WHY VISIT LOUISIANA
A former Spanish and French colony, the southern US state of Louisiana is filled with rolling hills and scented pine forests, multicultural cities, and murky swamps teeming with alligators. The Pelican State couldn’t get much more varied, from the God-fearing Protestant settlements of the north to the debauched streets of New Orleans in the south.
The lively, jazz-mad, multi-ethnic melting pot of New Orleans is, without doubt, the major reason tourists swarm into Louisiana. It’s famed for its exotic fusion of cultures (from Native American and Afro-Caribbean to French and Spanish); its colorful Mardi Gras; thrilling live music; striking French-Creole architecture; picturesque Mississippi river setting; innovative cuisine; and unique French Quarter.
Beyond New Orleans, explore the magnificent gardens and Cajun culture of Lafayette, the starting point of the Wild Azalea Trail, which takes visitors through the stunning Kisatchie National Forest. The vast waters of the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest and most remote swamp in the USA, are one of the best places to track alligators. The state capital, Baton Rouge, is a kind of New Orleans lite. Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, it offers great food, live music, and a chance to see the wondrous Capitol Building, the tallest capitol in the United States.
You can also take a trip over to Avery Island, home to the world-famous Tabasco sauce factory. It has produced the red pepper sauce here since 1868 and shares the island with huge salt domes and captivating jungle gardens. Bag a bottle for a fiery memento of this spicy state.
WHAT TO SEE IN LOUISIANA
- New Orleans: despite the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is still the state’s top destination and number-one party spot. The legendary Bourbon Street is still as charming and boisterous as ever, with world-class live music spilling out of every other bar. New Orleans is equally famous for its cuisine and its incredible historic districts like the French Quarter where antebellum mansions preserve the atmosphere of this culturally diverse and artistically endowed city on the Gulf. For the ultimate experience visit The Big Easy during the annual Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest each spring.
- Acadiana: one thing that makes Louisiana so special is its rich ethnic diversity. Cajun country, also known as Acadiana, is like driving into another world that seems suspiciously French-like. Its 22 parishes are anchored by the unofficial capital Lafayette and backed by cool Cajun towns like Abbeville and New Iberia where the highlight is undeniably the food and music. Cheap tasty eats like boudin, a ubiquitous Cajun sausage, can be found everywhere along with the finest zydeco music on the planet. It’s an easy road trip from New Orleans, stopping for a night in Lafayette to eat, drink and dance.
- Great River Road: Louisiana’s great plantation houses along the Mississippi River are the epitome of this era of American heritage. The Great River Road is a 70-mile stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge dotted with 19th-century plantations the entire way. There are dozens of historic homes to stop and tour, so the best strategy is to pick two or three and make a day of it. Topping the list of impressive grounds are Oak Alley, Laura, and Nottoway where you can tour the mansions and slave quarters. Some sites like Oak Alley even have Creole cottages for guests to spend the night in, a highly recommended excursion.
- Lafayette: the cultural heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country is a worthy destination if great food and live music are things you enjoy. The city is at its peak during the annual five-day Festival International de Louisiane each April, when musicians from around the world join local artists and incredible food to create a genuine cultural affair. Any time of year you can learn about Cajun culture at the Acadian Cultural Center, dance at the Blue Moon Saloon or El Sido’s and indulge in sublime cuisine at Prejean’s.
- Louisiana State Museum: the state capital of Baton Rouge doesn’t have nearly the star power of New Orleans, but it does hold a few worthwhile attractions such as the Louisiana State Museum. Here you can check out a wild array of relics related to the long and colorful history of the region like original musical instruments used by legends such as Buddy Guy and Louis Armstrong as well as unique items like a Civil War submarine.
- French Quarter: the historic jewel of New Orleans is the French Quarter. It sits in the heart of the city, providing entertainment day and night. Jackson Square’s street buskers are out and about all the time, offering an excuse to take a break from wandering down centuries-old streets and peeking into courtyards and alleys. This district is a fascinating place to explore on foot in the daytime and is one of America’s top spots for fun after dark on Bourbon Street. The live jazz, blues, zydeco, and brass bands are some of the world’s best, played every night in casual, intimate environments.
- Natchitoches: the oldest town in Louisiana was founded in 1714, and remains one of the most charming destinations in the state. Located in the northern region, Natchitoches has a historic district along Cane River Lake that feels like a miniature version of New Orleans’ French Quarter without all the tourist hype. Horse and carriage rides are a fun way to explore the area, or you can stroll on foot. Stately mansions line the Cane River, and historic plantations lie just outside town for interesting day trips if you’re based here.
WHEN TO GO TO LOUISIANA
The best period to visit Louisiana is from May to October.
The entire state of Louisiana has a subtropical climate, creating mild winters and hot, steamy summers. Precipitation is a common occurrence throughout the entire year, though October is frequently the driest month. Rain is heavier in the southern part of the state, particularly during the winter when the area sees daytime highs averaging 66°F. In the northern part of the state. the winter highs are slightly cooler around 59°F from December through February.
Summers can be extremely hot and humid in Louisiana, especially down south around New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Daytime weather hovers around 90°F from June through August, with humidity levels in the 90 percent range most days. At night it cools off slightly to about 77°F, but it can still feel stuffy unless a breeze is blowing off the Gulf of Mexico. This is when the weather can turn violent as well, with an average of 60 days of major thunderstorms a year. Louisiana also gets around 20 tornadoes annually, typically between January and March. But the real danger comes from hurricanes. Louisiana sits right in a major hurricane pathway, evident by disasters such as Katrina in 2005. Most hurricanes roll through in August and September so be prepared and keep an eye on the weather.
There’s really no bad time to visit Louisiana, though hurricane season in August and September adds to the risk of inclement weather. Winters are mild, if somewhat wet, marking the low tourism season. This is when you can often find good deals on hotels in New Orleans and other popular destinations. In terms of climate, it doesn’t get any better than October and early November. This is the driest time of the year, which means lower humidity and slightly cooler temperatures to make outdoor activities enjoyable. Of course, the annual Mardi Gras celebration takes place in February and draws massive crowds so be sure to plan ahead. Jazz Fest is the second big event in the city, and you’ll have a hard time finding accommodations during either festival.
WHAT TO DO IN LOUISIANA
Give yourself a hangover in the French Quarter
There’s something about a New Orleans hangover that just hits differently. Maybe it’s the humidity. Maybe it’s the ungodly amounts of sugar in the Hurricane at Pat O’Briens, the Voodoo Daiquiri at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, and the Hand Grenades pretty much everywhere. Whatever the culprit, as you stumble through the sticky nights along the uneven streets of the French Quarter, you know no amount of late-night po’ boys is going to make tomorrow any better. No matter; while New Orleans is also a treasure trove of history, food, and architecture, no experience here is quite as unique as the one you’ll feel after one too many Sazeracs. Just make sure you stay hydrated.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Louisiana.
- Mardi Gras: no other state in America celebrates Mardi Gras like Louisiana. The epicenter is New Orleans, where fantastic parades, live music and oodles of special events take place just before Lent in early February. Cajun country has their own unique version of Mardi Gras that is much more folksy than the touristy/adult hoopla the state is known for. Either way, it’s a week of intense party action that must be planned well in advance. If you’re lucky, try to rent a balcony on Bourbon Steet for a prime view of the bead tossing.
- Jazz Fest: rivaling Mardi Gras for top honors is the annual Jazz Fest held over two weeks at the end of April and early May in New Orleans. Its full name is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and the musical line-up during this hugely popular event is mind-blowing. While jazz and traditional New Orleans-style music are a definite highlight, the event also includes a myriad of other genres like Cajun, zydeco, blues, rock, and everything n between. For audiophiles, the event is a pilgrimage to do at least once in your lifetime.
- Festival International de Louisiane: a cultural highlight of the festival calendar takes place for five days every April in the heart of Cajun country. Lafayette is the site of this world-famous celebration of Creole and Cajun tied to the French roots of the region. Traditional zydeco and Cajun music, food, art, and crafts are on display and taught in a series of workshops. The entire downtown district becomes a scene of street performers, buskers, food vendors, and more than 300,000 visitors enjoying the unique heritage of southern Louisiana.
- Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival: live music and perfectly smoked barbecue is the ideal way to enjoy New Orleans, which makes this annual October weekend event so popular. Lafayette Square is transformed into a huge outdoor party, with dozens of stands selling their secret barbecue recipes to a backdrop of authentic blues playing day and night. Best of all, it’s totally free to attend and the weather is generally favorable.
- Krewe of Halloween Parade: once a year is too long to wait for New Orleans’ Mardi Gras fanatics so they put on a similar spectacle every October at Halloween time. It’s the perfect holiday for this party-happy city, as hundreds of people dress up in the most outrageous costumes they can find and parade from the Elysian Fields to Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World.
- State Fair of Louisiana: state fairs are popular family events and Louisiana’s is no exception. About 70 classic carnival rides are set up every October or November in Shreveport and encircled by rows of games, food, and animals. Expect plenty of live music and livestock competitions.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH LOUISIANA
Whether you need a car during your stay in Louisiana depends entirely on whether you plan to travel anywhere other than New Orleans. If you’re sticking around the Big Easy, it was a city made for walking. It’s flat and scenic, with all the colorful local life happening right on the street. Driving in New Orleans can be problematic due to the lack of parking in the French Quarter and the one-way streets. But having a car is essential if you have any intention to explore Cajun country. All the big-name rental companies can be found in the airports and downtown district.
Taxis are incredibly useful in New Orleans and a very popular means of getting around. They are easy to hail on the streets of the French Quarter and Central Business District except during the big parties like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. Fares are not exactly cheap, but most destinations within New Orleans are close enough that they won’t break the bank.
If time is on your side, taking the train to Louisiana is a fantastic option. The Crescent, Sunset Limited, and the City of New Orleans lines all run through The Big Easy, and the scenery is lovely all along the way. Amtrak trains run rather slowly, but the seats are comfortable and the fares cost no more than a regional flight. The main train and bus stations are located in the Central Business District downtown.
Greyhound buses are even cheaper and more versatile forms of transportation to get to Louisiana and move within the state. LA Swift travels between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, while Megabus serves big cities in the Southeast like Atlanta and Houston. Only New Orleans has a really useful public bus and streetcar network that stops at all the major tourist sites. The streetcars are worth a ride just for the fun of it, but both forms of transportation are cheap and convenient ways to get around Louisiana.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON LOUISIANA
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-6 (-5)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN LOUISIANA
Typical food in Louisiana
- Seafood: fresh fish, shrimp, crabs, oysters and crayfish.
- Gumbo (spicy shellfish stew or soup served with rice).
- Crayfish “touff” (spicy tomato-based roux with vegetables, crayfish and shrimp).
- Jambalaya (spicy Creole mix of meat, vegetables, seafood and rice).
- Po’ boy (submarine sandwich usually filled with fried seafood).
Souvenirs from Louisiana
- Creole pecan pralines
- Mardi Gras masks
- bottled and hand-mixed perfumes