Who needs Disney World when you can see and swim with wild manatees in their natural habitat? From November through February, manatees come to Florida by the thousands seeking the warmer water of Florida’s natural springs.
Here is everything you need to know to see these amazing creatures:
The manatees come to the freshwater springs in and around Crystal River, Florida. Three Sister Springs and Hunter Springs are known for having lots of manatees. Three Sister Springs is stunning, and is a must. You can easily stay in Homossasa or anywhere near Crystal River.
Although some manatees live in Florida year-round, the best time to see manatees is mid-November through February.
You will need to access the springs to see the manatees. There are lots of manatee tours that will take you out on a boat to see the manatees, but I recommend renting a kayak, and doing your own tour. The tour boats are too big to access Three Sister Springs, but you can easily kayak in.
The only way to access the water at Three Sister Springs is by kayak. If you go to the park itself pay the admission, you will only be able to walk on a short boardwalk trail and look at the water below.
Instead, go to one of the nearby kayak rental companies. We used Hunter Springs Kayaks and had a great experience. You will want a kayak, life vest, snorkel equipment, and a wetsuit depending on the air temperature. Because the water comes from a natural spring, the water temperature stays a constant 72 degrees, which will feel cold, especially if the air is on the colder side. We brought our own snorkel equipment, and rented one tandem kayak for 5 hours, which was perfect. We did not use wetsuits because the air temperature was warm enough.
Hunter Springs Kayaks is located within a 3 minute walking stance of Hunter Springs where you will launch your kayak. You can see manatees year round in Hunter Springs itself, and the entrance to Three Sisters Springs is about a 20 minute paddle from Hunter Springs.
Once you have your kayak, start by exploring Hunter Springs. If you see a manatee, you can grab your snorkel equipment, jump in the water from your kayak, and watch the manatees below. Wear a life vest so you can easily float above the manatees, and avoid accidentally kicking them or stirring up the water.
As you kayak, look for manatees. Signs of manatees include:
I'm Abby, a traveling photographer and writer, and I'm most passionate about connecting people with the outdoors, and I started this blog because I believe in the power of visual communication to move people from awareness of the outdoors all the way to stewardship of natural resources.