As the heart of the French Acadian region of Louisiana, Lafayette is the center of Cajun and Creole music, dance and food, all surrounded by pristine swampland.
Towering cypress trees draped in moss, American alligators and birdcalls bring you into a deep connection to the land and the local culture. Named the “Happiest City in America” by MarketWatch, this little town knows how to have a good time. Soak in Cajun and Creole culture and venture out into the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest wetland and swamp in the U.S.
Adventures on the Atchafalaya Basin
Wildlife enthusiasts will love exploring the Atchafalaya Basin’s swamps, lakes and water prairies where the American alligator and many other species live. For an intimate experience in nature, paddle the waterways of the Bayou Teche National Water Trail and Palmetto Island State Park. Local outfitters and rentals are available for expertise and equipment, including kayaks, canoes and lifejackets.
To journey down a path few others experience, take on the Vermilion Voyage. Consisting of a three-day overnight paddle down the Bayou Vermilion, this annual event puts participants in the center of idyllic passages under arching trees on calm, flat water. Enjoy live music and movie screenings when paddlers break for camp. Whether paddling for a few hours or days, it’s easy to see how the marshy landscape affects every aspect of life here.
The sun peeking out from behind cypress trees on the Atchafalaya Basin
Spot Rare Wildlife
Lafayette is part of the Mississippi Flyway, a major bird migration route, and the Atchafalaya Loop of America’s Wetland Birding Trail. Winter ducks and coots and the largest wintering population of American woodcock in North America flock to Lafayette’s water basins. Over 50,000 egrets, ibises, herons and a large concentration of bald eagles all nest here too. In particular, colonies of great blue heron, white ibis and roseate spoonbills are fun finds. Top spots for hiking and birdwatching include Lake Martin, Cypress Island Preserve and Indian Bayou Natural Area, but birds will be spotted at a number of area parks including Acadiana Park.
A great blue heron perched in a tree in one of the region’s preserves
Dance to the Finish Line
You can also sign up for events that put a local twist on long-distance cycling and running. Cycle Zydeco will take you on a casual four-day cycling tour of South Louisiana’s Cajun cuisine and music. During this festival on wheels, cyclists dress up in bright colors and celebrate each day with good food, good company and live music.
Runners, line up for the Lafayette General Zydeco Marathon. Take on the half marathon or full marathon, both of which are qualifiers for the Boston Marathon. Or, take on the challenge as a team with two-person and four-person relays. However you tackle the race, there’s music and food waiting for you at the finish line to celebrate your accomplishment in true Cajun style.
Festively dressed participants on the Cycle Zydeco trek
Explorations in Town
While you’re out on any trail, you’re going to work up an appetite. From crawfish to jambalaya, Lafayette’s cuisine doesn’t hold back, and you can taste the bold flavors on a local food tour. Pick out stops along the Plate Lunch Experience to fuel up on this traditional, down-home meal featuring a helping of meat, a gravy-covered starch, two sides of vegetables and a piece of bread. On the Cajun Boudin Trail, it’s all about boudin, a regional pork sausage dish that every chef makes just a little differently.
When it’s time to get back outside, stroll the Azalea Trail, a springtime must in the heart of Lafayette. See historic sites and the bushes in bloom along the grand boulevards. Bloom season in Lafayette comes early, starting in late February and continuing until mid-March.