Updated: Feb 27, 2019
No. 1 on my list of things to do in Florida was swimming with manatees. Manatees are big sea mammals that are also called sea cows. That is because they are plant-eaters and they graze on water plants in tropical seas. Although they can grow up to 4 meters long (13 ft.) and weigh as much as 500 kg (1100 lb.), they are completely harmless. And because they look like they are constantly smiling, they are very very cute!
During summer the manatees live in the tropical sea of the Gulf of Mexico but when it gets colder they move inland and spend the winter at hot springs or power plants. Roughly the manatee season to see them runs from November until April, but it all depends on the weather. One of the best places to see them is at Crystal River.
Swimming with manatees was something I wanted to do for a very long time, but I was never in Florida during manatee season. Last year I was in Florida in November so I immediately jumped at the chance of meeting these gentle giants and swim with them!
When I arrived in Florida a few days before, it was so cold… it was even too cold to ski! After flying from Europe I couldn’t wait to ski, so I wasn’t happy that it was so cold. But that actually turned out for the best. Because of the cold a lot more manatees moved to Crystal River than they would normally do in November.
From Orlando or Clermont it is a 1,5 hour drive to Crystal River. There are many tour operators in the area that run manatee snorkeling tours.
We booked ours at Birds Underwater (www.birdsunderwater.com). At the check in we got a wetsuit, a mask and a snorkel and they showed us a film about what to do in the water and how to approach a manatee. And then we were off to see the manatees!
There were a lot of people on this tour so they divided us between two boats. There were only eight of us on the boat, plus the guide. I liked that a lot. It was only a few minutes with the boat to the first spot. We put our masks and snorkels on and jumped off the boat. In the water we were not allowed to swim to or after the manatees or make big moves with our arms and legs, we just had to wait for the manatees to come to us. And they did…
Apparently manatees are very curious and although we weren’t allowed to touch them, they touched us! Some of them sniffed or nibbled on us and my husband was even hugged by one of them, that was so funny!
At the first spot, the visibility was not so good so we didn’t see many manatees, but I am sure there were lots around.
Then we went to the second spot: Three Sisters Springs. This is the best place in Florida to see manatees. We jumped in the water again and then it was only a short swim to the spring. And that was amazing! We saw lots of manatees around. Some were swimming, some were lying on the bottom sleeping like big logs. Big ones, small ones, some with babies. We didn’t know where to look, there were so many!
So, number 1 on my wish list: checked! Was it worth it? Oh, YES! If you are ever in Florida at the right time, I would say: do it.
If you don’t want to go on a tour, you can rent a kayak and paddle your way up to Three Sisters Springs. At some places you can rent clear kayaks that are 100% transparent, so you don’t even have to go into the water to see the manatees, you can see them swim right under you.
And if you don’t want to be in or on the water at all, you can also visit Three
Sisters Springs on land.
Here you can find more info: http://www.threesistersspringsvisitor.org/