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Downtown Lafayette, Louisiana with buildings
Exploring Lafayette: The Heartbeat of Cajun Culture

Lafayette, Louisiana located in the central/southwestern part of the state along the Vermilion River, is known for its vibrant Cajun and Creole culture, including music, food and festivals. It’s a hub for Zydeco and Cajun music with many live music venues and cultural events.

In 2014, it was designated as the “Happiest City in America”. This designation was based on a Gallup poll measuring well-being factors such as emotional and physical health, work environment and access to basic necessities.

Originally established as Vermilionville in the 1820s and incorporated in 1836, Lafayette developed as an agricultural community until the introduction of retail and entertainment centers, and the discovery of oil in the area in the 1940s. Since the discovery of oil, the city and parish have had the highest number of workers in the oil and natural gas industry in Louisiana as of 2018.

Known for its vibrant festival scene, Lafayette celebrates the region’s rich cultural heritage. Some of the notable festivals held in and around Lafayette include:

  • Festival International de Louisiane: One of the largest international music and arts festivals in the United States.
  • Festivals Acadiens et Creoles: Celebrating Acadian and Creole culture through music, food arts and crafts.
  • Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival: Celebrates Louisiana’s favorite crustacean, the crawfish. This festival features live music, crawfish boils and a variety of Cajun and Creole cuisine containing crawfish.
  • Scott Boudin Festival: Celebrates Boudin, a spicy Cajun sausage. Boudin is traditionally a blend of cooked pork, rice, onions, and seasonings stuffed into a sausage casing. Scott is located just west of Lafayette.
  • Le Festival de Mardi Gras a Lafayette: Lafayette’s own Mardi Gras celebration including parades, music, dancing and colorful costumes.
  • Courir de Mardi Gras: This is the rural Cajun traditional Mardi Gras celebrated in Southwestern communities near Lafayette. It includes the “Fat Tuesday Run” where revelers dressed in colorful costumes gather to take part in a run through the countryside traveling from house to house on horseback or foot, begging for ingredients to make a community gumbo. Cajun and Zydeco music and dancing are also part of this celebration.

These are just a few of the diverse festivals that take place in and around Lafayette. In fact, you can find a festival almost every weekend in the spring and fall somewhere in the area.

Lafayette is also known for delicious and usually spicy cuisine, influenced by its French, African and Spanish heritage. Restaurants serve dishes consisting of fresh, local seafood, steaks and other delicacies.

As you drive outside the city, particularly to the south and west, you will notice acres of crawfish farms alongside roadways. Crawfish is incredibly important to this area. It’s not just a food source but a symbol of community tradition and celebration. Crawfish boils are a popular social gathering, especially during the peak season from late winter to early summer. Additionally, the crawfish industry contributes significantly to the local economy through farming, processing and tourism associated with crawfish festivals and events. Crawfish plays a central role in the culinary and cultural identify of Lafayette and throughout the state.

Various crops are commonly grown around Lafayette, including sugarcane, rice, soybeans and corn.

Sugar cane is grown all throughout the area. It is highly significant both economically and culturally. Lafayette is situated in the heart of Louisiana’s sugarcane belt and sugarcane farming has been a prominent industry in the region for centuries. The cultivation of sugarcane supports numerous jobs in agriculture, processing and related industries, contributing to the local economy. Sugarcane products like cane syrup is extremely important to the area. The sugarcane harvest season also brings communities together for festivals and events.

Rice has also been a prominent agricultural activity around Lafayette for centuries. It has not only contributed to the local economy but like crawfish and sugarcane, it plays a role in the culinary traditions of the area, with dishes like jambalaya and gumbo featuring rice as a staple ingredient. Additionally, rice farming has shaped the landscape and ecosystems of the region. Rice is often planted in fields that are also used for crawfish farming. The rice provides a habitat for the crawfish while also benefiting from the nutrient-rich water and soil conditions created by crawfish farming activities. This integrated approach helps maximize land use efficiently and can enhance overall farm productivity.

Lafayette is surrounded by beautiful swamps and bayous, offering unique outdoor experiences like swamp tours and wildlife viewing. Beautiful St. Martin Lake is nearby with opportunities for tours, kayaking, birding and more.

When you visit Louisiana, you should definitely include Lafayette on your itinerary. There is so much to do and see and experience, you shouldn’t miss it.

(Photo credit: TheLionHasSeen)