When Thomas Jefferson struck a deal with Napoleonic France to purchase the territory of Louisiana in 1803, he inadvertently put an end to a power struggle that dated back to the 17th century. From the time of Europe’s first explorations into Louisiana, the land’s strategic location had made it a target for both the French and Spanish. Every time the territory changed hands between these nations, a new layer was added to its culture. Before long, the French language had merged with the cultural relics of Spanish islanders and African slaves. This mixed history has resulted in an eclectic state that affords plenty of things to do and see throughout the year.
In New Orleans, Louisiana’s colorful culture takes the form of the excesses that accompany Mardi Gras. During this late-winter celebration, thousands of visitors stream into Bourbon Street’s bars for one last wild night before the Lenten season begins. Interspersed between the bars and music joints, voodoo shops showcase occult specimens and tools that illustrate the customs of the Afro-American religion.
Some of the most hauntingly beautiful cemeteries of the South can be found within the immediate vicinity of the Crescent City. Among these, the 140-year-old Metairie Cemetery once served as Jefferson Davis’s place of interment. Today, the cemetery presents a restful scene replete with austere tombs and mausoleums filled with stained glass.
It’s worth travelling outside city limits to see unique landscapes such as the bayous of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve and the Atchafalaya Basin, the nation’s largest river swamp. Guided tours afford guests a closer look at the swamp’s ecosystem, as well as the chance to see and feed live alligators.
Also in the country, antebellum homes showcase what plantation life was like before the Civil War. In restored villages such as Vermilionville, costumed docents share local history and facts about Cajun culture.