If there was one experience I would recommend when visiting Florida, going on a Crystal River swim with manatees would definitely be high on the list.

I went swimming with manatees in Crystal River, and that was the highlight of my trip, and I’m sure it will be yours too!

That being said, there are several elements to consider before going, and this is where this guide comes in. This comprehensive guide provides all the details you need for a swim with these gentle giants, from how to behave to the best tour to book and more.

Is a Crystal River Swim With Manatees Worth it?

Absolutely, swimming with manatees in Crystal River is a unique experience. You’re not just observing but you’re sharing space with the manatees, and that’s a special moment you don’t want to miss when visiting Crystal River.

Most tours take place in Kings Bay, where the Manatees live, and they’re legally protected by Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, and you’re guaranteed to have a great, real, ethical time with them.

What Are Manatees?

Manatees are large, peaceful sea mammals known for their gentle nature, often referred to as ‘sea cows’. They have a distinctive, rounded body shape, flippers, and a paddle-shaped tail, with grey or brown skin.

They are primarily herbivores, munching on a diet of aquatic plants. You’ll find them gliding slowly in warm and shallow waters, where they can surface to breathe air.


Where to See Manatees in Crystal River?

Crystal River, Florida, is one of the few places where you can swim with manatees, especially in the cooler months.

Kings Bay is particularly popular, being a protected manatee sanctuary with clear waters. You’ll have the chance to get up close, observing them in their natural habitat.

Why are there Manatees in Crystal River?

Crystal River is a hotspot for manatees due to its warm, spring-fed waters, an ideal environment for them, especially in winter.

As the ocean temperature drops, manatees head to warmer waters to keep their body temperature regulated. Since manatees are sensitive creatures, the numerous springs in Crystal River provide an ideal warm water, making it a good spot for them to gather.

How Big are Manatees?

Manatees can grow quite large. On average, adult manatees are about 9 to 10 feet long (2.7 to 3 meters) and can weigh between 800 to 1,200 pounds (360 to 540 kilograms).

However, some manatees can be even larger, reaching up to 13 feet (4 meters) and tipping the scales at over 3,500 pounds (1,590 kilograms).

And for this reason, you’ll want to be careful when kayaking with manatees in Crystal River.

They’re large, slow-moving animals with a robust, streamlined body, but that doesn’t make them any dangerous.

Manatees in Crystal River FL

Can You Swim With Manatees on Your Own?

You can swim with manatees on your own, and it’s not against the law. However, it’s wise to go with a guide.

In fact, guides know the best spots and will show you how to interact with manatees respectfully. Remember, these creatures are protected by law, so it’s crucial to follow guidelines to avoid disturbing or scaring them.

Best Crystal River Swim With Manatees Tours

Considering swimming with manatees in Crystal River? Excellent! But before going, check out these experiences, which I recommend booking ahead of time as they often sell out.

What to Expect on a Crystal River Swim With Manatees

The term swimming is misleading, ideally you float with manatees. You are meant to “passively observe” the manatees.

I went during the off-season for spotting manatees, which means most of the manatees have gone out to the Gulf of Mexico. However, there are some resident manatees that remain in King’s Bay all year round. Personally, I preferred this, it took a little longer to find a manatee, but there were far less people in the water.

I went with a professional tour, which provided training and all the equipment you need. You must wear a wetsuit to help you float and use a noodle floatation. This isn’t necessarily because you might need it, it’s to ensure you can’t sink or do anything to invade the manatee’s space.

We aren’t supposed to chase after manatees or make any sudden movements, and that’s the reason why I recommended booking a tour above, instead of going on your own.

Movement, splashing around, kicking feet is all against the regulations. Once your guide has observed the manatee and given you the go-ahead, you paddle up slowly, float, and observe. Even if the manatee comes right towards you.

At 10 metres long, a manatee swimming right at you munching away might seem worrying but trust me these are gentle giants, and you’re more in danger from the people around you than the manatee.


After your swim, we got to enjoy the convenience of heated changing rooms and the luxury of a hot shower. We also had the option to purchase photos or a video of our time in the water.

With refreshments like coffee and hot chocolate on offer, the experience was simply perfect. Also, note that tours are available from early morning to afternoon, making it easy to fit into your day.

Manatee Snorkel Tour with In-Water Divemaster

How to Get Prepared for Swimming in Manatees in Crystal River

Before swimming with manatees in Crystal River, make sure you’re well-informed and know the rules for interacting with them.

You’ll want to bring a swimsuit, sunscreen, and a change of clothes. Although gear is provided when booking a tour, consider bringing your own snorkel and mask if you prefer a personal fit.

Listen carefully to your guide’s instructions before floating with manatees — they’re there to ensure your safety and the animals’.

Most importantly, be calm and move gently in the water to avoid scaring the manatees. Respect their space, enjoy observing them in their natural habitat, and have a fabulous time!


FAQ About Crystal River

I’m confident you have all the information you need before going on a swim with manatees in Crystal River. But now, let’s discuss some more details you may need when coming to town.

How to Get to Crystal River?

While there isn’t an airport in Crystal River, the nearest one is Gainesville (GNV). However, the more popular choices are Orlando (MCO) and Tampa (TPA) airports, both located approximately an hour’s drive away from Crystal River.

From there, you can rent a car and drive to Crystal River, as it’s only about 75 miles away from Tampa Airport and about 100 miles from Orlando Airport.

How Long to Stay in Crystal River?

Staying two days in Crystal River is enough to enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife around. Spend the first day on the manatee experience, and go cycling or visit Fort Cooper State Park.

On the second day, visit other local attractions, like the Crystal River Archaeological State Park or go hiking in the nearby preserves.

Read More Here: Epic Things to Do in Crystal River, Florida

What is the Best Time to Visit Crystal River?

The ideal time to visit Crystal River and swim with manatees is from November to April. These months offer the greatest chance of encountering these gentle giants in their natural habitat.

However, it’s worth noting that the peak season for manatee encounters is during the colder months when the water temperature drops.

While Crystal River can be visited throughout the year, the colder the water, the more manatees you’re likely to encounter.

Also, to avoid crowds and enjoy a more peaceful encounter with the manatees, consider visiting the springs in the early morning and during weekdays.

Where to Stay in Crystal River, FL?

Here’s a list of great places to stay in Crystal River:

Luxury: Holiday Inn Express Crystal River

Mid-Range: Retreat at Crystal Manatee

Budget: Days Inn by Wyndham


As your time in Crystal River draws to a close, I’m quite sure that your experience swimming with manatees is one you’ll remember for a long time.

Yes, Crystal River isn’t one of the most popular spots in Florida, but it will end up being one you’ll remember forever!

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