Explore Beyond the Bayou
Written by Beyond the Bayou
New Orleans is one of the country’s most popular destinations. The incredible music and festivals, the amazing food, and its unique culture brings people from all over the world to the Crescent City. Perhaps not as well known is that there’s so much more to experience nearby. New Orleans is surrounded by magnificent swamps, old plantations, and interesting towns and people collectively making up a unique culture and place known as Cajun Country.
Beyond the Bayou is a New Orleans-based ecotour company that offers daily swamp boat tours, guided kayak tours, plantation tours — and a five-day Cajun Country tour for those who are ready to experience the vibrant nature and culture that exists in the nearby bayous and byways. The plantation they visit is the Whitney Plantation, which is the only plantation that offers visitors a realistic look at life in the pre-Civil War South. While the restored antebellum mansion is beautiful and grand, the walking tour tells the story of this part of American history through the eyes of the enslaved. It’s an educational and moving experience not to be missed.
The company got its start right here in New Orleans after founder Jared Sternberg grew frustrated with the practices of other swamp tours. “I went on several boat tours and they all fed the wildlife,” Jared says. “They throw out marshmallows and hot dogs so the tourists can take photos of alligators. One of them even passed around a baby alligator with its mouth taped shut with electrical tape so everyone onboard could feel it and take a photo.”
Jared was already in the ecotour business—his other company offers tours to Alaska, Argentina, Tanzania, and elsewhere—so he started hatching a plan for a more sustainable and less intrusive alternative to the large tour boats that ply the nearby waterways.
After founding Beyond the Bayou, he bought a swamp boat and hired a captain and naturalist guide who also believed in environmental stewardship. “We never feed the wildlife, so that’s the most obvious differentiator,” Jared explains. If you read the online reviews, it’s clear that many of their customers feel good about that aspect of their tours. The company has grown in size and offerings since and their commitment to ecotours is getting stronger still.
The kayak guides and captains are all trained experts in the bayou’s flora and fauna and savvy at finding wildlife such as alligators, turtles, and egrets on their daily tours. “If someone asks me if they’ll see an alligator on one of our tours, I say, “Well, it depends on nature. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t,” Jared says.
The swamp and kayak tour guides also tell guests about the region’s wetlands loss and help identify (and sometimes remove) invasive species during the tour. New for this year is a relationship with Cooler, a nonprofit organization that carbon offsets the tours on their behalf by buying carbon contracts meant for big polluters on the open market. “We’re 100 percent carbon neutral now,” Jared says. “Instead of planting trees to offset, we’re effectively stopping pollution at the source.” Along with Old 77 Hotel, the company also supports Restore the Mississippi River Delta, a local nonprofit that now directly benefits from our combined Crescent City to Cajun Country tour.
Beyond the Bayou’s mission is quite simply to show guests the incredible nature and culture that surrounds New Orleans—and doing so while leaving the least amount of impact along the way. “There’s always more we can do,” Jared says, “and over time we will continue to do better and hopefully also inspire visitors and local people and companies to take better care of our beautiful swamps.”
“I’ve been to the Amazon several times and I’ve seen some of the exact same species we see in the swamp here. A lot of scenery in Louisiana looks fairly similar to the Amazon too. Perhaps it’s not as grand, but honestly, in some places, it’s comparable in terms of natural beauty and richness. This part of Louisiana is, for my money, the most unique place in the United States.”