The only place in the world where you can legally swim with majestic gentle giant, the West Indian manatee, is Crystal River, Florida. Although manatees are a protected animal, the economy of Citrus County was dependent on the ecotourism. The rules were bent and by following a few respectful guidelines, you can have the experience of a lifetime. Winter months are the best time to see large numbers of these beasts (who can weigh up to 3,000lbs!) who seek refuge in the warm waters of the Three Sisters Spring, remaining a constant 72 degrees year round. However, there are resident manatees that live in the area all year long so it is possible to have an encounter at any time. Best chance is early in the morning when the animals are most active.
An excursion with Crystal River Kayak Company [1422 SE US Hwy 19, Crystal River, FL 34429] should be on everyone’s Florida bucket list. You can choose to kayak with a chance to swim or to take a dive trip. We decided to kayak and you have further options, take a guided tour or go on your own. We went solo, but had great direction. After watching an informational video to perpetuate environmental safety, we were given a map for directions, which also highlighted the best spots to catch the manatees! The gorgeous turquoise water was about a ten minute paddle away, we had a couple of close encounters with the beautiful creatures here – though no good photographs.
This was a popular spot with boats and divers, so we paddled onward to find a quieter viewing spot. Sitting at the edge of one of the highlighted off limits areas was a hotbed for activity, all of those grey bumps are manatee backs!
We didn’t feel the urge to jump into the chilly water, but felt elated and accomplished with the occurrence. Having plenty of time to spare, we headed on into Kings Bay to continue the adventure.
This is a bigger area and it was quite windy, we fought the current and made our way around a lush island. Another wonderful wildlife sighting occurred – a bald eagle soared in only to land on a close by tree.
Two hours was the perfect amount of time, and I would highly recommend this trip to nature lovers visiting the Gulf Coast.