Louisiana : Safety by City
- Baton Rouge
- Bossier City
- Lake Charles
- New Iberia
- New Orleans
For an extensive Louisiana experience, Ponchatoula might be one of the best-located cities in the state.
It’s halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and near many wilderness activities.
Ponchatoula also offers several unique opportunities, from the annual strawberry festival to the town mascot, “Old Hardhide,” which sits in a cage along the city’s main street.
For a city of fewer than 8,000 people, you’ll be surprised how many antique stores and culinary treats they have added to this region.
The city is near the popular I-55 interstate and just south of the larger Hammond, Louisiana.
You’ll find more hotels in Hammond, which is just about 10 minutes north.
You’ll also have Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas nearby, with swamps of all sizes offering recreational opportunities.
Ponchatoula is in Tangipahoa Parish, which means you have some other cities nearby to explore as well.
The top places to visit in the parish are:
- Amite City
While this is a more rural area, there are still plenty of things to do without that smell of Bourbon Street or the big party crowds.
Warnings & Dangers in Ponchatoula
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk here with increasing juvenile crimes and repeat offenders. While few crimes happen against strangers, you still need some specific safety advice to enjoy your trip here.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
I was surprised to see there's a public shuttle system between Hammond and Ponchatoula, but there are two routes at 50 cents a ride available. Those probably won't be good enough for your adventures, so strongly consider getting a rental car, so you can control your trip. Taxis and rideshares won't be as readily available in this small town.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
This is a low risk throughout the year, with no reports in 2021. Use extra caution during the Strawberry Festival or Oktoberfest when the crowd size will increase, and thieves might be looking for easy marks.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
You must treat Louisiana's weather with a medium risk and understand hurricane, tornado, and flooding safety planning. You should also learn about the humid environment, and bug bite risks too.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here, with just one robbery reported in 2021. However, those rates could easily increase in 2022 as more violent crime happens. In fact, in late 2022, a man who was being robbed actually chased down his robbers and shot one of them.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
This is a low risk. The bigger concern is the growing juvenile crime in the city, not terrorists.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Ponchatoula doesn't have many hotels, so tourists might be looking for rental homes. This could lead to rental scams. Use the Chamber of Commerce to get recommended rental companies instead of relying on websites like Craigslist. Never wire money to secure a place to stay.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women are statistically more likely to be victims of violent crime here, but most of those crimes are domestic. There are great female-oriented places to explore here, like the antique stores, but you should not feel so safe in this small town that you walk around at night alone. Stay with a friend or group at night.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Ponchatoula Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. Even with a spotless report, water quality compromises can occur during flooding or storms. The city will post boil orders and alerts, so keep an eye on social media during your visit.
Safest Places to Visit in Ponchatoula
Tangitourism.com is the best “official” tourism site for this region and covers the entire Parish.
Without a formal site for the city, you could end up on some spam websites.
The city’s website also lists a few attractions in town.
If you have specific tourism questions, email the Tangipahoa Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also visit downtownponcatoula.com to learn about the businesses in the historic downtown area.
Shoppers will love the unique mix of antique stores, boutiques, and specialty shops.
There are some must-see places in downtown Ponchatoula:
- Old Hardhide is the city mascot. The live alligator lives in a cage on Railroad Avenue and Pine Street.
- Paul’s Cafe is a local treasure offering daiquiris with locally-grown strawberries and home-cooked meals.
- Where Yat? SneauxBall is a local ice cream shop that offers traditional cones and exotic experiences like pineapples filled with sweet treats, and you can also order gumbo. (This location is open seasonally)
- Collinswood Museum is a great place to learn the history of this fishing village turned railroad town turned “Strawberry Capital of the World.”
You can visit the Joyce Wildlife Management Area just south of the city and get as adventurous as you want.
There is a boardwalk along the swamp if you don’t want to get too close to nature, but you can also explore the swamp by kayak or boat.
Kliebert & Sons Gator Tours is a family-owned business where you can watch alligator shows and safely get close to an alligator (well, as close as you would ever want to get) in a controlled environment.
The gift shop has a lot of alligator-centric items.
A quick heads up – one of those items is a hunted alligator’s head.
That might make some of you squeamish about seeing, so I just thought you should know.
In nearby Hammond, you can also visit a few key locations:
- Berry Fun Barn: If a strawberry could design a theme park for families, this would be it.
- Louisiana Children’s Discover Center: A science center for families designed about the unique Louisiana culture.
- Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum and Veterans Archives
Last but not least (and certainly not a full list) is the Global Wildlife Center, about 20 miles northeast of Ponchatoula.
3500 animals roam the wild as visitors take covered wagon tours.
Some of the animals even approach the wagon to be fed, and an expert guide shares stories and safety information along the way.
Places to Avoid in Ponchatoula
Ponchatoula isn’t big enough to have a good vs. bad part of town, but you should stay on the main roads and in the downtown area when visiting.
Use main roads and highways to get in and out of town.
Some neighborhoods have an elevated crime level, but it’s not as simple as avoiding one or two streets.
In September 2021, Hurricane Ida’s eyeball hit Ponchatoula.
This caused damage throughout the city and to many of the downtown businesses.
Louisiana always works as fast as possible to help cities recover from damage, but restoring businesses to their pre-storm standards can also be a slow process.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid the city.
In fact, it will help the businesses more if you spend some money there to keep the city vibrant.
Just know repairs could be ongoing for years, and that’s hoping another hurricane doesn’t hit.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Ponchatoula
- The Ponchatoula Police Department covers law enforcement within the city limits. The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office covers the area outside the city limits. Downtown the sheriff’s office app to get more safety information in the Parish during your visit. You can contact the Ponchatoula Police Department by emailing email@example.com
- The police department here has trouble holding criminals accountable because neighbors don’t want to report information out of safety concerns in a small town. As a visitor, you can help fight crime by reporting anonymous tips to 1-800-554-JAIL.
- Sign up for TangiAlert to get emergency notifications for weather and any other emergencies in the parish. You can choose alerts through text messages or email or download the app.
- The annual Strawberry Festival is held each April. During the two-day event, finding a place to stay or park might be harder due to thousands of people coming to the small town to enjoy the fresh harvest. Make your plans as early as possible if you’ll visit during this time to get a safe spot.
- Alligators are part of the habitat here, but they aren’t aggressive toward humans unless they have been cornered or desensitized to humans. Don’t ever feed an alligator. If you do a swamp tour, you’ll see the boat captain use marshmallows to get the alligators to come closer. This is not something you should try on your own. Avoid being near water at sunrise and sunset, as that’s when the alligators are most active.
- Whether you are staying in town or going into the swamp, you will need bug spray with DEET. Louisiana’s humid and warm climate is a perfect breeding ground for insects. Mosquitos can carry disease, but you’ll likely end up very uncomfortable with a bunch of bites if you don’t prepare. Bring calamine lotion with you to reduce the irritation after a bite.
- You’ll need a license from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Hatcheries for hunting, fishing, or alligator trapping. Be sure to read the requirements for each type of game available in the wild. Poaching is a serious crime here, so don’t try to hunt without a license. You could end up in jail.
- If you’re going to a U-Pick-Em farm in this area, don’t get overzealous if you won’t eat what you pick. Fruit doesn’t last very long once it’s off the vine, and strawberries can have a life span as short as three days. Be sure to wash them before you eat them to eliminate bugs and pesticides.
- If a hurricane is approaching this region, please reschedule your trip. Stores will start closing the week before a hurricane, and supplies will run out. In the aftermath, people could face being without power and clean water for weeks in the Louisiana humidity. The storms can always turn at the last minute, but it’s not worth the risk.
- Use Louisiana DOTD’s website to get road information during your visit. This will cover major roadways and side streets and offer construction information, real-time traffic alerts, and live cameras throughout the state. Just don’t use the website or app while driving, as it’s against the law to drive distracted in Louisiana.
So... How Safe Is Ponchatoula Really?
Ponchatoula is a small city which means the crime rates can be skewed by just a few crimes in either direction.
For example, there were 40 violent crimes in the city, but when you figure out the math “Per 100,000 people”, the rate is 35% higher than the national average.
The biggest crime challenge in Ponchatoula in 2022 is gang violence.
The gangs are formed by local criminals who recruit juveniles into the gang.
With high poverty levels and low annual incomes, a life of crime can seem worth it to young people.
“We’re seeing older gang members bring juveniles along to commit some of these crimes and ‘take the lick’ because juveniles get brought in, get a slap on the wrist, and get released quicker than adults,” Police Chief Edwin Bergeron said.
While police work to engage youth in more beneficial activities, there’s a challenge because you can’t hold a juvenile criminal indefinitely.
On top of that, people in the city don’t want to “rat out” their neighborhoods and prefer to “handle their own business” sometimes.
You might not notice the crime as a visitor, but you should avoid any disturbances or crime scenes.
If you happen to be confronted by someone, don’t assume a young person isn’t capable of violent crime.
Keep your car doors locked when you park.
Use common sense, and don’t walk around at night alone.
There isn’t a lot of nightlife here anyway.
How Does Ponchatoula Compare?
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- Visas - You'll need a U.S. Travel or Work Visa from the U.S. State Department to get through Customs at the airport or port of entry. You might be from a country that offers a Visa Waiver program, and you can search the department's website to get that information. The process of getting a visa can take months, so be sure to start planning early.
- Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. Some of the smaller businesses might be cash-only, so get creative with hiding places for your cash. You don't want a big wad of cash in your wallet or hidden in a car compartment. Use your socks, inside pockets, or other clever hiding spots.
- Weather - The weather can get cold in the winter, but no more than a warm jacket will usually be needed. Dress casually here and bring some extra clothing because of the heat and humidity. Summers can be downright oppressive with the heat and humidity, so plan for loose and light-colored clothing.
- Airports - You can get to Baton Rouge or New Orleans airport in less than an hour, but there's no commercial airport in Ponchatoula.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance is a must, especially if you're visiting during the hurricane season, which runs from June through August. You'll also want to confirm your health coverage here because even a trip to an urgent care center for dehydration can cost a lot of money if you aren't insured.
Ponchatoula Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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