Best time to visit Florida

Swimming with Manatees in Florida

Swim with the gentle giants in the warm waters of Crystal river

Best time: November–April (all year round)

Swimming with Manatees
Swimming with Manatees
Swimming with Manatees

Crystal River is the best place in Florida to meet the Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. Even though there have been concerns from animal protection groups about the growing popularity of manatees tours, the US government allows "passive observation" in the water between manatees and people. This means that you can meet the manatees face-to-face. Before the beginning of the tour, you will be instructed about passive observation and how to behave around these large animals that are often called gentle giants.

Manatees are aquatic marine mammals also known as sea cows. There are three living species: the Amazonian manatee, the West Indian manatee, and the West African manatee. They can grow up to 4m long and can weigh almost 600kg. They are peaceful and slow plant eaters with paddle-like flippers. They feed on water plants in warm tropical seas.

Manatees used to only stay in Crystal River from November to April. Winter is still often regarded as the best time to see them. However, today you can now meet hundreds of these mammals throughout the year, even in the hottest season. This is why manatee swimming and snorkelling tours run all year round.

The good news for travelers staying in places like Orlando, Tampa or Clearwater is that it takes up to two hours to get to Crystal River, so it is a great getaway option.

Practical info

When is the best time to visit Crystal River in Florida for manatee encounters?

Manatee encounters are best during winter months, between November and April in Crystal River. Manatees require warm waters and, in winter, they move towards warmer areas which makes them easier to locate. Crystal River offers manatee sightings throughout the year. During the November to April window, travelers should expect colder temperatures and pack appropriately. Show more

Where can you swim with manatees in Florida?

Crystal River is one of the top spots where you can swim with manatees in Florida. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to the south, as well as Apollo Beach in Bradenton, are other popular locations where electric companies warm up the waters, luring manatees. Taking caution not to disturb or impede these animals in their natural habitat is crucial since they are federally protected under US law. Show more

How big can manatees grow and what do they eat?

Manatees can weigh up to approximately 1,320 pounds or close to 600 kg, and can be up to 13 feet or roughly 4 meters in length. These herbivores tend to eat shallow-water vegetation, such as mangrove leaves and seagrasses. Despite their massive size, manatees can move underwater with unparalleled dexterity and hold their breath for as long as 20 minutes. Because of human activities and habitat loss, their overall population is considered vulnerable. Show more

What is passive observation, and how does it work when swimming with manatees?

Swimming with manatees involves passive observation, allowing these animals to roam proactively in their natural habitat without swimmers disturbing them. It is unlawful to intercede or disrupt their natural behavior. As long as swimmers stay compliant with the guidelines, they can have a unique underwater experience. Abiding by ecological criteria covers keeping the group size limited, using an eco-friendly sunscreen, not leaving litter, and maintaining a minimum distance of ten feet from each manatee. Show more

How long does it take to get to Crystal River from popular Florida destinations like Orlando, Tampa, and Clearwater?

It takes approximately between one and a half to two hours or less based on traffic and the starting point to arrive at Crystal River from Orlando, Tampa, and Clearwater. Visitors who prefer not to rent a car may opt for a private shuttle bus that usually takes around two hours. Some tour companies also offer transportation that is round-trip, thus providing a better option for travel beyond renting a car. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin