When Is the Best Time
Manatees, also known as sea cows, are not adapted for cold water conditions, as they can't maintain their core body temperature when it's below 68 degrees. Thus, hundreds of these lovable marine animals seek the Crystal River's warm waters in Florida and leave the Gulf of Mexico every year. The constant flow of warm water in the Crystal River area offers a perfect environment for these fascinating giants.
Tip: Planning to visit the Everglades as well? View our complete Everglades - Florida - Best Time to Visit - Season Guide
The best time to swim with manatees in Florida is from mid-November to late March. Only then hundreds of manatees are present at the springs. The total population in Crystal River alone reaches up to 800 manatees during the winter months.
Tour Recommendations | November - March
Every winter and spring, you can experience the once in a lifetime experience to swim with manatees on a guided tour. Crystal River is the only place in the USA where you can enter the water and are allowed to swim the manatees. It's highly recommended that you pre-book an early morning tour. Why early morning? It's less busy and the manatees are more active during that time. The best tours you can book are provided by River Ventures USA: Crystal River Florida - 3 Hour Swim with Manatees (safe with GetYourGuide).
Manatee Calendar | Florida (Winter/Summer)
Usually, you experience the highest population of manatees in Florida every year in the winter and spring season between November and March. However, there can be deviations from this rule. Once, they headed back to the Gulf of Mexico in February because of unexpected water temperature in the Crystal River. In contrast, it rarely happens, but they might even stay until late April in some years. However, we strongly recommend that you visit during the period with the highest number of these fascinating creatures.:
Mid-November until March
During these months, you can experience the highest number of manatees in Florida. It's the perfect time as the number of these adorable marine mammals can reach 700-800 in the Crystal River region. As hundreds of manatees flock to the warm water springs, it's also the most crowded time in terms of visitors. Make sure to read our best time of day tips below.
April to October
Between spring (usually April or May) and the fall months (September/October), the manatees enjoy the warm waters somewhere else. Therefore, it's highly unlikely that you spot large herds of manatees in the Crystal River area. While it's a much quieter experience in terms of tourist crowds, the number of present sea cows hovers only around 70 to 80 during this somewhat unpleasant time.
Best Time of Day
You should definitely book an early morning tour for your manatee experience. That means the very first tour of the day, not the second or third one! Why? During the day you are in the water with so many others and the first tour gives you the opportunity for a much quieter manatee swimming experience. The other significant advantage: Early morning is the best time not only for less crowded water, but it's also the time when the manatees are very active. This is the best time of day to experience these gentle giants and their unique and truly amazing attributes.
How Long Should You Stay There
Most visitors stay at least two days. We recommend staying for 2-3 days. There is so much to explore in the area: Hotels in Crystal River - via booking.com with a price guarantee
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Where and Tips
5 Top Tips for Swimming with Manatees
Manatee at Crystal River by Julia
1. Swim Accompanied At First
If it is your first time swimming with manatees, it is a good idea to be accompanied by a captain or guide. These people are experts in swimming with manatees, and they will ensure you have a safe and manatee-friendly experience. More importantly, they'll make sure that you don't inadvertently violate any laws that could result in s fine.
2. Stay Cool
Swimming with manatees is an exciting experience, but do not allow yourself to get carried away. You have more chance of a manatee coming to you if you remain calm and still while in the water. Indeed, if you remain completely motionless, the manatees will be attracted to you out of curiosity - you might even get a hug or a kiss!
Try to make as little noise as possible, and avoid any commotion. Snorkeling equipment is better than SCUBA gear for viewing manatees, as the latter produces sounds and bubbles that disturb them. Avoid wearing fins and also splashing or boisterous behavior when you are close to manatees.
3. Let The Manatees Come To You
Holding back and allowing the manatees to come to you will avoid the risk of harassing or disturbing them. Allow them to make the first move, and they will be likely to approach you out of curiosity. When they do approach, they may roll over, presenting their underbelly for you to pat or scratch. You might even receive a kiss or a hug from their flippers.
Some manatees will have no interest in approaching you, and you should respect this by not approaching them. Never attempt to chase a manatee, and only swim with those that have approached you. The best approach is to float on the surface of the water and wait to get 'picked-up'!
4. Maintain Pleasant Interactions
Not all manatees are as friendly as others, and you should allow them to decide if they want interaction or not. When you are approached, you may gently touch the manatee or stroke it with an open palm.
You should never try to trap a manatee, or ride, pinch, pole, or harass them in any way. You must be prepared to allow the manatee to swim away whenever it feels like doing so. You will only be able to hang out with the manatees if they like you, so be nice to them.
5. Don't Isolate a Manatee From the Rest of Their Herd
You should never attempt to isolate a manatee or separate them from the rest of their herd. Manatee calves are entirely dependent on the mother's support up to the age of two years. Mother manatees teach their young how to survive, so if a young calf gets isolated, it can become lost and end up dying.
You should also avoid attempting to feed the manatees. There is plenty of vegetation for them to eat around the springs, so there is no need for extra food.