter. The exhibit is pretty good and there are also tours led by national park rangers offered. Very easily accessible and a good place to take a break from walking as well as escaping from the noise and crowds of the French Quarter.
Just taking a walking tour of some of the streets in and around the French Quarters or the Public Market area.