Florida Guide > Other Activities
Swimming with Manatees
Moving away from Orlando and the Theme parks one of the most fulfilling things you can do is to swim with the Manatees, that’s assuming of course that you are confident in the water. You don’t actually have to swim with them, you can just observe them from the comfort of a boat. These endangered animals are magnificent whilst being gentle and inquisitive.
The best place to see them is the Crystal River State Park which is about 2 hours by car from Orlando. The State Park is on the Gulf coast some 60 miles north of Tampa. The best time to see Manatees is between October and March when they come inland from the sea along the Crystal River to find warmer water and an abundant food supply. Remember the Manatee is a protected species and there are heavy fines for disturbing them or harassing them. There are many volunteer wardens who patrol the waterways ensuring that the Manatees are safe.
The best way to see the Manatees is to join one of the many boat charters. You will sail with an experienced captain who knows the waterways and more importantly where to find the manatees on any given day. The boats come fully equipped with wet suits, mask and snorkels. It is worth buying a disposable waterproof camera to capture those close encounters. The trips last anything from a couple of hours to a full day. The best time to see them is early morning while the waterways are quiet.
There are a number of cordoned areas for manatees that you must not enter, however if you are on the boundary of one of these and a manatee comes to you, that is fine. When on a manatee encounter you should enter the water quietly and remain fairly still. The manatee is a very inquisitive animal and will come to investigate you. Although they are quite large you have nothing to fear as they are very gentle and slow moving. These vegetarians grow up to about 10ft long and have to eat 10%-15% of their body weight each day. It is a fantastic experience to be in the water alongside these animals who have survived since the time of the dinosaurs.
Apart from the manatees you will find your boat captain has a wealth of knowledge and experience concerning all the wildlife and will point out many things of interest. The Crystal River is fed by underground springs that continually feed fresh water at a constant temperature into the river system. Thousands of gallons of water everyday well up from the river bed, your captain will know where to go to allow you to dive and experience this amazing phenomenon.
Whilst in the area Hamosassa Wildlife Park is also worth seeing, here you will find more manatees plus a whole range of Florida’s unique wildlife. The ideal is to drive to Crystal River, explore the area and stay overnight, then you will be ready for your manatee encounter early the following morning before returning to Orlando via Homosassa.
Orlando’s Theme parks are magic but an encounter with a manatee is an unforgettable experience and would be a memorable part of any holiday.
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