Located in New Iberia parish, Avery Island gives visitors a glimpse into Louisianan ingenuity. Two attractions draw tourists to the privately owned island by the busloads: Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory and Jungle Gardens.
Tabasco Pepper Sauce
Who’d imagine Edmund McIlhenny, homeless following the Civil War and living with his in-laws, would develop and patent the ubiquitous condiment, Tabasco. Mcllhenny experimented with peppers in the Avery Island garden, combined them with salt from the island’s salt dome and white wine vinegar to create the famous sauce. Now over 700,000 bottles are produced daily at the factory still family-owned and operated on Avery Island.
Tour the factory
A free, factory tour shows visitors how the famous pepper sauce is made including its fermentation in whiskey barrels and the bottling process. Tours are available daily between 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., though actual production is limited to Monday through Thursday.
Pepper sauce tasting
Tourists enjoy wine tasting while touring vineyards, so why not a little hot sauce sampling in pepper country? Do you like the smoky flavor of chipotle peppers or are you a hotter-the-better pepper sauce connoisseur? At the Tabasco Country Store you can sample all seven varieties of Tabasco to determine which one suits your palate best. The store also sells Tabasco themed products from the traditional pepper sauce to boxer shorts emblazoned with the Tabasco logo.
Just across from the Tabasco factory, a 170-acre garden offers a serene, refuge for local fauna. During warm weather, alligators sun themselves along the banks of the garden lagoons. These photogenic gators, most less than two feet long, don’t mind posing for visitors, but please abide by the signs and don’t feed the gators! During February and March the garden is ablaze with color from hundreds of blooming azaleas.
Created by McIlhenny’s son Edward McIlhenny in the 1890’s, Bird City is premier attraction at Jungle Gardens. Snowy white egrets arrive in early spring from Mexico and points south to nest on the Island. Several manmade piers positioned in the garden wetlands serve as a rookery. Shore side viewing platforms give garden visitors an exceptional view of these beautifully graceful birds.
A self-taught naturalist, Edward McIlhenny helped preserve the snowy white egret when it was almost hunted to extinction for its plumes. He was less successful with nutria. Nutria are large, semi-aquatic rodents native to South America. He raised nutria for their fur and released them into the wetlands to control excessive vegetation. The nutria are now so prolific, they’ve ravaged sections of local wetlands.
When you go
Avery Island is about 150 miles west of New Orleans. There is a $1 conservation fee per car to enter the island. Both the Tabasco factory and Jungle Gardens are open daily. Admission to Jungle Gardens is $8 for adults and $5 for children. While it’s possible to hike, the easiest way to see Jungle Gardens is by following the auto route (maps are available at the visitors’ center). If touring the garden on foot, be sure to bring insect repellent. The mosquitoes are almost as big as the garden’s gators.
New Iberia Parish, La.