Louisiana (French: La Louisiane) is a state in the South of the United States of America that is known for its culture that dominates in the New Orleans part of the state. The state of Louisiana is bordered to the west by Texas, to the north by Arkansas, to the east by the state of Mississippi, and to the south by the Gulf of Mexico.
|Greater New Orleans
This region includes the city of New Orleans and the surrounding towns, bayous, and the lower Mississippi River.
This is the center of Cajun culture, with its distinctive food and music.
In this region are Alexandria and historic Natchitoches.
In this region is Baton Rouge and the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
This is the region where the cities of Shreveport and Monroe can be found, along with historic Indian mounds and Civil War battlefields.
- 1 Baton Rouge – The state capital
- 2 Alexandria – Near the center of the state
- 3 Lafayette – The center of Cajun Country
- 4 Lake Charles
- 5 Mandeville – On the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, across from New Orleans.
- 6 Monroe – The birthplace of Delta Air Lines.
- 7 Natchitoches – The oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase
- 8 New Orleans – The state's largest city and top tourist destination.
- 9 Shreveport – The biggest city of North Louisiana
- The Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico and is among North America's most important and largest rivers.
Louisiana is known for its unique history; oil, gas, and seafood empires; music, including blues and some of jazz's earliest forms; diverse cultural makeup, including the Cajun culture in the southwest and the once-dominant Creole culture; agriculture; and vast wetlands, swamps, and bayous. Northern Louisiana has a culture similar to that of Mississippi, Arkansas, and East Texas.
A word to the wise — during the summer months, heat in Louisiana can be unbearable. Humidity, which is common throughout the Southern states, increases perceived temperature. To prevent heat-related illnesses due to high temperatures and humidity, seek shade, wear loose (preferably white) clothes, and remember to drink plenty of water.
This climate type is, on the Koppen scale, known as "subtropical" featuring cool to mild winters in addition to the hot and humid summers.
Like much of the rest of the South, northern Louisiana is largely Evangelical Protestant (with Southern Baptists forming the largest group). On the other hand, due to the history of French and Spanish influences, Greater New Orleans and Acadiana are largely Roman Catholic. This large concentration of Roman Catholics makes Louisiana unique among the Southern states.
While English and French are the two languages of the state, English is dominant. Parts of the south of the state and New Orleans have a long French-speaking history; however, in the early 20th century, children were forbidden to speak French at school in an effort to bring about widespread English fluency, and French gradually faded from public life. Today, English is spoken by nearly everyone; however, it is not uncommon to hear conversations in French in the southern and rural parts of the state, and a few elderly people in those parts of the state can still only speak French.
The last decade or so has seen some growth in the movement to preserve and revive the French language in Louisiana: French immersion programs in public schools contain over 4,000 students, French-language radio and television broadcasts are becoming slightly more common, and bilingual signage is being expanded. Local street signs in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and in many downtowns around Acadiana are bilingual in French and English, with French being more visibly prominent in the latter. However, locals still refer to streets by their English names as or more often than their French names. The transportation department and legislature have entertained various plans to implement bilingual highway signage, but beyond the "Welcome to Louisiana/Bienvenue en Louisiane" signs beside highways at border crossings, they have never been implemented.
Louisiana Cajun French is a distinct dialect, difficult to understand for many speakers of conventional (Parisian) French, but similar to the dialect of French spoken in New Brunswick. Louisiana Creole is a French-based creole historically spoken in New Orleans and the surrounding area, though it is now moribund and only spoken by a handful of elderly residents.
Unlike northern and central Louisiana, the Southern "drawl" is very rare in the southern part of the state. The Cajun accent in Acadiana has many distinct sounds due to the people's collective French heritage, while the Creole (or Yat) accent of New Orleans is similar to that of Brooklyn. That said, many residents of the state, including many born-and-bred Louisianians, speak with a general American accent (especially now in Jefferson Parish and New Orleans where the "Yat" accent has been relatively diluted) and shun the local accent due to the stereotypes of rednecks and gator hunters associated with it.
The largest airports are in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Smaller airports with commercial service are Lafayette, Lake Charles, Alexandria, Shreveport, and Monroe.
Cheapest way to get into the larger cities in Louisiana, but do not serve the smaller cities and towns. Advance purchase tickets are usually significantly cheaper than tickets bought immediately at departure.
The most practical way to get into Louisiana is by car. Interstate 10, 20, 49, 55, and 59 are the easiest and fastest means of driving into Louisiana from other states. Smaller rural highways provide a more scenic entry point, such as Texas Highway 82 / Louisiana Highway 82, entering the state along the Gulf Coast.
The most convenient and practical means to get around Louisiana is by car. Louisiana's roads are not, however, the best maintained and are downright rough in some places. This is mostly noticeable on rural highways and roads, along with city streets. In the cities, the speed limit on the highways and interstates vary between 50 and 65 mph (80-110 km/h). On standard two lane rural highways, whether US or state, the speed limit is almost always 55 mph. Four lane, divided highways, such as Interstate 10, 12, 20, 55, and 59, universally have a speed limit of 65 to 70 mph outside of the major cities. There are two exceptions to the rule:
- The Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, the 20-mile portion of Interstate 10 between the towns of Henderson and Grosse Tete, has a speed limit of 60 mph all the way across. In addition, there are only two exits along the entire bridge, so have enough gas to get you from one side to the other before attempting the drive.
- Interstate 49, between Washington in southern Louisiana and Frierson in northern Louisiana, has a speed limit of 75 mph, with the exception of the portion that passes through Alexandria. This is the only place in Louisiana where the speed limit is this fast. This speed limit is strictly enforced throughout the entire 150-mile (250-km) length, and Louisiana State Police will issue citations to drivers going even slightly over the speed limit.
Louisiana is one of only a small handful of states that require you to completely clear the intersection before the traffic signal turns red (without speeding). Always stop at yellow lights if it's safe to do so.
A cheap means of getting between cities if you do not have access to a car, Greyhound Bus Lines serve all the large cities of Louisiana. Very few of the small towns that are of interest to visitors are served by this means, with the exception of St. Francisville and Ruston. In addition, all larger cities have some form of intracity bus service, such as a public bus system. Examples are MTA Buses in New Orleans, Lafayette Transit System in Lafayette, and SPORTRAN in Shreveport. Information on transit can be found here.
- 1 Avery Island (a few miles southwest of New Iberia). Avery Island is the home of the McIlhenny Tabasco factory, a wildlife sanctuary, and an 8-mile deep salt dome. Visitors can drive and walk through 250 acres of subtropical jungle flora with an amazing array of wildlife.
- 2 Sicily Island Hills (about 35 miles NW of Natchez, Mississippi in northern Catahoula Parish). The Sicily Island Hills offer an atypical visitor experience. These hills are surrounded by the floodplains of the Ouachita and Mississippi rivers and thus appear as an island when viewed on a topographic map. Amongst dense forests and unusually steep hills lies Louisiana's tallest waterfall, Rock Falls. The majority of the Sicily Island Hills are within the Sicily Island Hills Wildlife Management Area owned by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). Enjoy biking, birdwatching or hiking in an unusually tranquil setting, but be aware that autumn and winter are hunting seasons. Access to this area is by way of marked entrances off of LA 8 and LA 915. Each visitor is required to be in possession of one of the following; a valid LDWF fishing license, a valid LDWF hunting license, or a valid LDWF Wild Louisiana Stamp. The Wild Louisiana Stamp is an inexpensive option at $5.50 and provides admission to all LDWF wildlife management areas statewide for a year. For more information,including a map of the area, visit the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website.
- 3 Wildlife Gardens, Gibson. 30 acres of preserved swamp where you can walk around a nature trail on shady paths. Apart from the natural wildlife there are ostriches, bobcats, nutria and alligators on display in cages and paddocks and peacocks roam the grounds. Bed and breakfast accommodation is available in four small 'trapper's cabins', adjacent to a small swamp. Each has its own front porch overlooking the water and ideal for gator watching. Staying overnight is a unique experience that kids will love.
- The 4 French Quarter of New Orleans is a world-famous destination year round, but especially during Mardi Gras. Unique architecture, excellent restaurants, and interesting people make this a great destination in the city.
- 5 Natchitoches. The oldest town in Louisiana is a unique small city in north central Louisiana. It was the backdrop of the movie Steel Magnolias, and has architecture reminiscent of the French Quarter in its Historic District in front of the Cane River Lake. Graceful mansions and Bed and Breakfasts line the river. It's a great destination to visit if you're in the northern part of the state and a hub for nearby Creole plantations along Cane River.
- Great River Road, the 70-mile stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge along the Mississippi River. Along this route are Creole and Antebellum sugar plantations, rural settlements, B&Bs, and Cajun and Creole restaurants. After the French Quarter, plantations on Great River Road represent Louisiana's most visited tourist destination.
There are a lot of great things to do in Louisiana, but the time of year matters when deciding on what to do. A variety of festivals happen almost all year long, the largest among them being Mardi Gras. Around February, Louisiana celebrates Mardi Gras and is one of only a couple states that declare it to be a state holiday. New Orleans is where to want to go for a more active party scene. For a more toned down celebration, many people go to Houma. Most Louisiana cities celebrate Mardi Gras in some fashion, though the New Orleans-style party scene is more prevalent in the larger cities in southern Louisiana.
Louisiana loves good food. Cuisine includes the famous Cajun cooking of Acadiana and Creole cuisine from New Orleans. Some items that may seem exotic to visitors from elsewhere may appear on menus, including crawfish and alligator.
Some quintessential foodstuffs in Cajun cuisine are:
- Beignets (Ben-YAYS) - deep-fried dough balls, similar to fritters, covered in powdered sugar and served immediately after frying.
- Cornbread - while not exclusive to Cajun cuisine and is indeed associated with Southern food by most Americans, cornbread (which is a bread dish made with corn instead of wheat) usually serves the role that wheat products have in other European cuisines, either as a form of dessert, as a sponge for sopping up gumbo, or even used in baked goods.
- Gumbo - probably the most 'Louisianan' of all foods (and most well-known outside of the state), gumbo is a soup that uses a thick meat- or seafood-based stock, chunks of meat/seafood, a thickener, and the 'holy trinity' (celery, bell peppers, and onions). Gumbo is usually classified based on the type of thickener used (okra or filé powder).
- Jambalaya - rice, vegetables, and some type of meat (usually but not always andouille sausage) mixed with spices.
- Roadkill Stew - It is legal in the state of Louisiana to take home and eat any wild animals you (accidentally) kill while driving. Roadkill stew is the catchall name given to any foods made with your victims, and while the average traveler is highly unlikely to come across it, it can be pretty good (and a rare opportunity for you to eat something like a possum, squirrel, or skunk). Some Cajun cookbooks even have entries on Roadkill Stew!
Some ingredients usually found in Cajun cuisine:
- Alligator - pretty self-explanatory. Rumored to taste quite like chicken.
- Andouille sausage (ON-du-whee) - a pork sausage of mainland French origin. Most non-seafood meats in Cajun cuisine use andouille sausage. It is usually spicy and has a course texture.
- Boudin (Boo-DAN) - fresh sausage (often pork) made by mixing the meat with rice and green onions. Sometimes you can find boudin made with seafood, and boudin made with pig's blood is called boudin rouge (lit. 'red boudin').
- Crawfish/Crawdads - crustaceans that look like shrimp but are larger. They burrow into the ground and leave mounds like tiny termites, and often you can find them in the yard of the place you're staying at.
- Fish - Given how southern Louisiana is essentially all swampland (bayoux), it's no surprise that seafood has a prominent role in Cajun cuisine.
- Frog - Frog's legs might be thought of as a stereotypical French meal, but the Cajuns eat it quite often. The rest of the frog can also be used.
Louisiana has long been known for its bounty of fresh seafood.
Some visitors have expressed concern about the safety of local seafood due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Seafood that makes it to the markets and restaurants is safe. Oil affected areas are closed to fishing, and catches from unaffected areas are being inspected in even more detail than usual. The oil spill may result in shortages of some species or higher prices in the future.
The legal drinking age is 21. However in New Orleans and parts of Acadiana, this drinking age is not rigorously enforced. In March 1996, the Supreme Court of Louisiana upheld a previous ruling by Judge Aucoin that the 21-year-old drinking age was unconstitutional, violating the Constitution's equal protection clause. However, it later overturned this ruling. Within hours of the first ruling, the state law enforcement community vowed to enforce the law, until the loophole in the Constitution was closed. That loophole is still there. A rule of thumb for anyone wanting to party in Louisiana, regardless of age: don't drink and drive.
Most alcohol-serving places in Louisiana follow the policy of 'As long as your parent/responsible adult is with you, you can have some alcohol'. In practice this usually means underage guests can have a few sips of a legal person's drink, but some places might serve you. (The logic is that the onus is on the responsible adult if you become drunk, and that they then become legally responsible for your well-being and safety.)
Laws regarding alcohol are more restrictive in parts of northern Louisiana.
Louisiana has issues with crime, especially in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. However, this is by no means the rule statewide, or even within a whole city. Crime mostly occurs in very poverty-stricken neighborhoods and often involves drugs or alcohol. Areas popular with tourists generally don't have the same issues, though it's wise to be wary of your belongings at all times. Places like the French Quarter may have higher than average levels of drug- or alcohol-related crimes, but the wise traveler will experience no real issues.
Louisiana seems to be in constant competition with Florida for which state can attract the most hurricanes in a season, and some of the most destructive hurricanes in American history have made landfall in Louisiana (such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005). Hurricanes are massive, rotating storm systems that can have winds up to 170 mph (270 km/h) and can easily fling large items like vehicles and roofs miles away. They always contain an 'eye', which is an area in the center where there is no storm whatsoever; if you find yourself in the state when a hurricane hits, don't go outside until you are told it is safe by relevant authorities (weather services, FEMA, police, fire departments). Being in the eye can mislead you into thinking the hurricane has already passed, but the storm wall can quickly come up on you and if you're outside, you are in real danger of a host of weather-related injuries. But for the most part, what has the potential to cause the most damage is the possibility of levees bursting when floodwaters overwhelm them.
Northern Louisiana sometimes gets tornadoes, and the Mississippi River occasionally floods. The area in and around the river's delta (the area of the state SE of New Orleans) can quickly change as distributaries reroute themselves, so anyone traveling to the delta region should have some sort of contingency plan in case they find themselves cut off from the rest of the state.
Being both in the Southern United States and having many bayoux and wetlands, humidity and heat pose serious problems, especially to the elderly and young children. Winters in the state can usually reach only as low as the mid-60°s F, and summers can be as high as 120°F. The humidity can exacerbate this problem, as humidity makes perceived heat higher. Take care not to get heatstroke. Thankfully, A/C has made living in Louisiana possible, and most places will have it.
Louisiana has some places that are often quite polluted, due to oil/gas industry accidents and runoff, relatively loose environmental protection laws/lack of enforcement of said laws, and detritus left over from hurricanes. These places are usually marked if they are publicly accessible, and if not, you can usually tell. But given the levels of pollution in some places (mainly bodies of water) coupled with the wildlife, it is usually recommended that the swimmer stick with pools.
Louisiana has one of the largest populations (over a million individuals) of American alligators in the state. Be very wary around the state's vast swamps and wetlands. Places considered 'developed' may not even be safe from them, as they like to hang out in ponds and can often be found on golf courses and in neighborhoods that use bodies of water as decoration. Generally, however, alligators do not bother humans so long as they themselves aren't bothered. There are several venomous snakes in Louisiana, including coral snakes, rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins. Many snakebites occur when snakes "freeze" and are accidentally stepped on, so watch your step in woods and grasslands, especially by the edges of bodies of water. Louisiana also seems to have some of the largest mosquitos in the world, which can carry diseases; they often don't, but will pose a massive nuisance unless you have military-grade insect repellent.
Louisiana (as much of the rest of the South), is known to display the stereotypical "Southern hospitality". However, the condition is that you give respect back. The pace of life is often more Mediterranean than other parts of the U.S. Approach locals with a positive attitude and you are apt to make friends; a gruff, impatient attitude may generate resentment.
Be very respectful when discussing Hurricane Katrina, widely regarded as one of the worst natural disasters in American history. Many homes and areas in the state were badly damaged by the hurricane, and even those who managed to escape with little harm often have relatives or companions with tragic, often upsetting, stories. Jokes, even made innocently about the matter, will be taken in the worst possible way. There's no harm in inquiring more about it, though, but some may not be inclined to talk about it — don't push them.
New Orleans is a very LGBTQ+ friendly city, and Baton Rouge is pretty accepting as well, but the rest of the state is more culturally conservative; while a majority of Louisianans are accepting of LGBTQ+ people, LGBTQ+ people may not be as openly accepted as in places like California, New York, or even Florida.
- Texas — America's second largest state borders Louisiana to the west. It has a rich history and culture.
- Arkansas — Louisiana's northern neighbor, "The Natural State", is home to the Ozark Mountains in the northwest while the south and east of the state has flatter land and shows more of its agricultural heritage.
- Mississippi — The state's eastern neighbor has Civil War battlefields, scenic parkways, and antebellum charm.