Crystal River and Kings Bay, Florida
In Florida, King’s Bay allows swimming with Manatee. People from all over the world come to Crystal River to experience this wonderful manatee encounter. You can visit the largest manatee sanctuary "King Springs" and swim in Three Sisters Springs where the spring water is always 72 degrees all year. In the peak season, the winter months, Crystal River has upwards of 400 manatees, and the sumer months upwards to 70 Manatees.
It is best to go with an established Eco-friendly tour operator, who knows where the manatees are located, as manatees are migratory animals, and can range widely during the year. Captain Mike offers first-class tours (and donates 2% of the price to manatee conservation groups). Snorkel with Manatees offers eco-friendly tours as well.
The Homosassa River is very shallow, with depths at the springs of only 6-10 feet. It also has fairly clear water visibility in the springs, with fewer boats and fewer people, making it the premier place to snorkel with manatees.
Manatee are present in the Homosassa Springs only in the winter months, generally November through March. But for best results, the months of December, January and February are guaranteed to give good up-close encounters. During the rest of the year, when the water temperatures are warmer, manatees tend to be scarce in the Homosassa River. But for those few months, there is no place in the world that is a better place to swim with and experience manatees in the wild.
Manatees gather in Homosassa springs in the winter, since the warm springs keeps the water at a constant 72 degrees -- and the manatees need the warmth in the winter months to survive. The number of manatees gathered at the springs will vary due to the weather -- during colder time periods, more will be there. And fewer will gather when the weather is warmers. In late February, when I went, the daytime temperatures tended to be in the low 70s, and there were approximately 40 manatees gathered near the Homosassa Springs. Sometimes, particularly in January, there can be as many as 100 manatee gathered in the relatively small and secluded Homosassa Springs area.
Several Eco-friendly tour operators will provide wetsuits and snorkel gear, and take you out to see the manatees. I spent some time talking to the guide at Snorkel with Manatees, and he was very helpful in guiding guests in an environmentally responsible manner to swim with the manatees. He was also very vocal in policing the Idle-speed restrictions for reckless boaters (two sped by while I was there, and were told loudly to slow down).
Manatees need warm water above 68 degrees to survive. So in the winter, they gather near the outflows from power plants, such as the Tampa Electric power plant. In the winter, as many as 300 manatees can gather here. Tampa Electric has set up a totally free Manatee Viewing Center, where you can observe the manatees. The center is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary. During the center’s open season, Nov. 1 through April 15, displays, interactive exhibits and more teach visitors of all ages about the life cycle of the manatee and the challenges it faces. Center volunteers and staff, many of them TECO Energy retirees, answer questions and provide additional educational information. See Manatee Viewing Center. You cannot swim with the manatees, but it is a fabulous place to view them in large numbers.
We randomly stopped here on our drive through Florida. IT WAS SO AWESOME! There were about 30 manatees the day we went. I suppose the power plant emits heat or pulses and the congregate there. Go see it even if it is out of your way. ~ Nikki
They set up the manatee viewing really nice. Clear signs directing you to wear to go. Nice bridge to get you to another water area where it is full of fish and other creatures. Pretty naturey trees, a butterfly garden, my photo opportunities, and also manatees. You do not see them close up close up, but you totally see them all there together. They are so cute and will hold their little face up to get air and then go back in the water. I'll be back, and glad I finally found a place that I have not been to yet. Also, the best thing about this place, it is FREEEEEEE Yey!!!!! ~ Rachel
The attraction here is a large wooden pier built out over an inlet. It is right next to a coal-fed Electrical plant, and a lot of warm water is released which attracts Manatees, Rays, and even Sharks. We really hit the jackpot, there must have been at least 100 Manatees, many Tarpon and we did see one Shark. Besides the viewing platform, there is a bird walk and a visitor center, but it's really all about the manatees. This was FREE and definitely worth an hour of my day. ~ Heidi
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission's Manatee Page with the best up-to-date statistics, facts and figures.