Don’t miss out on the bonkers wildlife
After indulging your hot sauce kick, relish in the chance to see one of the best benefits of getting the heck out of New Orleans: the wildlife. Snowy egrets, black bears, armadillos, and, of course, alligators roam the semi-tropical Jungle Gardens, a public garden that welcomes tourists, birders and hobbyist naturalists to explore the grounds.
But even that is barely bite-sized nature compared to the opportunities throughout the Atchafalaya Basin, the giant swamplands that encompasses this part of Louisiana. Birdwatchers, fishermen, and hunters head to the 15,000-acre Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, nestled halfway between Baton Rouge and Lafayette and filled with wildlife. Swamp tours leave daily from both cities, exploring various parts of the giant river basin (Atchafalaya literally means "long river"), taking alligator oglers out on the water and bringing bird-watchers to their personal paradise. Even without a tour, you can wander the Levee trail at the Cypress Island Preserve outside Lafayette.
Whether you're looking for gators, crawdads, or characters, getting out of New Orleans and heading to Baton Rouge and Lafayette brings you face-to-face with the local culture. Unlike in New Orleans, you're not watching a parade go by -- you're participating in the wild rumpus, walking by the river otters and chatting up the fiddle players. It's impossible to get anywhere without a seatmate on the bus, Uber driver, or bartender checking in to make sure you're having fun in their hometown. And wherever you go, you'll meet the locals and learn why they -- like Ducote, Harkins, and Rezende -- ended up in this part of the world: “There’s something in how people talk and wave to people on the street -- it’s bizarre, but it’s cool,” says Rezende. “The people are what makes it a town.”