Best Places to Snorkel and Swim with Manatees

It’s not enough to simply snorkel in tropical waters viewing the amazing colorful fish and coral, sometimes it’s worth it to elevate the experience with beautiful and rare sea creatures like the manatees. Sure, this will make your tour as memorable as possible. Following are the best places you can snorkel or swim with manatees.

Defining Manatees

Before we look at where exactly you can swim or snorkel with rare sea creatures, let’s first describe manatees, for those who may not have heard of them

The Manatees are unique, sea giants that weigh over 3000 pounds and grow to over 12 feet in length. Also referred to as sea cows, these sea-dwelling creatures are very common to coastal Florida waters which many call it the Sunshine State.

How mother and baby manatees look under water
Photo of Manatee cow and calf under water (US Fish & Wildlife Service)

For decades now, the number of manatees has grown to over 6500 despite the boat strikes that had started to plummet their existence. Thanks to their growing numbers, many can now enjoy water sporting activities with these water-dwelling mammals.

Best Places to Snorkel with Manatees Florida

Here’s one thing that’s clear, manatees are found in Florida waters. It’s where they were first discovered and where they continue to grow in numbers. So if you’re looking to snorkel with them, you should take a trip to the ever-booming state of Florida.

Below are the three most common areas you will have the pleasure of swimming with them.

Crystal River Wildlife Refuge

It is located in Citrus County, North America, on the central west coast of Florida. Just 75 miles north of Tampa and less than a two-hour drive from Orlando. It’s one of the legally accepted areas where you’re allowed to snorkel with these harmless yet curious mammals. It comprises of over 46 acres with the waters inhabiting over 100 sea cows.

The manatees are found all year long but the best time to snorkel with them is as from December all through to March when they rest on the King’s bay where the waters are warm and tropical to about 72 degrees. The refuge offers a great breeding place for these manatees, hence you’ rest ‘reassured to see many of them while there.

From the moment you wish to begin your snorkeling, you will notice the waters are very clear, or rather transparent enough for you to see the giants without having to be inside the water. Snorkeling with these creatures is indeed a fun experience as they warm up to humans and many seem affectionate and smitten just being in company with them.

From the refuge, there are restricted areas that are usually marked off. They are the Manatees’ sanctuary where they get to breed, nap, feed, or even nurse a calf – young manatee. The sea creatures love to play around, swim/ snorkel side by side, and just relax with humans.

At the crystal river, they take the safety of the Manatees with high regard, so there will be a few rules you’ll have to follow. These include;

  • You only touch the manatee with one hand. This is because they aren’t dolphins hence should be held or ridden.
  • No getting close to their sanctuary.
  • No chasing or unwarranted interactions with them.

Besides that, this is one exciting spot you can snorkel with the Manatees.

Three Sisters Springs

Three Sisters Springs,located on the Crystal River(Citrus County) is Unit of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. It is also home to many manatees and is one of the Crystal River’s sanctuaries.

 According to three sisters springs website, Manatees can be seen in and around year-round.

You can only see them swimming in the springs in high numbers from mid-November until the late March.

When summer kicks in, the Manatees leave the springs to look for food in the warmer waters of Kings Bay and other areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

Homosassa River Manatee Tours

Another exemplary location is the Homosassa River. Located just ten minutes from the Crystal River. There is a wildlife park and the river just adjacent to it. Foe for the longest time, people had the option of either but as endangerment of this species became rampant over the years, the wildlife park withdrew from offering people a chance to snorkel with the sea cows.

However, at the Homosassa river, you can be allowed to snorkel with the sea giants. Plus, it’s a less crowded space compared to the first choice.  Just like the crystal river which has three sister springs, Homosassa has blue springs. These are warm freshwater springs where manatees seek refuge, especially during the cold season.

The best time to visit is also December to March when the Manatees come flocking in search of warm waters. This attracted the highest natural concentration of the sea giants from all over. After the season, some remain there and make the area their permanent stay so even when you miss the peak seasons, you’ll still be able to see them.

If you want to spot as many Manatees ad possible, come snorkel in the morning. By then, many of them are awake and in search of their breakfast. You will be instructed not to feed them. By afternoon, most of these mammals will want to nap. Your experience won’t be as fun if to came to see sleeping giants.

The river tour guards also have strict rules guided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These are, but not limited to;

  • Don’t approach the Manatees.
  • Don’t chase
  • Don’t disturb or touch them.
  • Don’t dive from the surface to land on one of these creatures.
  • Don’t corner or surround a manatee.
  • Don’t ride, hold, poke, prod, stab, pinch, or grab it.
  • Do not separate a calf from the mother or its group.
  • Don’t feed the Manatees.
  • Don’t interfere with any research activity being undertaken including removing or touching the tags.

Otherwise, it’s equally a friendly zone to snorkel with Manatees.

Manatee Springs State Park

Finally, the last place in Florida you can legally snorkel with Manatees is at the Manatee Spring State Park. The park has been and still is a popular zone for swimming, scuba diving, and several water sports. The state park feeds into the Suwannee river less than a mile upwards.

The area isn’t as common as the other two as they don’t have springs that pump clean warm water for the manatees to seek refuge during the cold winter. So instead, during the cooler seasons, the manatees will swim upwards to the river springs and away from the park.

Besides snorkeling with the Manatees, there are numerous activities you can do at this exquisite state park. Read more about that from here.

When you get a chance to snorkel even once with these beautiful, harmless creatures, you’ll want to come back again and again. Luckily for you, as long as you’re in Florida, you can always indulge in snorkeling with them.

Other places in the World to Swim/Watch with Manatees

So far so good, Florida seems to be the most popular manatee destination. Where else in the world can you watch or swim with these rare sea creatures?

Belize City

It is said to be one top places where manatees are found in huge numbers.

In central America, Belize has the most manatees. These playful and gentle creatures can be found in the waters just offshore from Belize City, other commons destinations such as Caye Caulker, and in many of the country’s marine reserves.


Mexico has quite a good number of places that host manatees.

One top options is Xel-Há Park near Playa del Carmen. It is a manatee-devoted park. It provides and educational tour plus you can have a chance to feed the manatees.

Alligator Hole, a small river located on the south coast of Jamaica, is a home of about 3 manatees that are said to have been separated from the sea. In addition to the manatees, you can also other wildlife.

More places

Other countries include

  • Costa Rica- Central America
  • Philippines
  • Egypt-Africa
  • Dominican Republic
  • Bahamas
  • Thailand
  • Hawaii
  • Guyana

Manatee Fact File: Educational Video

Following is a video with  quick info and facts about manatees

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