It’s all about the water in Atchafalaya Basin. The swamps and marshes offered refuge to exiled Acadians when the Spanish lured them south and promised a permanent home, according to Captain Tucker of Basin Landing Swamp Tours. He would know after spending decades living here and navigating the meandering waters. The Captain fires up his airboats outside Henderson. It’s an easy ride from Lafayette, past levees and villages to the modest launch site and into another world.
Basin Landing Swamp Tours shop on the edge of the Atchafalaya Basin near Henderson, Lafayette
The Atchafalaya Basin ebbs and flows until it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The waters pass islands and villages across fourteen of Louisiana’s parishes creating the largest swamp system in the world. Today the area is different than the world the Acadians called home. They mingled with the few Native Americans in the swamp. They shuddered through stormy winters and soul-sucking days of fog. The heat and humidity of summer challenged their resolve. The Natives showed them how to use fish fat to fend off mosquitoes. Soon after, Captain Tucker jokes, Acadians created the first two-bedroom houses.
Captain Tucker’s airboat run by BasinLanding.com
Serendipity helped me discover the Acadian heritage as I first visited Quebec
in the early spring of 2018. The Acadians were exiled to Canada from France during the Seven Years’ War (between 1756 to 1763.) The French colonists pushed them into parts of Northern Maine and south. Today their influence is acknowledged in the name of Acadia National Park. President Woodrow Wilson named the National Monument, Sieur de Monts, in 1916. It was changed to Lafayette, the first National Park east of the Mississippi, three years later. 1929 marked a recognition of the nomadic exiles and the name, Acadia National Park has stuck to this day. I enjoyed hiking trails and eating Acadian broths full of local lobster across the island parks just as fall colors were emerging. Less than two months later I was skimming across the Louisiana Atchafalaya Basin in Captain Tucker’s airboat.
Captain Tucker shares his stories and history of the Acadian heritage.
After a murderous flood in 1927, the government built levees to manage the basin tides. The Captain mentions the management wryly, as he and many locals are no longer allowed to hunt and fish in vast areas. It’s part of the rhythm of the Atchafalaya Basin. In the twenties those who had made their living from subsistence hunting, fishing and trapping moved to higher ground and into other pursuits. Crawfish, for example, flourish here and the Basin still leads in wild-caught but many more are farmed. Alligators spend long days basking in low water during the warm months. They hibernate in semi-sleep states on marshy outcroppings during the winter. Hunting them is highly regulated and again many are farmed.
Osprey and catch in the Basin
Inside the Atchafalaya Basin
On the boat sitting next to the Captain, we passed close to the flanged roots of towering Cypress trees. The boat left a ripple as it parted floating weeds and hanging mosses waved as it sped past. The swamp system has no directions and each season brings its challenges as marker stumps, left after lumber companies did their worst, change. Some crumble, waterlogged, at other times their wide roots are exposed.
Captain Tucker has been leading tours for years and swears he’s “never been lost only confused.” The forest waters open to vast spaces too. There are over 300 species of birds, several poisonous snakes, and many, many alligators.
Bayou Bromance – Captain Tucker and Hercules, an alpha male alligator in the Atchafalaya Basin
The Captain pulled into a dead-end bay and cut the motor. Within moments a bending line of water signaled the approach of Hercules, a ‘friendly’ alpha gator who’s bonded with Captain Tucker. He’s almost docile when the boat comes into his shallow bay but has been known to toss other gator challengers out of the water. There are about 19 other gators in the small bay, says Captain Tucker, but we can’t spy them in the clotted marshland. Hercules and Tucker put on quite a show. The gator lets Tucker pet his head, then swims with a slow swish of his mighty tail, along the length of the boat to check us out. Once he returned for a handout from the Captain, who deftly tossed a chicken breast in the toothy maw, Hercules shifted slightly. Tucker reached in the water to lift a leg and shook the creatures claw. Their lovefest went on for nearly fifteen minutes as we watched their partnership in awe.
The Atchafalaya Causeway rises above fishermen and airboats.
On our return, we swing past the double bands of the causeway with their incongruous semi-tractor trucks. A few houseboats dot the bay and boaters come and go. Patient fishermen nod as we pass. Bright white herons lift and fly down passages as our boat approaches. I’m certain the loud airboat engine ruffles more than a few feathers in the area, but we come and go swiftly. The Heritage area is protected and Captain Tucker notes every change, preserves stories and inspires guests to be gentle in this wild space so it may be enjoyed for generations to come.
Plan your visit to the Atchafalaya Basin and learn more about Acadian culture:
I had so much fun on this tour! It was fascinating to see the alligators up close like that. I was surprised to see it so docile (to the captain) and wasn’t bothered by our presence at all!
Wasn’t that just amazing? Captain Tucker was so calm about the whole thing too!
It looks like you had an amazing day in the Atchafalaya swamp. I love your photograph of the osprey — it looks like you were fairly close. They are one of my favorite birds of prey; watching them dive for fish is amazing. I found the relationship between Captain Tucker and Hercules fascinating. I had no idea that alligators would bond that closely with humans.
I wasn’t actually close to the bird but got lucky after about ten shots.
What a fascinating story! I have so much respect for folks who work with animals. I loved your photos, too.
Thank you, Sue. I loved this encounter.
The ‘friendly’ alpha gator of Captain Tucker is hilarious! I’m not sure if I would ever be able to bond with a reptile, especially these big ones. The jaws are definitely too big and strong to trust 😉
I’m with you and fear alligators more than sharks!
I haven’t been to the US as I still can’t find the reason to go but every time I see posts like this, the list gets bigger!
Thanks, Trisha. That’s honest. I would probably be with you if I were a foreigner now. However, we’re not all like our erstwhile President or carry guns.
I love the bayous of Louisiana. The cypress trees and the wildlife there is so calming– even when I know it could be dangerous. It’s just so quiet and tranquil. I’m not sure I’d want to live there, but I do love to visit.
I think we were blessed in being there at the perfect time of day and year. So comfortable.
Oh my goodness, this is something I have always wanted to do… and what a relationship to have with such a dominating animal. I would have really enjoyed the love fest, and really appreciated the comfort and trust they have with one another. I love animals… I am a sucker for things like this.
I love encountering wildlife safely on their terms and this just blew me away as well.
Definitely some bromance going on between Captain Tucker and Hercules. We took our first swap boat tour this year and were blown away. There is just so much life and diversity in a swamp. That word always makes me think of bad places but they are really unique and beautiful. The Atchafalaya Basin looks truly beautiful.
No speedboat donuts here either. This ride respected the space and wildlife, unlike some other rides I’ve been on elsewhere. Still a thrill.
The Atchafalaya Basin looks like a fascinating place. I’ve always been intrigued by Louisiana and this part of the southern United States. I enjoyed exploring the area through your eyes and experience with the history of the area.
Thanks, Brooke. I hope you get to visit one day.
Was that a pic of your guide petting a gator? Yikes!
It is and so much more happened. Turns out that the Captain pulled fish hooks out of Hercules tummy years ago and the two bonded. It helps that he feeds him occasionally as well.
WOW, that photo of the alpha alligator has me floored. I still don’t understand how someone can train/interact with alligators! I see them a lot in Florida, minding their own business in pools or ponds, and I always give them a very wide berth, haha! This sounds like a cool experience, though. Although I’m not sure I’d get in a boat with a guide who said they never got lost, only confused…. LOL.
It was quite a trip. I stepped back as Hercules came near and couldn’t get over how the Captain could pet him safely. They definitely have an understanding.
Until reading this I didn’t know anything about Acadian heritage or that it was a group of people who were exhiled, so I definitely learned something! Hope you didn’t go deaf from the airboat rides, those are so fun but crazy!
I was sitting right next to the fan but the earplugs made it easy. We took several breaks to watch and talk as well.
I did not know that you can use Fish fat to ward off mosquitoes. And a friendly alligator. Now that is a first that I have seen after Seasame street. This sure is a cool adventure.
The fish fat was an old remedy and I guess better than the incessant bites. It was definitely a big adventure.
I enjoyed reading about the Acadian history. I love Acadia National Park but admittedly didn’t know much of the history behind it. Um, the gator bond with Tucker is just flat out jaw dropping! I have never heard of a gator bonding like that…especially one in the wild. Absolutely awesome!
Thanks, Heather. This is one wildlife and historical adventure I won’t forget.
I am so in love with this post and this area (and I’ve not even visited yet)! I am visiting the Atchafalaya Basin area next year, and now I just have to take Tucker’s tour – I’d love to see him interact with Hercules! Anywhere that has such amazing wildlife such as the Ospreys and Herons is a place I want to visit.
How cool that you’ll visit the Lafayette area. I hope that it’s the time of year when Hercules is out and about.
Alligators? Yes, yes, yes! Although, I really wouldn’t believe in something called ‘friendly gators’ haha. Id’ like to maintain my distance anyway, even if the boat captain wants to put his hand into the waters to greet his friend. Looks like such a lovely trip in the Atchafalaya Basin in Lousiana. I’d love to experience it myself, with an experienced captain of course!
I don’t think that Captain Tucker would jump in the water with Hercules, especially with poisonous snakes there too but keeping within the bounds of their relationship he knows how to thrill his passengers.
Wow that scenery is truly beautiful, taking a boat through those waters looks like fun! Although I’d be scared by that alligator… Or is it a crocodile? is there a difference? Looks like Captain Tucker took good care of you 🙂
Yes, the swamp was an amazing place to visit. The Alligators there are flourishing and Captain Tucker is passionate about sharing stories and history with his passengers.
Sounds like a wonderful and thrilling time to be able to go by airboat on the water and see a person who’s the ability to befriend an alligator and get up close and personal with him must be amazing!
It was truly unexpected and delightful although I took a step back from the gator as he swam close to where I was standing!
I’ve not spent much time in the streets but I love exploring outdoors and observing wildlife so exploring Actchafalya Basin would be right up my street. The Cajun and Spanish food after a long day sound great too!
Loved that region on so many levels. I hope you put Lafayette on your itinerary in the South.
I have a lot of respect for gators, but I sure wouldn’t be paddling through their turf in a canoe. I like the idea of an airboat much better! So the Acadians..are they the original ‘cajuns’? And that is a short version of their name? I SHOULD know this as I’m from the Deep South, but I think I only knew the French bayou people as ‘cajuns’.
I’m still in learning mode about the differences in names. I believe that the original Acadians are now called Cajuns and the Creole people descended from Africa. Interesting diaspora that brings so much culture and music to Louisiana. I hope you get to visit and learn more as well.
We fell in love with Lafayette on our first trip there this summer — it’s some of the most fun I’ve had eating and dancing our way around town! Living in south Florida, we love the swamp too and this sounds like had a great experience with a Captain who truly appreciates the natural beauty around him!
So happy to hear that you know Lafayette. I was on a rigorous schedule but would love to return and experience a lot more dancing and music.
We love Louisiana, but have never taken a swamp tour. Your experience certainly shows that they can be educational, as well as entertaining. Thanks for sharing.
Good points about airboats. I took a ride through a swamp in Florida and it was all about speed and splashing. Captain Tucker is much more sensitive to the environment and while his boat fan is loud it avoids the invasion of having a propeller – which wouldn’t work in those weedy waters and would endanger wildlife. Not all boat tours are created equal.
We took a Cajun cruise once and learned all about the music, food, and drink of the Cajun people. Louisiana is so filled with interesting culture!
That sounds so delightful, Doreen. I need to spend much more time in the region.
Would love to visit the heritage area of Atchafalaya Basin. I’ve never been to southern US but the Acadian culture sounds really interesting and I’d love to find out more about their history too. (Coming to you from Boomer Travel Bloggers)
Thanks, Johanna. Love my Boomer tribe. The history of the people and the region is deep and so interesting. I’d love to spend more time there for certain.
I have never been in southern states in the US so I’ve never visited the proper swamp. Thanks for your post it shows me again why I should go there. #TheWeeklyPostcard
Cultural ties to the world run deep throughout the south. I can’t wait to return.
I am not a great fan of swamps, but the waters of Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana look really appealing. Interesting to read about the history of the Acadians and how the marshes offered them refuge when the Spanish lured them south. Would love to visit this Heritage area someday. #TheWeeklyPostcard
I think you’d love the beauty of the place and the kind people. I was there on a mild fall day, no mosquitoes and had a wonderful time.
Captain Tucker sounds awesome. I love when you can have a nature experience with people who have a bond with the land and are totally cool.
Thanks, Rob. The Captain was wonderful, charming and so knowledgeable. He’s the kind of kind we need more of.