I’ve never lived in Louisiana a day in my life, but it’s a state that calls me home again and again. That distinctly Cajun culture and the unspoiled beauty of Louisiana’s wetlands soothes my soul.
My most recent visit to the state took me to Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, just 45 minutes from New Orleans but worlds apart. Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou (Bayou Lafourche) is the place to experience the essence of Louisiana’s wetlands, Cajun history, culture, and people. It’s the real deal, folks.
Bayou Lafourche (meaning fork) runs just over 100 miles from top to bottom, and once served as a main tributary of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. As such, communities grew and flourished along its banks and it’s often called “the longest Main Street in the world”. The only way to get anywhere is to travel its length, up and down.
Jean Lafitte Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center
The perfect place to start your Louisiana Cajun Bayou experience is at the Jean Lafitte Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Thibodaux, which is “up the bayou”. Locals reference location as “up the bayou” or “down the bayou”, two terms you’ll come to love and maybe even use yourself.
The Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center is part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, and it’s an attraction designed for the whole family. Be sure to take a stroll outside to the boardwalk overlooking Bayou Lafourche. Not only will you enjoy a beautiful view, you’re likely to encounter some of the bayou’s resident waddlers – Muscovy ducks.
Indoors, you’ll find a large space devoted to the story and culture of the Acadians who lived along Southeast Louisiana’s bayous, swamps, and wetlands. Allow at least an hour to enjoy everything.
It’s fascinating to see how early Acadians adapted to life on the bayou and the wetlands by combining their own traditions with influences from other cultures. The resulting melange brought the distinctive Louisiana Cajun culture we celebrate today.
Green Spanish moss served as toilet tissue (what?), seed covering and watting for firearms. They could also cure Spanish moss by submerging it in water and turning daily until the outer covering rotted away leaving a black, bristly cortex which could then be used to stuff mattresses, pillows and even dolls.
Cajun Music Jam on Monday
Take a listen to some local musicians play Cajun music at 6pm on most Mondays. If there are French speakers, they will speak in both French and English. The focus is more on the lyrics since finding people who speak Cajun French is harder and harder.
When I visited, the jam session started with the first Cajun song ever recorded commercially. Sung by Joe Falcon in 1928, it was called “Allons à Lafayette”, and that song and the musical recordings that followed were important because they gave legitimacy to a language that had been considered taboo.
(Seasonal) Bayou Boat Tour
In spring and fall, weather permitting, visitors can purchase tickets for a ranger-led bayou boat tour, including a stop at either the Madewood Plantation or the E.D. White Plantation Home & Museum. The ranger talk was exceptional! She pointed out interesting birds and plant life all along the way. Advance reservations required.
Cercle Francophone on Tuesday
This open get-together allows Cajun French speakers to come and speak their beautiful language in an effort to keep it alive. All French speakers can participate, and those who can’t speak French are still welcome to listen.
Historic Thibodaux walking tour
This free and extremely worthwhile ranger-led walking tour departs from the Visitors Center a few days a week and takes about 90 minutes. You’ll see two historic churches and walk into downtown Thibodaux and its neighborhoods for a fascinating peek at the area’s history and architecture.
A visit to the Jean Lafitte Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center is a must when visiting Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou. Visit the website for info and schedules. Reach out to the Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou Tourism to help you plan a trip you’ll never forget.