Crystal River Florida is the only place in the United States were you are allowed to legally swim with manatees and touch them.
If you have a chance to visit Crystal River Florida I highly recommend going on a manatee tour with Bird’s Underwater. They are extremely friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. One location that their tour boats visit is Three Sisters Springs which can only be accessed by the water. There are other companies you can use to go swimming at the Three Sisters Spring, but Bird’s Underwater is by far the best company to go through. They also have other types of tours you can enjoy, like scalloping, kayaking, and scuba diving. Bird’s Underwater even offers several nice vacation rentals you can stay at that are close to water adventures. They are a Traveler’s Bliss.
The trips are always amazing, but going on a manatee tour in the colder winter months is always the best because you’ll see more manatees. I have been on many trips with them, but one of my favorites was in February 2012 when the air temperature was 29°. We looked out on the water and the water looked like it was steaming. Just after sunrise, our tour boat arrived at the snorkeling site, Three Sisters Springs, and it looked like the bottom was really dark. After jumping in I realized that what I thought was a dark colored bottom was actually about a hundred manatees underneath me!
You would think that swimming when it is 29° outside would be crazy, but it felt like I jumped into a hot bath, compared to the cold air. The water is always close to 75°, so it feels great no matter what the temperature is outside. I recommend bringing or renting a wetsuit because it will keep your body warm in the 75° water for a better experience. Even though the water feels great, I recommend bringing blankets, sweaters, and pants to change into, especially if you visit during the winter. Bird’s Underwater does have an area on the boat where you can change out of your bathing suit, which is really helpful. They also have all the equipment you will need for the trip, but you can always bring your own mask, snorkel, fins, and wetsuit if you would like.
When you Swim with the Manatees in Crystal River Florida, there is no need to worry. The manatees are very gentle and won’t hurt you. Make sure you only touch them with one hand. It is illegal to touch them with both hands and they also have to come to you. You can’t approach them. They love the attention and usually swim right over to you for love and affection. I had a manatee on my trip in February 2012 come over and started nibbling on my hair. He hugged me and spun me around in the water with him.
Bird’s Underwater also creates a video you can purchase of everyone swimming with manatees. We brought our underwater camera to record our personal experience. Swimming with manatees really is an awesome experience. I have seen children as young as 4 years old swimming with the manatees. You can also rent a kayak from Bird’s Underwater, kayak out to the Three Sisters Spring and swim with the manatees, but again make sure you let the manatee approach you and don’t touch a manatee with more than just one hand.
A manatee’s skin has a rubbery texture. They are very gentle and sweet. If you just want to go out for a boat ride to see them and not touch them, you can make the trip out there and enjoy the view from the boat.
If you ever decide to take your own boat or rent a boat in Crystal River Florida, please keep a close eye out for the manatees. They feel very safe in Crystal River and the community is happy to have the manatees there. Because they are accustomed to people swimming with them, you’ll have a higher chance that they will come closer your boat than most other locations. When I was in elementary school in the ’90s, there were around 500 manatees left in the entire world and they were considered an endangered species. As of 2019 there are currently 13,000 manatees alive and they are doing well. When you are boating in the area, please pay attention to the Manatee Zone signs. We are so blessed to have them and the opportunity to swim with manatees in Crystal River.
Make sure to check out other Florida Destinations to visit.