Swim with manatees – Check! Last year, I had the privilege to cross off the bucket list my dream to swim with manatees. As I am well aware that many of you have yet to do this, today I decided to tell you how you can cross it off, too!
Where to swim with manatees?
Seems like Crystal River, Florida, USA is one of the few locations worldwide where you get the chance to swim with manatees easily. It is likely for you to find manatees in the Caribbean or any place where water temperatures do not go below 60 degrees F (15.5 C), as they cannot survive in waters colder than this. However, you are not guaranteed to be able to swim with manatees as close and personal as at Crystal River. I only live about 45 minutes to an hour away from this town, so call me lucky! Below I will talk about my experience and how I arranged to swim with manatees in FL. Then later, by the end of this post, I will tell you where else in the world you are able to mingle with these lovely, gentle mammals.
When to swim with manatees
Swim with manatees is possible from November to March, as ocean waters get a little too cold for the gentle mammals (yes, it does get a bit cold in Florida during the winter!). Why do they choose Kings Bay and the adjacent streams such as Crystal river, though? They are fed by warm springs, which average about 72 F or 22.2 C degrees all year long. Granted, these springs are attractions in themselves in Florida, with Caribbean-like, crystal-clear azure waters. Ahh, I don’t complain living in FL at the moment, no =)
Swim with manatees: Independently and on a tour
What I did was drive to Crystal River, FL with my best guy friend Josh. We rented a boat for half day on a dive shop by River Retreat for only $80 plus gas (split between the 2 of us) and set off. Full day boat rental costs $100 plus gas, by the way.
Josh had been to Crystal River several times, so he knew where to ride the boat to. However, you can simply ask the dive shop or outfit to give you a map so you can ride the boat yourself to the destination, saving you the hassle of an overcrowded snorkeling tour in which you will most likely see more people than manatees *wink* however, if you don’t feel comfortable, you could still do the tour, which is priced reasonably (between $35 and $60 per person), which lasts anywhere between 3-4 hours. Some tour operators max out at 12-16 people per tour, but usually choose locales where other operators are, taking away from the experience (in my opinion anyway). So, I tell you, be brave and get there by rented boat instead!
Map in hand in case we got lost, we reached a stream of the river that was virtually empty. Josh thought that was the best spot to swim with manatees, as they swim away from the area where the tour operators bring in the tourists (told ya!). Once there, we dove in in, just to be greeted rather quickly by a couple of soft manatees, swimming so close to us! I think I cried underwater (if that’s possible). The euphoria and joy I felt as these beautiful, cute creatures danced by me is indescribable. =’)
Where to book
There are other places in FL where you can hire boats or book a tour in order to swim with manatees. However, I only have experience with the dive shop/boat rental by River Retreat, which was great, so any other outfit you choose to go to is at your own risk *wink* Don’t worry though, you know you can always go to the Tripadvisor FL forums or Crystal River travel pages in order to read reviews and feedback about the operators I list below. So good luck and have fun crossing this amazing experience off your bucket list!
River Ventures (406 NE 1st Avenue, Crystal River, FL 34429; 352-564-8687; www.riverventures.com) tours daily at 6:15 and 9:15 AM; $45 per person. Must book at least 5 days in advance if using online booking system.
Florida Manatee Tours (2380 N. Suncoast Blvd., Crystal River, FL 34428; (352)795-7033; www.floridamanateetours.com) ask for special $35 Manatee tour, 3.5 hours long, must be there 30 mins prior departure. Check-in time for the tour is 7 AM sharp.
The American Pro Diving Center (821 Southeast Highway 19; 352-563-0041; AmericanProDiving.com) opens at 7 a.m. for first tour of the day. Cost for a 3-4 hour tour, wet suit and snorkel gear included, is $52.50
Other locations to swim with manatees, worldwide:
If you know of any other locations, please let me know in a comment!
Sea Life Discovery Plus (Mayan Riviera, Mexico; www.dolphindiscovery.com) – seems like the mammals are not in the wild, though, so not recommended if you practice responsible tourism.