Planning to swim with manatees in Florida? This post will give you everything you need to know from where and when to go, to practical tips to plan your trip!
One of the most exhilarating experiences in Florida is swimming with Manatees. These giant underwater creatures also known as sea cows are incredibly charming, friendly and above all adorable to watch while they slowly and swiftly swim in the warm waters.
Beyond watching them, you can also swim with them in their natural habitat, and luckily for you, Florida has the place for that.
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Every winter, usually from mid-November to late March, thousands of Manatees migrate to Florida in search of warm waters of 72 degrees and above in the state’s warm springs and rivers as they can’t survive in cold waters below 68 degrees.
If you want to get up close and personal with them, this post will give you the complete guide to swimming with Manatees in Florida.
From the best time to swim with manatees in Florida and the best place to swim with them to the best tours to take. We’ve got all the information you may need and more!
How to Swim with Manatees in Florida
Continue reading to discover everything you need to know about swimming with manatees in Florida plus answers several to FAQs.
Best Time of the Year to Swim With Manatees in Florida
One of the most commonly asked questions is when to swim with manatees in Florida.
As we’ve already seen, Manatees make their way to the waters of Florida during the winter months (from mid-march to late November) with the peak season being between December and February to escape the cold waters in other parts of the country.
After the winter season, a few Manatees stay in Florida, specifically in Crystal River due to its year-long warm temperatures but if you want an almost guaranteed chance of seeing them underwater, winter is the best time to visit and definitely the best time to swim with these gentle creatures.
Best Time to Swim with Manatees in Florida
Winter months may be the best months to swim with manatees in Florida but what exactly is the best time to go?
While any time is ok during the winter months, some times of the day are better than others in terms of interacting with manatees at their best and beating the crowds.
If you’re planning to swim with manatees in Crystal River, make sure you go early in the morning. In the morning, manatees are super active and playful and it’s pretty exciting to see them interact with each other or even come close to you.
After a long morning of playing and eating, chances are high that many will be tired and they’ll be less active in the afternoon, albeit even asleep.
Also, the springs are usually crowded on weekends and school holidays so the best time to go to avoid the huge crowds is during the week.
In brief, the best time to swim with manatees in Florida is in the morning hours of weekdays during the winter months.
Best Place to Swim with Manatees in Florida (Legally and Ethically)
Though there are many places to see Manatees in Florida, not every spot allows swimming with them.
In fact, in the entire USA, there is only one place where you can legally swim with Manatees and that is Crystal River.
Located about 68 miles north of Tampa, Crystal River is dubbed the capital of Manatees since it receives the greatest number of Manatees which account for over 800 every winter though there are some that stay all year long due to its consistent temperatures of 72 degrees throughout the year.
How to Swim with Manatees in Crystal River
Now that you know the best place to swim with Manatees in Florida, it’s time to find out exactly how to swim with Manatees in Crystal River.
Crystal River is famous for hosting Florida manatees but not every spot on the river is the same. The best area to swim with manatees in Crystal River is near Kings Bay where there are manatee sanctuaries.
Swimming close to manatee sanctuaries means that manatees can leave the closed-off areas (usually marked by ropes underwater) and swim freely toward you without any coercion due to their curiosity.
Though you can go on a solo swimming adventure, as long as you stick to just the areas that allow swimming and you can find your way around, the best way to swim with manatees in Crystal River is by joining a guided tour.
Actually, we don’t recommend going on a Manatee swimming adventure alone, especially if you’re swimming with manatees for the first time.
With a guided tour, your tour guide will direct you to the best spots to swim with the manatees, give you guidelines to follow while in the water and some tours even offer all the equipment you’ll need.
Best Tours to Join to Swim with Manatees in Florida
With many operators, it can be hard to choose one, so to help you have an amazing experience, below are the swimming with manatees in Florida tours we recommend.
Crystal River Manatee Swim in Kings Bay National Wildlife Refuge Tour
On this guided tour around Kings Bay, you’ll be able to swim with manatees in their natural environment while getting more insights about them from your tour guide.
All equipment like snorkels, masks, and wet suits are provided and they even have a professional photographer to take your photos while interacting with the manatees which you can purchase after the tour.
Lasting for 3 hours, this tour is perfect if you’re not staying far from River Ventures Manatee Tour and Education Center as that’s where the meeting point is. It’s also a small tour will less than 10 people so no one will feel left out.
Manatee Snorkel Tour with In-Water Divemaster/Photographer
This snorkeling tour with Manatees is more or less the same as the above. It also comes with a knowledgeable tour guide, a photographer to take photos which you can purchase later, snorkeling equipment, and it also lasts for 3 hours.
On top of those, it also offers heated changing facilities, towels, and showers at their premises. If you’re not staying far from Plantation Adventure Center and Manatee Tours, this is the best tour we recommend.
Since the above tours are both small groups, make sure you book early to get a spot on your preferred day of visit.
What to Pack to Swim with Manatees in Crystal River
If you’re going with any of the above tours, then you won’t need to pack a wet suit and snorkeling gear but there are other things you’ll need.
- Swimsuit: It makes changing into a wet suit easy and you don’t want to directly wear shareable wetsuits. You can check this one out if you want to get a new pair.
- Travel Towel: For obvious reasons. We love this microfiber one as it’s easy to travel with and it dries fast.
- Reef-friendly sunscreen with SPF 50: This sunscreen will protect your skin without endangering the underwater ecosystem.
- Swimming Noodles: These will help you float with ease to be able to see the Manatees. You can buy yours here.
Where to Stay in Crystal River
To choose your base, these are the hotels we recommend staying at while in Crystal River.
Holiday Inn Express Crystal River, an IHG Hotel: Located less than a mile from Kings Bay, this is the perfect hotel to stay at for a swimming adventure with manatees.
NEW Cozy House 5 Min Three Sisters Springs: If you want to base yourself as close to manatee swimming sites as possible without compromising on the quality of your stay, then opt for this vacation home. The home is beautiful and it puts you about 5 minutes from Three sisters springs on Crystal River.
The Port Hotel and Marina: This hotel is perfect for those who want to be right by the water. While the rooms and facilities are nothing to write back home, it’s the location that sets it up.
Rules and Regulations to Follow When Swimming With Manatees in Florida
It’s legal to swim with manatees in Crystal River but it comes with several rules and regulations to make sure that these federally protected creatures that were once endangered are not harmed.
To make sure you have a great experience and avoid getting a huge fine and in some cases jail (only if you don’t follow the regulations), here are the things you should know before snorkeling with manatees in Florida.
Stay cool when Manatees approach you: Manatees are such curious creatures that will approach you as soon as they see you. But don’t worry, they’re harmless.
Some can go as far as even touching you with their forelimbs. If this happens, just stay cool and don’t make rigorous movements as this will scare them away.
Don’t flap when swimming with manatees in Crystal River: Manatees do not like to be disturbed and since you’re in their natural habitat, making noise by flapping or kicking will scare them and eventually chase them away.
Instead, try to swim calmly and float as much as possible. The wet suit should help you with this. You can even take swimming noodles if floating naturally is not easy for you.
Don’t pinch, harass or even box the manatees: This might seem like common sense but we’ll still mention it.
Manatees are the loveliest underwater creatures and it’s mean and jerky to want to harm them just to meet your curious unkind senses. Also, don’t stretch your arms out to try to lure them! If they feel safe around you, they’ll come close by themselves.
Don’t cross into the protected areas that aren’t supposed to be swam in: When swimming with manatees in Crystal River, you’ll notice ropes on the ground that separate the gazetted areas for manatees from the other parts.
The gazetted areas are sanctuaries where manatees go when they don’t want to be bothered. Think of them as the zen place they go when they don’t want to have any human interaction or to even sleep.
If they want to interact with you, they’ll leave the sanctuary area and come to you. Crossing into these areas can lead to a huge fine and in some cases jail time.
Don’t feed the Manatees: Another thing you should know when you swim with manatees in Florida is that feeding them is not allowed. In fact, it can put their health at risk if you feed them something they’re not supposed to eat.
Don’t chase the manatees: Another thing that could easily land you in trouble is trying to chase and outswim these creatures.
If they swim away, just let them be and wait for others to come to you. It’s not a competition to see if you can swim faster than a manatee. Just swim slowly and observe the manatees without causing any trouble.
Wear a wet suit: Besides helping you float, a wet suit, preferably one between (3mm-5mm) will keep you warm. Even if the water is not too cold in Crystal River, it’s still cold enough to make the experience less enjoyable without a wet suit.
FAQs About Swimming With Manatees in Florida
Here are the frequently asked questions about swimming with Manatees in Crystal River.
Is it Safe to Swim with the Manatees in Florida?
Can you swim with manatees in Florida? Absolutely yes! But is it really safe (for the animals) to swim with them? The answer is still Yes.
Animal interaction is one of the most controversial topics around the world and it’s not surprising that you’re asking yourself whether it’s really safe to swim with Manatees in Florida besides being legal.
Unlike some animal interactions that “force” or “bribe” animals to interact with people, Manatees choose on their own to come closer to you as long they don’t feel threatened.
Also, swimming and snorkeling don’t cause rapid movements and noise to disturb their peace. Of course, as long as you follow the swimming regulations.
Where in Florida Can You Legally Swim with Manatees?
The only place you can legally swim with manatees in Florida is Crystal River.
What Time of Year Can You Swim with Manatees in Florida?
The best time of the year to swim with manatees in Florida is during the winter from mid-November to late March when manatees make their way to Florida’s warm waters as other parts of the country are cold for them to survive.
Can You Touch a Manatee if it Touches You First?
If you’re lucky to have a manatee touch you while swimming, just savour that moment and don’t get greedy.
Continue looking and stay cool but don’t touch it. In the same way, don’t try to push it away.
Will Manatees Hurt You as You Swim
Manatees are known to be one of the most gentle and calm creatures underwater, so they won’t hurt you.
However, remember that they’re still wild animals and even though there is a slim chance of ever being hurt, you should always look out for their behavior.
If you follow all the rules and regulations about swimming with manatees in Florida mentioned above, you shouldn’t be afraid of them even with their huge size. Deep inside, they’re like teddy bears.
What to Do if a Manatee Approaches You?
Just stay calm and observe it. Don’t touch, chase or even try to approach it further.
Do I need to Know How to Swim in Order to Swim with Manatees in Florida
Yes, you should know how to swim but you don’t have to be a pro. If you’re comfortable underwater, you should be fine.
If you go on this swimming with manatees tour, your tour guide will give you all the tips you need to know to swim with them safely even if you’re a beginner swimmer.
Final Thoughts on How to Swim with Manatees in Florida
Swimming with manatees in Florida is no doubt one of the one-in-a-lifetime experiences in the USA and for good reason.
The experience of being surrounded by adorable yet huge sea creatures is not only exhilarating but also rewarding.
Just remember to observe all the rules and regulations to not only make sure the coming generations find them here but to also avoid a hefty fine.
Ready to swim with manatees in Florida? Pack your bags and make your way to Crystal River for an experience of a lifetime.
But before you go, consider sharing these tips on how to swim with manatees in Florida if you found this article helpful!