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One of the coolest things about Florida is the abundance of wildlife. The beaches get all the fanfare but even in the Sunshine State, the water can get cold. In winter, manatees head to Kings Bay’s springs and Crystal River for the warm, consistent water temperatures, making it the best time and place to see these lumbering sea cows. Here are a few reasons why your next trip to Florida needs to include a west coast detour to visit these charming gentle giants.

Related: Four beach resorts where you can swim with dolphins

Crystal River is one of the only places you can swim with Florida’s manatees. Because manatees are a protected animal, the interactions you can have with them in the wild are very limited. The largest conglomeration of West Indian Manatees between November and April is at Crystal River.

Baby manatee with mom in Crystal River, Florida

Baby manatee with mom in Crystal River, Florida

The area is close to other cool attractions. Crystal River is about an hour and a half to two hours from Orlando, an hour and a half from Tampa, and two and a half hours from Daytona Beach. Even if you are visiting another city, chances are a stop in Crystal River would only be a day trip. If you want to stay a little longer, there are plenty of hotels in the area.

Winter is peak season. While most people think of Florida as a hot spring break destination, west Florida is a top pick for manatees in winter. The headwaters of Crystal River stay a warm 72 degrees throughout the winter, so hundreds of manatees make their way there every year. Make sure to book to swim with manatees in advance though, because the peak season tours tend to fill up.

Manatee in Crystal River, Florida

Curious manatee in Crystal River, Florida

Get incredible underwater photos. Do you have a digital camera that boosts being underwater proof? Prove it. Or if you aren’t feeling so daring, pick up a disposable underwater camera along the way. It’s hard to explain just how big manatees are until you are right next to one, but let’s just say there aren’t many 1,000 pound animals you can snap a selfie with that won’t try to eat you.

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Have a vacation experience you’ll never forget. For me, swimming with manatees was a bucket list item. I went in October 2014, which was before the peak season, and still got to swim with five or six manatees. I know it was something I’ll never forget, and a uniquely Florida experience. Even though I was only out on the boat for two hours, it was truly an unforgettable day.

Before you go, take a look at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s guide to visiting Kings Bay manatees:

Tagged: Family time, Florida

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Kristen Mitchell

Kristen Mitchell

Kristen is a writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida
Kristen Mitchell

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One thought on “Swim with manatees on your next Florida vacation”

  1. Check out Homasassa Springs Wildlife park. They have Manatees there year round and is off Crystal River. They have a park for Florida wildlife.
    This is a really special place. One of my favorite in Florida. They have a web site. It is a really great place to take the children. They have an activity area for children and park programs for everyone thruout the day for different animals. There is one animal in the park that is not natural to florida (or the US). It is a really good story. It is a hippo. His name is Lucifer. They call him Lu. I won’t say the story here. Go to the park. I do hope Lu is still alive. The last time I was there he was. Plan on spending the day or at least half a day. They have a pontoon boat that will take you into the park. It is on the mail road in Homosassa Springs. They have a visitor center. Look it up on their web site. Enjoy a great day in Florida. In my opinion, the best part of Florida is all the State park and natural areas.

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