Swim with Manatees: 5 Essential Tips for Your Crystal River Adventure

It’s no secret to anyone that outdoor adventures have increased in popularity in the last few years. And when you’re in Crystal River, Florida, one of these great adventures is to swim with manatees!

Located on Florida’s Nature Coast on the west side of the state in Citrus County, Crystal River is also an incredible destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

In this post, I’ll be sharing all the details on how you can plan the most unforgettable experience of swimming with these amazing sea cows.

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city of crystal river

1. Top Location for Swimming with Manatees in Florida

Crystal River, Florida is the only place in the U.S. where you can legally interact with manatees.

In this area, one of the most popular springs to swim with manatees is Three Sister Springs.

manatee in crystal river

Many manatees gather here in search of warmer waters making it a top choice for this exciting and bucket list-worthy adventure.

Leaning more toward manatee viewing instead? There are many springs in Florida where you can see manatees!

Blue Springs and Wakulla Springs are great manatee viewing destinations and are two of my personal favorites for this type of activity.

2. Best Time to Swim With Manatees

Here in Florida, there’s always the possibility for manatee viewing any time of the year. However, if you want to swim with manatees, it’s best during manatee season.

From mid-November through March, we have what is known as manatee season.

During this time, manatees head to our springs in search of warmer temperatures, thus resulting in a great population of manatees gathered in one place.

swim with manatees in crystal river, florida

To give you an idea, during these winter months, there are days when you can easily count over 400 manatees in Blue Springs alone!

Most days throughout the season, the manatee count remains pretty constant at over 100.

With Crystal River being known as the home to the largest population of manatees in the world, it’s the top destination for swimming with manatees, especially during peak season.

3. Choosing the Ideal Destination for Your Manatee Adventure

In Crystal River, there are two main locations that we consider to be the best places to swim with manatees. These are Three Sister Springs and Homosassa Springs.

The best way to swim with these beautiful sea cows is to book a guided tour. Why?

Well, you need to remember that manatees are a protected species. As such, there are some legal rules and conduct expectations when interacting with them.

swim with manatees

Furthermore, there are some designated No Entry-Manatee Refuge areas which tour guides are very much aware of.

Therefore, it’s best to be accompanied by a knowledgeable professional to ensure a safe and non-intrusive experience.

4. What to Consider When Selecting a Manatee Tour

There are many options when it comes to choosing the best tour for swimming with manatees.

With this in mind, it’s best to choose one that includes all the snorkeling gear you will need like snorkels, swim masks, wetsuits, and life vests.

Additionally, choose a manatee tour that offers various time slots throughout the day. This means that most likely, they will have early morning times available, which is usually the best time to see the manatees.

manatee tours in crystal river

Most of the manatee tours in Crystal River also include a screening of a short video with the rules of interacting with manatees before heading out.

This is very helpful for those who are doing this for the very first time, and for visitors who are coming in from other states and are not familiar with the rules in Florida for interacting with manatees.

Prices for a swim with manatees tour will vary depending on each company. However, these commonly fluctuate from $59.95 to $99 per person and can go up higher for private tours.

manatee tours in crystal river

5. Guidelines for Interacting with Manatees

To protect our manatees and to avoid breaking the law, you must adhere to these rules when interacting or swimming with manatees.

  1. Don’t touch or feed manatees
  2. Don’t chase them
  3. Never stab or poke a manatee
  4. Give them the right of way and always give them space to move
  5. Keep your hands to yourself
  6. Do not splash or make loud noises
  7. Always float at the surface of the water when observing manatees
  8. Do not disturb resting manatees

Manatees are curious creatures and at times, they will approach you. If and when this happens, keep your hands to yourself and allow the manatee to explore around you while you slowly move away.

swimming with manatees

Keep in mind that legally, you are not allowed to pet a manatee in any way or manner. This is punishable under the Manatee Sanctuary Act and results in a fine of $500 and/or jail for up to 60 days.

Violation of federal protection laws, including harassing or abusing a manatee, or producing any injury that leads to the death of the animal, will result in a $50,000 fine and/or up to 1 year imprisonment.

Manatees are a species protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978.

Would you like to go swimming with manatees? Let us know in the comments!

Yanitza Ninett
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Yanitza is an avid adventurer with 15+ years of hiking experience and outdoor travel. As a PADI-certified scuba diver, she's also passionate about ocean conservation. When she's not exploring the great outdoors, Yanitza obsesses over The Vampire Diaries and dreams of traveling to Mallorca, Spain.

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