Austin Bat Tour and Kayaking
Any Texan's Bucket List
I visited Austin last year not knowing what to expect; all my friends ever talk about is the nightlife and how fun 6th street is, but I always prefer quiet places where one can have a conversation. I still had my share of beer, but my favorite thing to do is to see the bats—an item that should be on any Texan’s bucket list.
Bats? In Austin?
Yes, the bats can be seen coming out of the South Congress Bridge, which was originally built in 1910 and then repaired in 1980. Consequently, when fixing the bridge, small gaps were added underneath which made for perfect bat housing—this is where our winged Mexican friends make an entrance.
The bats—officially known as the Mexican Free-Tailed Bat—reside in the Austin area several months out of the year, but now they are perhaps the most strange and exciting tourist attraction in a city that is already known to be "weird." (Stay weird, Austin!) These bats attract an estimated 100,000 tourists per year and generate $10 million in revenue.
The bats start to make an appearance in early March and stay until November, leaving to hunt only when the sun sets. When they first arrive in spring, the estimated number of the bats is between 750,000 to 1.5 million! When the colony is out, they consume as many as 20,000 pounds of insects before returning to the South Congress Bridge. Once it starts to get cold in November, many begin their trek back to their original home in Central Mexico.
Interested in going?
There are many ways to watch this event, either from the bridge itself or the Austin American-Statesmen Observation Center, which lies adjacent to the bridge. The best way—at least in my opinion—is to view the bats from a bat tour boat (yes, this is a thing!). It is recommended to reserve your seat at least a week in advance because, during the peak months, the boats are packed. The main event is at sundown, but the boat leaves earlier to give a tour of the river, which includes sights such as Stevie Ray Vaughn’s statue, the Austin Skyline and many other tidbits of local history.
After the tour down the lake, the boat will park very close to the bridge where patrons are advised to cover their mouths because of guano—basically, bat feces in liquid form. All persons are instructed to use no flash photography or bright lights because of the bats' sensitivity to lights. The boat provides a perfect view of the bats and is also a great spot to take pictures. Oh, did I mention they allow you to bring your beer?
Outdoor activities you can do
Others, who may be more adventurous, can rent out a kayak, paddle board or paddle bike. Many had their dogs on their paddle board with those little life vests. Adorable. These are fun ways to experience the attraction because you can also enjoy paddling with a magnificent view of the sunset, bats and twilight.
Whatever it may be, whether Austin is as weird as the locals say it is, I can guarantee this will be one of the most unusual and fun activities you will do while visiting the great capitol of Texas.