Swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida is an amazing experience and a great opportunity to learn about these gentle giants and their environment.

Swimming With Manatees In Crystal River, Florida

Swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida was a dream come true! And we did it in the “Manatee Capital of the World” which makes it even more special!

**A big thank you to Discover Crystal River Florida for arranging our swim. Although the tour was complimentary, as always, all opinions are our own.**

Where To Swim With Manatees

The Crystal River area of Florida is known for having a high concentration of manatees during the winter months. The best time to swim with manatees in Florida is from November to March. During this time, manatees travel to the Kings Bay area in Citrus County because of it’s warmer waters.

What most people don’t realize (we didn’t) is that manatees don’t actually have a lot of fat on them. Their body mass is primarily made up of their stomach and intestines.

So without sufficient blubber, they need to stay in water at least above 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius). The waters that bubble up from the springs in Kings Bay create a kind of manatee jacuzzi, perfect for staying warm!

Growing up in Florida, manatees were always around. Every once in awhile we’d see one in the canal by our house. We learned about them in school. We saw them at the Miami Seaquarium, where injured manatees are rehabilitated and then put back in the wild.

Our most recent experience with manatees was seeing them while we were kayaking in Miami. But to be able to swim with the manatees was something completely new and we couldn’t wait to see these amazing creatures up close.

Pro Tip:ย Besides swimming with manatees, check out these other things to do in Crystal River and where to eat and drink in Crystal River.

Swimming With Manatees In Crystal River

We started our day at Plantation Adventure Center at 7 am. They are a part of Plantation on Crystal River, the hotel where we were staying for the weekend. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to book a tour with them though.

One of Plantation Adventure Center's boats in Crystal River, Florida
One of Plantation Adventure Center’s boats

It was a bit chilly (by Florida standards) with temperatures in the low 60s. We were a little concerned about getting in the water, but Plantation Adventure Center provides everyone with wet suits.

Vicky showing off her wet suit
Vicky showing off her wet suit

And not just any wet suits either; 5 mm wet suits! They’re the only tour company in the area that uses them (everyone else uses 3 mm) which means you’ll stay warmer and you’ll be able to float better. You can change into your wet suit outside on the deck or in the bathrooms off to the side of the main building.

Selfie in front of the Plantation Adventure Center boat in Crystal River, Florida
Selfie in front of the Plantation Adventure Center boat

After wiggling into our wet suits, we went back inside to see a video on “passive observation.” Unlike other parts of Florida, the Federal Government has allowed for passive observation in the waters of Kings Bay. This means that people can come face to face with manatees, literally. More on passive observation in a bit…

Watching a video about "passive observation"
Watching a video about “passive observation”

After the video, our group got on the boat. Once we were settled and had started the quick journey to King Spring, Captain Ross again told us about the do’s and don’ts of being in the water with manatees.

Captain Ross of Plantation Adventure Center
Captain Ross of Plantation Adventure Center

In what seemed like just a few minutes, we had reached our destination. There were already some other tour companies there and people in the water. We could see the morning fog lifting and were excited to get in the water. After rinsing our snorkels and masks we slowly got in the water.

Side Note: Although snorkels are provided, if you have your own snorkel you can use it instead.

Sunrise in Kings Bay
Sunrise in Kings Bay
Swimmers getting in the water in Kings Bay, Crystal River
Swimmers getting in the water

The first thing we did was check to see if our phone was working properly. We recently bought a new waterproof case for my phone so that we’d be able to take pictures underwater.

Testing our phone under water before going swimming with manatees in Crystal River
Testing our phone under water

Once we made sure we could take pictures, we slowly started to make our way towards Captain Ross, who was already in the water a few meters away. When we say slowly, we mean almost glacial.

One of the most important things to remember when swimming with manatees is not to splash around or make noise. So we were basically doggy paddling with only our hands, no kicking around with our feet.

Other tour companies give their guests fins, but Plantation Adventure Center does not, as it causes too much splashing. Splashes and noises scare the manatees, so you always want to avoid it. There are roped off areas as well that you should never swim into. These areas are manatee sanctuaries and there are signs that strictly warn about trespassing into those waters.

So we floated and slowly swam around. We were trying to make our way towards Captain Ross since he said there was a manatee near him, when I felt my hand bump against something. I’d had my head above water, so I quickly looked below me. There was a manatee swimming right under me!!

I’m not gonna lie… I slightly panicked. I mean, these suckers are huge! But I remembered what we were told and just froze so that the manatee could continue on it’s way, undisturbed. Letting out the breath I realized I’d been holding in, I continued towards Captain Ross. This time I was a little bit more prepared for a close encounter and had my phone ready as the next manatee swam towards me.

swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida

For almost 2 hours we stayed in the water while the manatees came and went. Some came so close I could see the hairs on their back. Some ignored us completely and swam along in the deeper water (we were only allowed to float on top of the water, no diving in).

And some really seemed to enjoy our company and kept coming back. It seemed they liked getting their belly rubbed. There was one big fellow in particular that would literally swim up and roll over in front of us.

swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida
swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida
swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida
swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida
swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida
We were told later on that manatees with barnacles had most likely spent more time in the Gulf and were late getting to the springs for winter.
We were told later on that manatees with barnacles had most likely spent more time in the Gulf and were late getting to the springs for winter.
close up of a manatee's nose
swimming with manatees in Crystal River
manatee rolling over for belly rubs
Rolling over for belly rubs

What really surprised us was that Captain Ross was able to recognize some of the manatees. Although there are literally hundreds of manatees that come to the springs to stay warm during the winter, there are some that he and others are able to recognize by their markings, personality, and (unfortunately) scars. One playful baby manatee that kept coming back for cuddles was affectionately called Wrinkles.

This baby manatee was called Wrinkles
This baby manatee was called Wrinkles

Eventually we all started making our way back towards the boat. The wet suits had kept us surprisingly warm, but once we were out of the water the chill in the air got to us. Luckily, there was hot chocolate waiting for us on the boat! Everyone in the group excitedly talked about what they had seen and experienced as we headed back.

If you are thinking of swimming with manatees in Crystal River, here is more information on passive observation:

  • Never chase, surround, disturb, ride, or poke a manatee.
  • Do not give them food or water.
  • Never separate a mother and calf.
  • Avoid splashing and making loud noises.
  • If a manatee is swimming by, stay still and let it continue on it’s way.
  • Do not allow any trash to get in the water.
  • Do not enter designated manatee sanctuaries.
  • If you have underwater cameras, do not shove it in a manatees face. They are curious creatures and may come to you while you float, but never go after a manatee for that “perfect shot.”
  • If there are children in your group, make sure they understand the rules of passive observation.
  • Always remember that these are wild animals.

Final Thoughts On Swimming With Manatees In Crystal River

Swimming with manatees in Crystal River is an experience we will never forget and why we think Crystal River is one of the best cities to visit in Florida. Even if you just want to see manatees in Florida, and not necessarily swim with them, we still recommend the Crystal River area because it is where they gather during the winter. It was really great to see these gentle giants up close and to learn more about them and theirย natural habitat.

Have you ever been up close to a manatee or been to Crystal River? We’d love to read your comments below! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida is an amazing experience and a great opportunity to learn about these gentle giants and their environment.

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  1. I saw them when I visited Jacksonville once. They are so cute, great information for future Florida trips!

    1. That’s cool Cindy! Hope you’re able to make it back! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Amazing! This is me not believing the words “I need to go back to Florida” are coming out of my mouth. Great post!

  3. Oh my goodness – I didn’t even know this was something you could do! I am a big fan of the sea cows! What an epic experience – playing with Wrinkles must have been unbelievable ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. They didn’t have a little wet suit for Buddy? ๐Ÿ˜‰ OMG this is an amazing experience. I heard you could do this in Florida and I’ve always wanted to! I’ll have to come down sometime. The closest I’ve come to seeing a manatee was when I went kayaking as one of the TBEX activities in Fort Lauderdale, and we saw the top of a manatee swim by at the end of our tour.

    1. Haha! It would’ve been cool if they did! You’ll definitely have to come back to Florida! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I think I would panick a little too! I knew you could swim with dolphins and even sharks (while in a cage) but not manatees!

  6. This has been on our radar for a long time and it looked you had an amazing trip. We get to swim with sea lions out here in San Diego but we have always wanted to do the manatees. Love the early morning shots and the close up with the little critters. Wrinkles sounds like a character. I am going to be dreaming for petting a manatee all day (which is a good thing).

  7. That’s so cool! I had no idea you could do this in Florida. Now I know! They’re so friendly – but I agree, still wild animals so best to keep that in mind. I liked reading your tips!

  8. What a great experience that must have been! The manatees are such lovely creatures. I’m adding this on my todo list for when I finally visit Florida!

  9. When you say cuddles and belly rubs, does that mean you are allowed to touch the manatees? I would think that should be discouraged. They seem like they are very used to the people being around.

    1. We were allowed to touch them with one hand if they came towards us. It is prohibited to chase or corner any manatees. They are curious creatures though and some really seemed to enjoy our company.

  10. Manatees are my favourite animal! I was lucky enough to swim with them in Crystal Springs as well, it was the highlight of my month trip in Florida. Also saw some in Belize during mating season!

  11. Captain Ross sounds like he knows his stuff. Would love to swim with mantees myself – seem such gentle creatures. would definitely want to try this someday ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Yes, he was very knowledgeable and answered all of our questions. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Oh wow what an amazing this to get to do. I saw some mantees when I was in florida but not up close like this and they were really fast coming to the surface so didn’t get any cool pictures like you. I am so jealous I have pinned this for future reference for when I next go to Florida.

    1. Awesome! I hope you’re able to see them again Jenni!

  13. Oh my goodness, swim with the manatees. You are so lucky. And you got to stay for 2 hours wow

    1. Oh yes, we really appreciated that hot chocolate!

  14. Carol Colborn says:

    Wow, I thought I wouldn’t get photos of manatees but towards the end, you had them up close and personal. We just experience them from above the water. Thanks!

  15. Sounds like it was an amazing experience! I love all of the pics you shared! Awesome that you shared those helpful tips as well.

  16. Wow.Wow.Wow. This is the Manatee experience I’ve always wanted. Loved the picture with the mist on the water. Sad to see so many people in the water at the same time but how wonderful to have the Manatees choose to come close just the same. I’ve seen them from boats in Sanctuaries but we were never allowed in the water. If I get to Crystal River this will be my first stop. Thanks.

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