Why New Orleans or as it is known affectionately, ‘Big Easy’?
Jazz Music – NOLA is arguably, the mecca of Jazz; music embodies heart and soul of the city.
Revelry and Architecture – Bourbon Street, French Quarters, Jackson Square, Southern Plantation Tours.
A Nature Lover’s Eden – Abundant in swamps, bayous, levees, marshy trails brimming with wildlife sightings including gators and exotic birds.
Food – Café Au Lait and Beignets offered by iconic Café Du Monde, Po’ boys, jambalaya, gumbo.
Weather – Perfect weather for holiday season. Our coldest day in NOLA for our December visit had us wearing light rain jacket.
Peace of mind: December is not a peak month for NOLA so a lot less hassle in logistics and no swarming crowds.
Hike through Louisiana’s famed marshy wetlands, taken at Barataria Preserve
How to Plan your visit?
• Plan your itinerary, here are some of the activities and places I recommend –
Touristy – Café Du Monde and its highly acclaimed Café Au Lait and Beignet, Audobon: one of a kind insect museum, Louisiana State Museum – The Presbyére, French Quarters, Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, Riverwalk.
Hiking Trails, Swamp and Plantation Tours – Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour, Cajun Encounters Plantation Tour, Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge: a protected marshland noteworthy of swarming wildlife, Barataria Preserve: hike through the celebrated Louisiana marshy wetlands.
• It is a really long drive, so would highly recommend a touristy pitstop. We visited Memphis on our way back and loved it.
Riverwalk at the banks of The Mighty Mississippi at Memphis
• Run through this indispensable emergency checklist.
• Run though these tech essentials to turbo-charge your road trips.
Our Trip Details from Naperville (NOLA Beckons!)
December 22 – 27, 2019
Naperville to New Orleans
940 miles and around 14 hours ETA per Google Maps.
It took us 15 hours in total, thanks to short breaks, well-planned fast food restaurants meals and zippy driving.
Illinois part of the road trip was mostly flat (and lonely)
After scurrying through 5 states in a day – Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi; we finally reached our destination, Louisiana at 9:00 PM CST.
Gentle evening rain at Memphis couldn’t slow us down
The rousing views of the Mighty Mississippi, as seen on the way.
The cottage we booked at Airbnb is no longer available but there are plenty of other vacation rentals available.
One of the more famous NOLA dwellings at Airbnb
Audubon Butterfly Garden And Insectarium
Yes, there is a museum dedicated to insects and NOLA has gone an extra yard and created THE largest one at that, in America. The kids loved the exhibits, butterfly garden and even had live insect encounters.
Kids loved getting up, close and personal with the insects.
Some insects were fed healthy food.
There were insect-y snacks on offer too.
Chocolate “Chirp” cookies weren’t too bad, I tried one!
A stroll in NOLA Downtown – French Quarters and Beyond
NOLA downtown was studded with palm trees and mix of small and sumptuous shops.
NOLA’s rich cultural diversity stems from the fact that it has strong French as well as Spanish roots. We took a walk in the by-lanes of French Quarter and some of the areas felt frozen in time..
The iconic ironclad galleries of NOLA might some feeble but they have stood strong in all these decades of reveler traffic.
A rustic gas and electric lighting shop piqued our interest.
A gentle stroll on the French Quarters River walk
Unlock all the love you need, one at a time
Can any NOLA trip be complete without a trip to THE Café Du Monde and sipping the Café Au Lait with the Beignets?
Café Du Monde was swarmed, as always!
We loved NOLA’s much exalted snack, the French Doughnuts or more eminently called The Beignets. (pronounced “BEN-yay”)
Nothing like fresh Beignet
NOLA in the night
We tucked in the kids early and sneaked out one night to catch the glimpse of NOLA nocturnal festivities.
Canal Street offered a perfectly serene but lambent prelude to Bourbon Street.
We froze on the European Jazz pub – Fritzel and were thoroughly entertained by a super enthusiastic and talented band of players.
The pub was very compact and almost every inch was occupied by the patrons.
Band in action.
Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge
Enroute to Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour, we did a quick hike- Ridge Trail at the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.
Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour
A number of companies offer swamp tours in the area, but Cajun Encounters stands out in terms of long and superior track record.
We saw ample swamp wildlife but didn’t have much of gator sighting. The tour operators offer food to entice the gators but it seems gators aren’t much fond of eating during the onset of winter.
Can you spot the camouflaged baby gator?
The Great Blue Heron is a routine sight here.
Photo Courtesy: Cajun Encounters
A turtle family basking in the sun.
The tour offered very diverse views. Here’s a serene one.
and this one looks right out of Louisiana’s horror folklore..
Cajun Encounters Plantation Tour
Courtesy: Cajun Encounters
Courtesy: Cajun Encounters
Louisiana State Museum – The Presbyére
The Presbyére is nestled right at the pink of the city near the Jackson Square and had exhibitions outlining the mesh of cultures, traditions deep rooted in Louisiana history.
The visitors get a grim reminder of the havoc Hurricane Katrina caused from the several exhibits containing the actual audio and video clips from the tragedy.
In addition, there were a ton of manifests on how Mardi Gras came into existence –
Jackson Square is yet another lively and colorful venue around the city. We ambled around it while visiting The Presbyére and enjoyed the carnival like environment.
Jackson Square – As viewed from the Decatur St
The good ol’ street magician wowed us with his tricks.
A pair of parrots being lovey-dovey
The flock was perky and kid friendly
NOLA embodies the ‘Party Town’ phrase, to the T
Barataria Preserve in Jean Lafitte National Historic Park
A must-visit for the nature lovers, Barataria offers pristine views of NOLA’s expansive Mississippi River Delta region with opportunity to view highly diverse wildlife and flora.
We did the 3-mile out and back trail to the Marsh Overlook (marked in red below). It was a moderate hike – if you want to reduce the length, you could also head straight to the Bayou Coquille trailhead (marked in green below).
Most of the initial trail is paved and gives you rich taste of local flora.
Another one of wetlands arcane mysteries – Cypress trees with their knees.
Spanish Moss – adding more diversity, yet.
A Louisiana horror folklore could draw inspiration from below –
We soon reached our first milestone – trailhead for Bayou Coquille Trail.
Few more minutes of gentle stroll and we were treated to some magnificent views close to the overlook.
Lower Kenta Canal, as seen from the bridge on the trail
Tip: Please be aware that the winter season (we went around December end) isn’t conducive for viewing gators as they indulge in brumation or in other words, are too sluggish to get out during the cold season.
Driving back from NOLA to Naperville
We decided to have a layover at Memphis which is around 6 hours from NOLA. Will share Memphis exploits some other time.
So long, NOLA!