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You’ve been to Disney World. You’ve seen Miami. Next time you’re traveling in Florida, why not try something new? How about getting a water adventure like no other: swimming with manatees in Florida? You heard that right! Maybe you’re asking: “is it legal to swim with manatees?”
Swimming with Manatees in Florida
Actually, Citrus County, Florida is the only place in the entire United States where it is legal to swim with West Indian Manatees. In fact, while manatees can be found throughout Florida, Citrus County has the most manatees in any one place. While swimming with manatees is a fun adventure, Manatees are not all that Citrus County has to offer.
When many think of entering the water to encounter aquatic life they imagine dolphins, sharks, or stingrays. In Citrus County, you can get up close and personal with the gentle giants of the sea, the curiously sweet manatee, also sometimes called “sea cows.”
What exactly are manatees? Manatees can weigh up to 1000 pounds, but don’t let that scare you. Manatees are herbivores, spending most of their time grazing on seagrass, mangrove leaves, and algae. Despite their size, they are graceful and incredibly playful.
These sea cows love to somersault through the warm gulf waters and have even been known to swim on their backs. Manatees can be shy, but their curiosity often gets the best of them. They have also been known to gently rub against swimmers playfully.
Be sure to pack a good hat and sunscreen as the rays in Florida are no joke. Colombia has some lightweight hats perfect for protecting from the sun in any activity, from wading with the manatees to fishing on land. Check out their selection here.
Find a hotel or airbnb in Citrus County
Three Sisters Springs
The best place to encounter the manatees is Three Sisters Springs, the only spring in Citrus County accessible by land. If you’re up for a boat ride, visit the other springs to get a more private manatee experience.
While these sea creatures can be seen in the waterways year-round, the best time to visit is during the winter months.
As the waters cool, the manatees return to the warm springs of Citrus County, with its population increasing between November and April, reaching its highest between December and February. It’s during this time that visitors can experience the magic of the manatee, and maybe even encounter a baby or two along the way.
Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park
Get lost in Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. Seriously. This area is home to all kinds of wildlife, from Yuma and baby panthers to even more manatees. Tours, both by boat and land, and a visitor’s center teach you everything you need to know about the county. Home to whooping cranes, eagles, and every color of bird imaginable, bird watchers will love it here!
Bone up on your bird-spotting in Florida before your trip with the super informative Birds of Florida Field Guide by Stan Tekiela. Available here on Amazon.
Florida Manatee Festival
Citrus County hosts the Florida Manatee Festival each January, an annual celebration of all things manatees. During that time you can experience the manatees themselves, as well as live music, art, and food from the surrounding community.
Explore Citrus County Cities and Towns
For a more land-based adventure, check out the towns and cities that make up Citrus County. You can travel by car, but for the full experience, explore these cities by bike. Many feature trails that will let you see the natural beauty of the towns while exploring the cultural and historical sites.
Floral City, named after the wildflowers that bloom there, is as rich with restaurants as it is history. If you’re looking for a taste of old Florida, Floral City is just the place. The shopping in this city is plentiful, with many small boutiques you can only find here.
Looking for small-town charm? Try Inverness. Many of the cities historic sites, including the Courthouse Square, have been persevered, for an experience straight from a schoolbook about the old south.
Crystal River, home of the manatees themselves, is also a great place to experience the rich history of Citrus County. Visit the Crystal River State Archaeological Site, a Florida State Park, to see what remains of the Calusa Indians.
This Native American tribe traveled to what is now Citrus County in 200 BC, leaving behind temples, trails, and architecture. Explore this six-mound complex located within Crystal River State Archaeological Site.
No matter where you are in Citrus County you can enjoy the natural splendor provided by this well-preserved area.
Where is Citrus County, Florida?
Citrus County is accessible from Tampa, Orlando, and Gainesville. Driving directions can be found on the Citrus County Visitors Site.
Citrus County offers manatee encounters by kayak, canoe, and paddleboard, but you can also visit the animals on your own. If you want to swim with these gentle giants, consider getting a guide.
Find more tours, activities and guides for anything around Florida here.