Did you know you can snorkel and swim with manatees at Crystal River, just a short drive from Jacksonville? On the west coast of Florida sits the manatee capital of the world. In the winter these gentle giants flock to our springs where the water is a warm 72 degrees year round. There are lots of spots where you can take a day trip to see manatees, but you can also plan a visit where you’ll get up close and personal with these chubby mermaids.
Get Ready to Snorkel & Swim with Manatees
There are lots of great companies that hold permits allowing you to snorkel and swim with manatees at Crystal River. Check to see what their group sizes are and what times they go out, as well as what’s included in your tour. One thing that will be the same no matter who you book with is the rules. You’re required to watch a short video before heading out and it goes through the rule for your manatee swim. It is very important that you follow these and make sure you don’t try to touch or harass the manatees.
Get Your Gear for Swimming with Manatees
Once you’ve gone over all the rules it’s time to suit up and head out on a boat to find some manatees. Most tour operators include a wetsuit, snorkel gear, and pool noodle. The wetsuit will keep you buoyant and warm during your swim. We were welcome to bring our own snorkel gear, but decided just to use theirs because I didn’t want to pack anything else for our trip.
The Water Will Probably Be Cloudy
Manatees eat a lot of sea grass and they often stir up the ground under the water while they’re munching away. There is a good chance the water will be cloudy from them stirring up all the sediment and mud. While this makes for not so great pictures, it doesn’t take away from the snorkeling experience. As long as you’re still and quiet in the water the manatees will swim right past you and if you listen carefully you’ll be able to hear them munching on grass.
Snorkeling and swimming with manatees can be a fun family activity that your kids will remember forever. Be sure to check with your tour company for age restrictions and always make sure kids follow the rules to protect our fragile Florida wildlife.
Shannon is a former Special Education teacher, turned stay at home mom that doesn’t spend a lot of time staying at home. Mom to Cole & Kiley, she loves cheering on the Gators, early morning visits to the beach and traveling with her family. She blogs about her family travel adventures at The Beckham Project and hosts the podcast, Jacksonville Momcast, where she chats with Jacksonville moms about motherhood and more in the 904.