Best Places to Swim with Manatees in Florida 

Yes, you can swim or snorkel with manatees in many places, including Florida! Over the years, few sea creatures have inspired as much folklore, curiosity, and heartfelt adoration as the manatee. Today, you have a chance to view and spend time with these gentle giants.  


What is a Manatee and How Much Does a Manatees Weigh

Manatees, sometimes known as “sea cows” are aquatic mammals that can grow to be more than 1,300 pounds. So, that’s generally answers the question of how big manatees are! They can get quite big. They are generally solitary creatures with a gentle nature, and they have been known to show signs of surprising intelligence. Although they are quiet and gentle by nature, manatees have often been hunted, and sometimes over-hunted by humans in the past. So, if you ever wondered – can cows swim – then manatee which is a “sea cow” can swim. They have an egg-shaped head, a flat tail as well as flippers. 

So what eats Manatees? Well, you’ll be glad to know that they do not seem to have many natural predators in the water. Manatees typically inhabit the shallow waters around the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, and that is why Florida is a great place to go if you want to see them, or even swim with them! You can even snorkel with manatees if you’re in the right place. 

That’s right, you can get right down into the water with these majestic creatures, and we will help you discover all the best places to swim with manatees. Even though manatees are no longer endangered, for their own protection there are very limited places available to swim with them. That is why you might find this helpful if you’re planning to swim with manatees, especially in the Citrus County area of Florida where you find a lot of manatees.


Where to Swim with Manatees in Florida

Here are a few of the places where you can see manatees and enjoy a guided swimming tour with manatees in Florida. The list is short since there are strict rules for swimming with manatees, but we think it’s a great start for the top places to view manatees as well as swim with them. Depending on where you are, and if you’re looking for “where to see manatees near me” any of these locations can help you find where manatees are found and where to see them. 

 

1. Plantation on Crystal River, Crystal River, Florida

Plantation on Crystal River offers a great deal of activities, dining, and lodging. One of the most memorable and amazing activities that they offer is the chance to swim with Florida manatees, which are a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. Crystal River offers guided tours so that you can get into the water with these curious but gentle giants, and get plenty of face-to-face interaction with them.

Crystal River - Swim with Manatees in Florida
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Florida allows what is called “passive interaction” with the manatees, so there are rules and regulations that must be followed, but the general idea is just to be as gentle with them as they are with you. Crystal River has been around since 1962, and is located on the coast north of Tampa and west of Orlando. Plantation on Crystal River has received consistently positive reviews over the years, so it should certainly be high on the list of places to visit for anyone that wishes to swim or dive with manatees. 

The fee for booking a tour with the manatees at Plantation of Crystal River ranges from $15 to $500, depending on whether you want a private tour – or not. The cost covers the equipment you will need, like wetsuits and snorkels, as well as a guided tour. As a point of reference, Plantation of Crystal River is about one and a half hours west of Orlando. Plantation on Crystal River also offers various boat tours, kayaking, firework shows. It is also a manatee viewing location in Florida that could be near you so if you’re looking for a place to swim with manatees near me, or just to view them, this could be a place to head to while in Florida. And if you want something special to do here, you can take a “Do Not Disturb” kayaking trip with manatees or even have an adventure exploring mangroves or hiking the beautiful habitat. 

To get more information about viewing, interacting and swimming with manatees in Florida, you can contact the Plantation on Crystal River:

Address: 9301 W Fort Island Trail, Crystal River, Florida 34429

Reservations: 1-800-632-6262

[email protected]

Website: Plantation At Crystal River 

2. Three Sister Springs, Crystal River, Florida

Three Sister Springs is part of Crystal River, which is one of the best places in the world to observe manatees, and to swim with them. Three Sister Springs is a spring-fed, warm water portion of the river, so the manatees spend a lot of time there. No boats, except kayaks and canoes, are allowed in the Three Sister Springs, and the only inlet is blocked by stone pillars, so the manatees are free to swim and forage without fear of being injured or interrupted by passing boats.

Three Sister Springs - Swim with Manatees in Florida
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

This also means that swimmers have a quiet and peaceful place to observe and interact with the manatees that call this part of the river home. There is a boardwalk, from which visitors can watch the manatees as they swim and forage for food. If you would like to get into the water with them, there are various shops in the area that offer guided tours to visitors. The shops also help divers and snorkelers with equipment and other services. Three Sister Springs is one of the best places in Florida for Crystal River manatee tours. 

The prices only vary a little from the other places on our list to swim or view manatees.  It’s currently $65 per adult if you have a group of 5 or more, and $80 per adult if you have a group of less than 5 adults. Children under the age of 6 swim for free.  Three Sister Springs offers a wide variety of different tours and activities to visitors, so there is no shortage of fun and excitement. 

Crystal River in Citrus County is one of only two places in the United States where it is legal to swim with manatees, and it is the only place in Florida where it is legal. It is strongly advised that you never try to swim with manatees without a professional to guide you, since you could cause harm to yourself or to the animals. Crystal River is a warm and inviting place with plenty for everyone to do, so be sure to look into other events to be found along this Florida river if you’re in this part of town.

 

To get more information about viewing manatees and interacting with manatees in Florida, you can contact Blue Spring State Park

Address: 123 NW HWY 19, Crystal River, FL 34428

More information: 1-325-586-11700

Hours: 8am until 4:30pm

Website: Three Sisters Springs

 

3. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Homosassa, Florida

Found in Citrus County, Florida, Homosassa park is one of the few places in Florida where you can swim with manatees other than Crystal River. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is the home of many migratory manatees throughout the year. It is also a place that you can view manatees and get very close to them. So if you’re looking for where to see Manatees, this would be a great place to start. Most of the manatees here are the West Indian Manatees who are non-releasable (can’t survive on their own in the wild) into the society, and so are kept and protected at this state park. 

Homosassa Springs State Park - Swim with Manatees in Florida
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The manatees come to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park  for the springs, warm waters, and protection. This particular state park also has a great wildlife including alligators, panthers, and bears. The Homosassa Manatee Snorkeling Center offers guided tours for swimming with manatees. As with most places, the tours can be either as a group, or as a private tour. The price varies depending on what you would like, but the cost does cover the tour and all the equipment you need. The 3-hour Manatee Swim Tour costs $65 per person, while the private tour is about $560 for 1-4 people. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park also offers tours for bird watching, fishing, dolphins, and more. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, is about an hour and a half from Orlando. So, if are in the area and wondering where to view or swim with manatees near me or here, or close to you, this might be a good start. 

To get more information about viewing and interacting with manatees in Florida, you can contact the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park 

Address: 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd, Homosassa FL 34446

More information: 1-352-628-5343

Hours: 9 a.m -5:30 pm (but ticket counters close at 4:45 pm)

Park Entrance Fees: 5 year and under is free; 6 -12 years is $5, and ages 13+ is $13

Website: Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

 

4. Blue Springs State Park

While Blue Springs does not technically allow visitors to swim with the manatees directly, there are a lot of opportunities to view these manatees in their habitats. Blue Springs Run branches off of St. Johns River just north of Orland, Florida. Blue Springs has been actively involved in conservation efforts for manatees over the years, and they are currently celebrating a great deal of success in that area.

Manatee in blue spring
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

There are a lot of nature-related activities to take part in throughout the area, but viewing the manatees in their habitat is definitely one that no visitor should miss. As we mentioned, there is no swimming with the manatees allowed in Blue Springs, but it was still worth mentioning because the lack of direct interaction with humans means that visitors can observe the manatees in their own habitat, and as they are behaving the way they naturally do in the wild. 

Blue Springs does not allow swimming with the manatees, but they have various tours for viewing and learning about the majestic creatures. They also offer cruises and fishing. Visit the website for details about the boat tours, and for directions to get there.

To get more information about viewing manatees and interacting with manatees in Florida, you can contact Blue Spring State Park

Address: 2100 W French Avenue, Orange City, FL 32763

More information: 1-368-775-3633

Park Entrance Fees: $6 per vehicle

Hours: 8am until sundown

Website: Florida State Parks – Blue Springs State Park

 


FAQ About Manatees

Where do Manatees Live?

Manatees tend to live in shallow waters like those found near the coast in the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. They can move freely between saltwater and freshwater, which would provide them with the ability to swim over long ranges, except that their low metabolic rate makes them susceptible to cold waters. That is why the coasts of Georgia are about as far north as you will find them.


 

What is a Group of Manatees Called

A group of manatees is called an aggregation. Most manatees, however, never stay in groups of more than 6 at a time. They also swim alone or in pairs and have no need to create territories or have leaders. When they are in a group, it’s mostly because of the mating or just plainly enjoying each other’s company.


How Long Can A Manatee Hold its Breath

Manatees can stay under water without breathing for up to 15 mins when they are resting. When active or swimming, they generally push their nose out of water every few minutes to take in some air. Manatees always stay in water and never go onto land.


Do Manatees Have Teeth?

Manatees do have teeth, but only what is known as “marching molars”, and these are constantly replaced throughout their lives. Manatees have a diet that involves a lot of abrasive vegetation, so their ability to lose and regrow molars ensures that they can continue to chew their food into old age. 


What do Manatees Eat?

Manatees are herbivores, which means they eat only plants. They have a very diverse diet that can include over 60 different species of plants, which they gather from the surface or the bed of their habitats. So manatees diet consist mainly of grass. 

Swim with Manatees


Are Manatees Dangerous?

As a general rule, Manatees are quiet, gentle, and enjoy interacting with humans. For the most part, manatees pose no threat to swimmers whatsoever, and would almost never go looking to hurt a human. That said, anyone interacting with a manatee should keep in mind that they are as much as five or six times heavier than a human, and much stronger. It is highly unlikely that a manatee would ever deliberately try to hurt someone, but caution should always be exercised around wild animals. 


Can You Swim With Manatees?

In short, yes. In fact, we strongly encourage you to go out of your way to find some manatees and swim with them, under the supervision of an experienced professional of course. Manatees are sweet, gentle creatures that welcome human interaction. They are often just as curious about us as we are about them. The only disclaimer to add to this is that there are very limited places where it is legal to swim with manatees.

In fact, there are only two places in the entire United States where it is legal to swim with manatees, and one of them is Crystal River in Florida. Do not ever attempt to swim with manatees anywhere that is not authorized by law. For one thing, you could face criminal prosecution, but the other thing to keep in mind is that manatees are sensitive animals, and you could easily disrupt their way of life and possibly cause them harm if you do not have a trained professional around to guide you. 

Manatees


When is the Best Time to Swim with Manatees?

This depends on the location, but manatees are usually more active in warmer weather, so the best time to swim with them is in the summer months. There are some exceptions to that rule however, and the exception just happens to apply to one of the only two places where people are legally allowed to swim with manatees in the United States – Crystal Lake, where the manatees will all gather around the warm water springs from November to April, making it a great time to swim with them. 


Tips for Your Swim With Manatees?

The best tip anyone can give is to be patient with the manatees and let them approach you first. Trying to pursue them, or trying to lure them closer is likely to make them wary of you. If you float along quietly for a while, chances are they will get curious and approach you, and when they do, you can even pet them. Just take care not to scare them away with loud noises or sudden movements.


Are Manatees Endangered?

You may ask, why are manatees endangered?

Manatees were endangered for some time, but in 2017 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downgraded the West Indian Manatee from “endangered” to “threatened”. While that means great things for the future of these gentle giants, it also means that humans have to keep a close eye on them and treat them more fairly than they were treated in the past. 

Whether you are visiting the Florida Keys, Fort Lauderdale, Clearwater, or anywhere in south or central Florida, you should absolutely take the time to visit Crystal River and meet the gentle giants known as manatees. Swimming with manatees in Florida is sure to be a life changing experience that you will never forget. The quiet, curious, and affectionate nature of the sea cow will certainly leave a lasting impression. Check out Plantation of Crystal River/Three Sister Springs, Homosassa National Park or Blue Springs Pasrk so you don’t miss an opportunity to meet some of nature’s most precious aquatic giants.

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