Swimming with Manatees at Three Sisters Spring in Crystal River, FL

Is snorkeling with manatees on your bucket list? It has been on mine for a very long time. Finally I was able to cross it off this winter! Swimming with manatees is a truly unforgettable experience whether you’re a Florida native or just visiting!

When is the Best Time to See Manatees?

Peak manatee season lasts from around November – April, when the ocean water temperatures are cold. This is the best time of year to take a manatee snorkel tour, as the manatees are more likely to congregate in the warm springs and rivers during this time. You might still spot manatees during the rest of the year, but they are unlikely to be found in large numbers in the rivers and springs. If you book a guided tour, they will know the best places to look for manatees even in the off-season.

Where is the Best Place to Swim With Manatees?

Crystal River is a unique place to go swimming with manatees because it’s the only place in Florida where you are legally allowed to get in the water and swim with manatees on a guided tour. They are a very protected species, and therefore it’s illegal to approach them, touch them, feed them, harass them, etc.

There are many options in Crystal River for manatee snorkel tour companies. I was graciously hosted by Hunter Springs Kayaks Manatee Tour & Dive, and I had a wonderful experience. Most companies allow you to choose from either a fully guided boat ride and snorkel experience, or a kayaking experience.

There are a few places your guide might take you around Kings Bay to swim with manatees. Because they are not captive, the manatees might hang out in different areas on different days. You may be able to swim into Three Sisters Spring to see the manatees, or your guide might take you to another spring in the area.

Whichever company you choose, make sure to book your spot in advance as they fill up fast during peak season!

Seeing Manatees from the Three Sisters Spring Boardwalk

If you’d rather not get wet, you can also view manatees from the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs, part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. To get to the boardwalk, park at the Manatee Visitor Center across the street. You can either take a free shuttle, or walk or bike about 0.25 miles to the boardwalk.

More ways to see manatees in Florida (without getting in the water!)

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Tips for Swimming With Manatees

– The water in the springs and Kings Bay stays at a constant 72-74 degrees year round. The water might feel chilly, but most tour companies will provide wetsuits which will help a little. But, since you’re likely going on a cold day, it will feel even chillier when you get out of the water. Bring a big towel to warm up when you get back on the boat!

– If possible, book a tour for earlier in the morning. The crowds will start coming around 10am, and it can be much harder to enjoy your snorkel tour when there’s a ton of people and boats to avoid.

– Bring an underwater camera, or your phone in a dry bag (this is my preferred method because it’s simple and cheap!). You’re definitely going to want to take underwater pictures of these gentle giants. Most of the tour companies also take pictures of you and you can purchase them afterwards.

– You should be a decent swimmer, be comfortable wearing a mask and snorkel, and be able to float calmly on top of the water with a noodle for the best experience. If you aren’t comfortable with all these things, a kayak tour might be a better option for you!

The information in this post was accurate at the time of publishing to the best of the author’s knowledge. If you are planning to visit any of the sites mentioned in this post, we recommend checking the most up-to-date information on their respective websites.

This post contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you.

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