Snorkeling or diving with manatees is an activity that belongs on the bucket list of every enthusiastic underwater adventurer.
Yet, it’s not something you should take lightly. The IUCN considers manatees a vulnerable species, so it’s important that you choose a reputable operator when booking manatee tours in Florida.
Here’s how to go about planning the manatee trip of a lifetime.
The Best Place to See Manatees in Florida
Manatees occur naturally in the shallow marshes of the Caribbean Sea, the Amazon Basin, West Africa, and the Gulf Coast.
So unless you’ve got an international trip planned, Florida is the best place to see them. There are several state parks where you can spot these gentle giants on boat and kayak trips, namely:
- Homosassa Springs State Park
- Blue Spring State Park
- Lovers Key State Park
- Merritt Island Nat’l Wildlife Refuge
- Manatee Springs State Park
If you really want to immerse yourself in the experience. Kings Bay of the Crystal River is by far the best place to swim with the manatees, mainly becasue the bay is small, it is legal as long as you do not break the “Manatee Manners” laws, and it is the largest concentration of manatees in the world during the cold winter months. Some manatees remain in the Crystal River all year long.
The Best Time to Book Your Manatee Tours
Appearances can be deceptive. While manatees may appear to be tubby animals, they actually have very little body fat. As a result, they’re intolerant of cold temperatures and can’t survive in cold water during the wintertime.
During the summertime, manatees roam wherever the currents take them around the coastal rivers of the southeastern United States. Some even travel as far afield as Texas and Virginia.
When the winter chill arrives, they head straight back to the warmer climate of their native Florida, seeking out warm springs to wait out the cold.
It’s not impossible to come across manatees during the summer months in Florida, but come wintertime, you’re almost guaranteed to see them lazing in these warm waters.
Due to the fragile status of these creatures, many state parks ban swimming during the peak manatee season.
Crystal River is the one exception. Hundreds of manatees flock to this area during the winter, and you can still enjoy guided excursions to swim among them at this time of year.
Late January and early February are the best times to see manatees in Crystal River.
If you’re going to go in search of manatees, early mornings are the best time to do so. Manatees are usually clustered around the springs at first light and there’s also less disturbance from other people boating and kayaking on the river.
Weekends can get busy at Crystal River, so a midweek trip also usually yields better sightings.
Public or Private Tours?
For a more exclusive experience, you should always choose a private manatee tour. This ensures you’ll have the undivided attention of your guide.
That said, it’s fun to share a manatee experience with other people and a public tour is also a more affordable option.
Another thing to remember is that while you might be the only person on your tour, there will be many other people in the water at some times of the day.
Can You Interact with the Manatees?
Manatees are a protected species, so you should avoid disturbing them. They’re also very curious and gentle creatures and often approach divers and swimmers to get a closer look.
If you’d like them to feel comfortable enough to approach, move slowly and minimize splashing and noise. If a manatee swims up to you, your quide should explain that it is not against the law to touch it, but it is not a “petting zoo”. Only one person at a time can stroke a manatee, and only if they stay with you. You cannot put two hands on a manatee, it will be sited at riding a manatee.
Manatees fall under the protection of three major Acts, namely:
- The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972
- The Endangered Species Act of 1973
- The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978
As a result, there are strict laws governing manatee-interactions in Florida, and the authorities will enforce them.
A reputable operator will give you a full presentation on good manatee manners and also fill you in on plenty of interesting facts about them before you enter the water.
A few nice-to-haves include a location right on the water, a dressing room so you can change into warm clothes after your swim, and warm drinks on chilly days. Not all tour operators offer these small courtesies.
Other Manatee Activities
If you haven’t mastered the art of underwater explorations yet, there are other ways to enjoy the presence of the manatees in Crystal River. You can access Three Sisters Springs park by foot, or by a local shuttle bus accessable at the City of Crystal River Town Hall.
You can also hire a kayak or paddleboard to go in search of manatees under your own steam or watch them from the boardwalk.
Boat tours are also a good way to see manatees as long as the boat moves at idle speed.
Scuba diving with manatees in against the law, becasue you cannot go under water around them. If they are on the bottom they are sleeping or eating, but a scuba diving course Is a great idea when are in the beautiful 72 degree springs in Crystal River and central Florida.
How to Choose a Reputable Manatee Tour Operator
No matter which water activity you’re taking part in anywhere in the world, always make sure you’re dealing with a licensed operator. Not all tours are the same.
If you intend to go swimming with manatees, look for someone with experience as well as good online reviews to back up their claims.
You want to choose a tour operator that offers a guide who enters the water with you to ensure you have an enjoyable and safe experience.
Choose a tour operator with a genuine interest in the welfare of these creatures. You’ll have a much more enjoyable and informative experience.
You’ll also know that they have the animals’ best interests at heart.
Meet the Manatees With Us
Are you ready to experience Florida’s manatees up close and personal? We ‘re excited to teach you more about our beloved manatees and show you our underwater world.
Get in touch for more information, or to book the best manatee tours Florida has to offer.