In perhaps one of my more spontaneous decisions, I did something crazy that I never really thought about doing; I went snorkeling with the manatees! It all started in a Facebook thread when I asked my small friend list for weekend trip suggestions within a 2-4 hours distance radius from my hometown. I had a free Saturday and Sunday (that never happens) and I was determined to not waste it. I got so many great suggestions and one person just jokingly asked me to check out their future hometown of Crystal River, Florida. I honestly didn’t give it much thought until I did a quick google search. And boy am I glad I did because I learned that this sleepy little town is in an area of Florida that is considered the manatee capital of the world between November thru March.
This area is home to small retirement towns nestled on the Gulf coast of Florida. And apparently hundreds of manatees who migrate to the area seeking the warmth of the springs in the area. How dang lucky that it was the beginning of March? I quickly googled more and learned you can go snorkeling with the manatees!
With my waterproof phone case in hand, I began my trek south to the tour shop. Everyone watched a 7-minute information video, I purchased some SPF 50 sunscreen and got assigned my wetsuit. I don’t think a wetsuit looks good on anyone except maybe the Rock or a Victoria Secret model (and I am definitely not either). I swear I looked like Violet from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when she gets turned into a blueberry. Let’s just say it was not my best look! With some zipping help from my sweet captain (a hazard of solo travel is not zipper or sunscreen help ?), we all got back in our cars and drove to the marina where the boats were.
To understand why the manatee seeks warmth, one needs to understand the biology of the manatee itself. I learned that the manatee, despite its girth, is not a very fat animal. These warm-blooded mammals actually have hardly any insulating layer so they are constantly seeking warmth in the waters! So when the colder weather hits Florida and the ocean temperatures start to drop, these beautiful animals seek warmth in the springs that run a constant temperature of around 72 degrees year-round! Some migrate all over the place searching for that warmth and some are year-long inhabitants of the area. The best chance to see a ton of them are during the colder winter months!
The Passive Observation Method
As I mentioned up above, upon arrival at the tour shop, we had to watch a 7-8 minute video first. It was so informative and SOOOO important to learn the proper way of observing these majestic creatures – the passive observation method. It’s a really simple method that mainly has three rules: try not to be overly loud by splashing around or stirring up the bottom of the river, do not approach or touch a manatee unless they initiate contact, and never swim over a manatee if they are sleeping. Pretty basic rules but I love how they are so passionate about protecting the manatee. Ethical animal tourism should be a requirement of us as tourists because after all, we are just a visitor to the area that some of these manatees call home!
snorkeling with manatees
After my group of 6 loaded into the comfy boat, we headed off on the Homosassa River and were lucky enough to see a few manatees within the first 10 minutes! That was the moment when I realized that these guys were much bigger than I envisioned in my head. Kayakers, paddle boarders, and other boats were in the area and they were all enthralled with the manatees but these guys paid literally no attention to us. They propelled themselves at a surprising pace and were constantly feeding on the bottom of the river. After a quick stop to watch, we went further upriver!
Within maybe another 10 minutes, we found a group of 3 or 4 manatees and our sweet captain decided to go ahead and let us into the water. The whole group was so very excited! Y’all, when I say it was so incredible to witness these gentle giants right in front of my eyes, I mean it! It was such an astounding sight and I will never forget it. I vividly remember when this big mamma-jamma one scared the daylights out fo me when it swam right past me. The captain guessed she was a 13-14 long, 2300lb manatee. I may or may not have said a bad word or two into my snorkel. Thankfully no kids were nearby. ?
I was so lucky to have a nice captain who willingly took a ton of photos of me snorkeling in the water with my camera! The rest are from my iPhone in the waterproof case!
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There are MANY tour companies that offer this amazing experience of snorkeling with the manatees and I choose the company Snorkel With Manatees River Adventure in the neighboring city of Homosassa, Florida. I honestly didn’t choose them for any other reason than the fact that they kept their boat groups small and capped at 6 people. I wanted a more intimate experience! I was so very lucky to get paired with the sweetest family of 5 from New York. They were all my age or older and the dad was just so nice and helped ya clumsy girl in and out of the boat which if you know me, I need all the help I can get! I found that the pricing was similar to the other tours offered in the area. I paid a little under $70 with tax and that included my snorkel gear and wetsuit. Most companies recommend earlier tours but mine was at 11:30 am and was amazing!
Some last minute tips for snorkeling with the manatees:
- Get a pedicure before your adventure because your feet WILL be seen by any and all and take it from me, mine was on another level of ratchet!
- Pack sunscreen and towel and definitely a pair of clothes to change into. You will wear your bathing suit under the wetsuit. Consider this reef-safe sunscreen!
- Buy your waterproof case BEFORE you travel and test it out. You don’t want to get in the water and find a leak and not be able to use it! Here is what I used for iPhone X.
- Call ahead and be sure the tour company has your size wetsuit before booking. I am sure they do but rather be safe than sorry!
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I’m going snorkelling for the first time in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait. I’m so glad that they got you all to watch a video before going out there so that you knew what to do and what not to do. I think a lot of the time, people don’t know how to react in certain situations and that’s how things get dangerous for both them and the animals.
This was my first time snorkeling and I am obsessed! I am planning a Caribbean trip in November with the sole purpose of snorkeling. And I cannot recommend the company enough because of that video and constant reminders on how to treat these beauties. So, so important!
I LOVE snorkelling! I find it so peaceful and relaxing. Now those manatees on the other hand… I’m not sure I’m brave enough to take a dip with them. Looks like a great experience!
oh they were so incredible! Large, yes, but essentially like big old teddy bears in my mind. One of the other snorkelers got a playful little calf that was nudging his head wanting to have fun! Snorkeling is just the best to be honest and I want to do it all the time now!
This is so incredible, definitely on my bucket list! These big sea cows are so gentle, and I love that the groups are so small. I hope the money goes to conserving the manatees environment!
The state funds preservations of the manatees main “resting” places in the springs. They are clearly marked and snorkelers are not allowed within the boundaries. I was so impressed with the whole experience and diligence of everyone!
This looks SO fun. I love manatees so I think I would totally love this too. I was debating where my next weekend trip should be…. I think this is it!
Oh do it before the water gets warm and they head out! It was so darn incredible and I want to do it again and again!
I lived in Florida for two years and never thought to try this!! Now I can’t wait to go back and play tourist in my old home-state
I have lived in Georgia my whole life and have never even heard of this! How crazy! Yes, definitely go do it! Cannot recommend it enough!!
This looks like a great experience! I once went on a snorkelling trip where we would be swimming with seals. We stayed in the water for about an hour, but the seals were too scared/not curious enough to come close to the group. You have some great close up photos of the manatees!
The manatees literally gave us no care. All they wanted to do was eat and eat some more! I was so impressed with the photos because you never know with phone in weird situations. ?
What a great experience! You got very close to them! I went on a snorkelling tour once , but I didn’t like the way they handled the whole thing. They were speedboats chasing the dolphins and droping tourist to swim with them. I didn’t find it ethical and respectful at all.
Oh bummer! I was so impressed with their ethical treatment and utter respect for the animals. Boats had to go very slow in the river we were on and again, the passive observation! You should visit the Crystal River area and do a manatee tour! It will definitely be a great experience!
I have got to do this! We travel to Florida several times a year and love to snorkel so this is something we certainly can and should do!
YES – go do it! So worth it!!
This is amazing info, thanks so much! We’re planning a trip next month, but might postpone until the fall, depending on how many have made it back out to sea. I was wondering if they let you bring cameras in the water, so it’s great to read that they do – and your photos are fantastic! I’m so excited to try this now!
Yes, you never know what the water temps will be like so maybe call ahead and ask? If not, fall will be fun! and yes, cameras are definitely allowed! They even have go pro rentals if you don’t want to bring your own phone into the water!
I’m putting this on my bucket list! Swimming with the gentle giants! We snorkels in Hawaii with the giant manta trays and it was an experience I will never forget!
Oh I hear you can do that in the Bahamas too! I would love to do that and sea turtles. Dreamssss!
This is one of my dreams! I tried to do it in belize but the tour was always cancelled due to lack of people. What a beautiful experience you had and to see so many too. 🙂
I hope you get to snorkel with some magnificent creatures one day! Definitely an incredible experience! ❤️
This sounds amazing! I’ve never heard of Homosassa or manatees, but it looks cool – and I love your pictures too!
I live not far from here and never heard of Homosassa myself! Nor did I know manatees were a big deal in the area! Thanks!
Wow, that must be such an amazing experience! I just love these beautiful animals, they seem so friendly! So glad to learn that you can get up close to them in Florida. Great images as well <3
They are so majestic! And can be quite playful – especially the calf babes! Thank you so much!
So cool, I love Manatees. I went snorkelling with them in Belize and it was amazing, and apparently quite rare to see them on the particular trip we took. Didn’t realise you can snorkel with them in Florida.
It was one of those pinch-me moments for sure! Snorkeling in Belize sounds like one of those moments, too!
My sister lives in Florida and I have been wanting to do this for quite some time now. I’m just scared of snorkeling, but after reading your post you have convinced me that there is nothing to be afraid of 🙂
Surprisingly for me, I was not scared AT ALL! and that is saying a lot because I am the BIGGEST chicken. Go do it! You won’t regret it!
Wow!!!! What an incredible experience. I don’t think I have any places around me that offer this but if I’m in Florida – it’s on my list!
I honestly didn’t know it either but I bet a quick google search could help you! I was shocked to see this only a few hours from me!
Wow! This looks like an utterly amazing wildlife experience, I would love to do this. I love manatees but have only seen them in aquariums and on TV thus far. Amazing!
They are literally the most laid back animal I have been around. Super chill and just wants to eat and sleep. My kind of animal for sure!
Ah this sounds amazing!! I love everything ocean related so I knew I was going to love what you had to say haha. This is such an incredible experience and something that I definitely want to do ?
DO it! It was one of those experiences I won’t ever forget, that is for sure!
I really need to learn how to swim, I want to snorkel, this looks like so much fun! I think I would be scared about the Mommy Manatees as well. Yes definitely test out your phone, I made the mistake of testing out what I thought was a waterproof case in Cuba, and messed up my phone and lost my pictures. 🙁
Oh swimming is so fun on its own! I hope you learn soon! ❤️
Whoa, such a cool adventure!! I’ve swam with turtles in Mexico and LOVE it. Swimming with manatees definitely HAS to happen in my life!
Dyingggg to swim with turtles! ?