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.
|Central Louisiana |
In this region are Alexandria and historic Natchitoches.
|Florida Parishes |
In this region is Baton Rouge and the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
|Northern Louisiana |
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
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.
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 de facto 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 all; 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 broadcasts are becoming slightly more common, and bilingual signage is being expanded. Local street signs in the French Quarter 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 or Parisian French. 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 and shun the local accent due to the negative stereotypes 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 Highways 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. That being said, Louisiana's roads are not 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. 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 outside of the major cities. There are exceptions to the rule, namely two:
- 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. Bear in mind that this speed limit is also strictly enforced throughout the entire 150 mile 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. Unfortunately, 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.
- 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 Fall 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. 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.
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. Rule of thumb for anyone wanting to party in Louisiana, regardless of age: don't drink and drive.
Laws regarding alcohol are more restrictive in parts of northern Louisiana.
Louisiana unfortunately 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.
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. 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 (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 US. Approach locals with a positive attitude and you are apt to make friends; a gruff, impatient attitude may generate resentment rather than promptness.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina affected the southeast of Louisiana with one of the worst disasters in American history; Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Gustav, though not as well-known elsewhere, also caused significant damage in Louisiana. These natural disasters are an emotional subject to many Louisianans, and even those who escaped with little harm often have relatives or companions with tragic stories. Jokes that you were told elsewhere blaming or insulting Louisianians will bring a negative response here. Some locals may be inclined to share disaster stories with sympathetic visitors, but others prefer not to talk about it—don't push them.
- 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.