The Honey Island Swamp, named after the honey bees that used to call the area home, is a beautiful river swamp teeming with all sorts of incredible wildlife.
Everyone always thinks I’m joking when I tell them the swamp I visited in Louisiana is gorgeous, but it really is! I love the way Spanish moss looks, draped over the cypress trees with their mud-dipped roots peeking up through the murky swamp water. It’s honestly one of the most serene and incredible places in the world.
When you think of a swamp tour, your mind probably conjures up an image of gliding over smooth green waters in the quintessential airboat, cool air flowing through your hair while alligators jump out the water and high five you as you pass by.
As cool as that sounds, it’s not the best way to see the swamp.
Air Boats vs Regular Boats
The French Quarter in New Orleans has several little information offices where you can browse a plethora of tours, such as ghost tours, walking tours and swamp tours. Certain I’d be experiencing a swamp tour on an airboat as I’d always imagined, I confidently walked up to a very friendly man donning a tiny moustache to make my reservation. Little did I know he would totally turn my plan upside down.
I’m so happy that man changed my mind because the swamp tour I went on was the best thing about my entire trip to New Orleans — and it wasn’t even in New Orleans! I even went back to see him the day after the tour to thank him and tell him how incredible the swamp tour was.
The tour I ended up booking was with a company called Cajun Encounters and took place on a small, quiet boat that slowly navigated through the swamp waters. The reason this tour trumps the standard airboat tour is that the boats they use are less intrusive and cause the animals living in the swamp less disturbance than an airboat. This way, you see more wildlife because the animals aren’t hiding from the airboat racket and they get to peacefully enjoy their day. It’s a win-win!
The Honey Island Swamp Tour
Early the next morning my friend Chris and I made our way down the quiet streets of the French Quarter to the pickup location. The early morning sun was beaming down on us as excitement filled the air. Honey Island Swamp is home to several different types of animals, including alligators, snapping turtles, snakes, raccoons, wild boar and different species of birds. Out of all the wildlife, we were both eager to see alligators in their natural habitat.
The large Cajun Encounters tour bus pulled up to us and we climbed into an air-conditioned cabin filled with comfortable seats and an extremely friendly bus driver. We were the only ones on the bus, but that soon changed as we picked up the rest of our group from their hotels. The journey from New Orleans to Slidell took about 45 minutes, during which our lovely bus driver told us about the history of the area.
We passed areas that were still under construction after the horrific damage caused by Hurricane Katrina more than ten years ago. It was incredible to see that after so many years, Louisiana was still recovering from the damage that Katrina left behind.
Our drive took us along the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and the driver told us about the flood damage which occurred around the lake during Hurricane Katrina. It was really cool hearing about how the people of Louisiana handle these extreme hurricanes — how they come together and managed to survive one of the worst in their history.
Arriving at Honey Island Swamp
When we arrived at the Honey Island Swamp Cajun Encounters headquarters in Slidell, we were greeted by happy staff members who separated us into groups and gave us different coloured bracelets so we knew which tour guide to follow.
Chris and I got red bracelets and were ushered towards a small group led by tour guide Mike who had a thick southern accent. Because we’d booked the VIP Tour, we got to ride on a small boat that holds just ten people. The regular boat holds 22 people, so there’s not much of a difference. But I always prefer a more intimate experience.
Our group followed Mike down towards his small boat. I’m a bit nervous about boats because I’m afraid of water. It’s not really the water I’m afraid of — it’s what lies beneath it! I carefully sat down and the rest of our group filed in after me. There were five of us on each side of the boat and Mike was standing at the back, near the motor.
Gliding through the swamp
Our guide started the boat and off we went into a large open body of water heading towards the tree-lined swamp. The ride was only about two minutes long, but I was pretty happy when the motor shut off and we were just floating between the Spanish moss-covered trees, alongside drifting logs and lush vegetation that shot up through the muddy waters.
Mike led us through the swamp, talking about which animals we might come across, the plants and trees that surrounded us and what would soon become my favourite part of visiting the swamp — the pigs.
The tour was about two hours long but it went so fast. Since we were in a small group, Mike was able to answer our questions and we were able to linger in specific areas for as long as we liked. When we came across animals, we got to stop and take all the photos and videos that we could get.
Our first alligator sighting
We passed quaint little swamp shacks owned by families who spent their weekends at the swamp, catching crawfish for the well-loved Louisiana Crawfish Boils. Then Mike exclaimed, “Oh! There’s a gator! He’s gotta be about six feet long,” and he slowed the boat so we could stare at the alligator while he looked back at us. Alligators will usually lie on floating logs and sunbathe to warm up their bodies, as they’re unable to regulate their temperature.
The alligator was a lot smaller than I had envisioned, but he was long! Mike told us alligators grow anywhere from 2”-12” per year, making the one we saw probably 6-7 years old. The alligator was happy to let us gush over him while he relaxed, although he was very wary of us and was careful not to let us get too close.
Happy from our alligator sighting, we pressed on and passed by a little nest of grass sitting at the base of a tree that hid a snake! I can’t for the life of me remember what type of snake it was, but it was cool to see. As horrifying as it sounds snakes do swim. So I was glad the snake I saw was resting, as I think I’d freak out seeing a snake creepily gliding across the water!
Oreo the pig
Our final stop was to see the pigs. I remember hearing about them from the moustached man who worked at the tour service centre when he explained why this tour was the best. I like pigs but I had no idea how quickly I’d fall in love with these guys.
The pigs (wild boars) are used to boats coming around. So as soon as they saw us, they came running over for their share of free marshmallows! When I saw them, I fell in love. The cutest pig was Oreo — a white and black fuzzy thing who won everyone over. She would excitedly hold onto the boat, eager for marshmallows and oinking at us for more to be thrown her way.
We were also joined by a particularly scary-looking pig named Big Poppa who came over, demanding to be fed marshmallows as well. But as he wasn’t as friendly as Oreo, we had to give him his marshmallows on the end of a stick.
We spent quite a while immersed in complete bliss surrounded by happy little pigs squealing for marshmallows. The pigs that live in the swamp were originally regular pink pigs, but over time, they turned into furry brown, pink and white pigs.
They’re not actually native to the swamp and a lot of people see them as pests, but I thought they were so cute and they made the trip totally worth it. It was cool being in the unspoiled gorgeous swamp, passing through the Spanish moss-covered cypress trees and seeing alligators. But the pigs are what won me over.
Cajun Encounters Information
There are several companies that do swamp tours in Louisiana and the company I went with is called Cajun Encounters. They went above and beyond in making our day incredible.
- Cajun Encounters is located at 55345 Highway 90 East in Slidell Louisiana
- They offer hotel pickups, depending on where you’re staying — our hotel wasn’t covered, but the pickup point was just up the street
- The VIP tour (which I recommend) is $89 per adult
- The swamp tour (22-person boat) is $56 per adult and $36 per child. You can get a cheaper rate if you provide your own transportation.
- Cajun Encounters also offers a night swamp tour which I’m super intrigued by. The idea of floating gently down a swamp in the dark seems too creepy to miss!
Tips for visiting Honey Island Swamp
Dress for the weather! This means wearing light clothes, a hat and sunscreen. You also need to bring lots of water because it gets hot out there.
I wear a lot of black clothes and found myself sitting in the boat without a hat, the sun beating down on me. I had to use the hood of my light (but black) coat to protect my head from the heat. It was hot for a Canadian (and a Scottish person, like my friend Chris) but our tour guide Mike said it was a perfect day.
It was an outrageously steamy 27C (80F) which was way too hot for us. If you go in the middle of the summer when it’s much hotter and you’ve not dressed appropriately, I think you could die. So be super prepared!
This tour was one of the best I’ve ever been on. It made my entire trip to Louisiana so much better and if you get the chance, you should definitely go on a Honey Island Swamp tour! You’ll spend the day floating in a beautiful ecosystem, hanging out with alligators and feeding the cutest pigs in all of Louisiana. Don’t miss this opportunity!