SWIM with the Crystal River MANATEES

By Richard Rosser

Manatees have been in the news lately, so we decided to visit Crystal River, home to one of the few year-round populations of manatees that you can swim with in the wild.

Many springs hold schools of manatee during the winter months when the creatures congregate in the warmer water from the aquifer-fed springs — but to swim with them is a chilling experience for most people. During the warmer months, most manatees forage in larger bodies of water and are more dispersed, making them harder to find in the wild with open space.

Crystal River is a top choice if swimming with a manatee is on your bucket list. Group tour boats, private guides, observation platforms are all available in Crystal River.

On the other hand — world-class dining and impressive resort hotels? Crystal River is not the place. We suggest a vacation rental house. The hotel offerings are limited and disappointed us quite a bit. There is a Hampton Inn on the highway, just minutes from all the action, but a rental house with a river view is the way to go.

Crystal River, Florida, USA- February 21, 2016: An unidentified kayaker paddles immediately above a manatee in Florida, USA
manatee close up portrait underwater

The Homosassa Springs and Crystal River area is also home to some near-shore fishing that will not excite avid anglers from South Florida, but could be fun and comfortable for less-experienced anglers. During July through early September, you can charter boats to dive for scallops, which seems popular.

We went to Crystal River with an open mind. The area boasts natural beauty, but the attraction is limited to standard watersports and fishing recreation — and it is an excellent place to see manatees in the wild, which is a big thing.

I always clearly remember when I encounter animals in the wild. Recently, hundreds of manatees on the east coast of Florida have died of starvation due to reduced food supply from the effects of pollution. Problems of this kind have not been reported on the west coast. Long live the manatee!

A manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostrus) swims along underwater in the springs of Crystal River, Florida
A female snorkeler greets a manatee. Some backscatter in the turbid water.

SWIM WITH THE MANATEES

There are many business offering opportunities to swim with the manatees. Most (if not all) will provide all needed gear. Here are a few options.

Plantation at Crystal River

plantationoncrystalriver.com/manatees.htm
$75/per person
$99/per person, small group tour with six or less people with divemaster/photographer
$500/per person, private tour with divemaster/photographer

Capt. Mike’s Swimming with Manatees

swimmingwiththemanatees.com
$65-$100/per person

Fun 2 Dive – Swim with Manatees

fun2dive.com
$50.00-$60.95/per person

Crystal River Manatee Tour

While You’re There

The Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park is not worthy of a dedicated expedition, but the ruins provide a half-hour of peering back in time if you are in the area. The days of slavery, sugar cane fields, and this steam-driven mill offer a picture of a time in Florida when men such as David Levy Yulee enslaved over 1,000 people at this farm to grow and process cash crops like sugarcane into syrup, molasses and rum. This mill operated from 1851 to 1964, with a large amount of the product sold to the Confederate Army.

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