When we decided to visit Florida we didn’t know that much about this American state. Only some bits about Miami from the movies and Key West from some American friends.
I started to look around on blogs and Pinterest for activities we would like to do. I found out that it is possible to kayak and swim with manatees. I didn’t need any more convincing and it was immediately on top of our itinerary.
I learned that the best place to experience the manatees is Three Sisters Springs so we planned it as the first stop of our trip.
We found nice Airbnb in Citrus County, just 15 minutes from Three Sisters Springs, surrounded by nice woods. We rented a car from the airport (with Budget) because it is impossible to travel around this area without a car. It took us 3 hours to get there from Fort Myers airport.
You can reach the springs with crystal clear water on your own with kayak or paddle board. You can rent them from many companies in the area. If you go for the first time, they show you an instructional video about how to behave in nature so you don’t disturb the wildlife.
You can see manatees, turtles, lots of fishes and different birds like pelicans and cormorants. Not far from Tampa, this area has the largest West Indian manatee concentration in the world. The springs have a constant temperature of 22C/72 F which is perfect for manatees. If you are more adventurous you can also go diving with many caves and an interesting underwater world.
The gentle giant is an amazing animal to swim with. If they feel like it, they can be very playful.
It is believed that they are ancestors of the elephants. They even have nails on the flippers and they can use them like arms when consuming food.
There are three types of manatees: West Indian, African and Amazonian
Florida manatee (West Indian) doesn’t have a problem to travel from fresh water to salt water. The Amazonian manatee would not like that.
- Even though they don’t look like it, they don’t have much fat (only 2% of their body weight). Most of the body consists of the big lungs that allow them to spend a lot of time underwater.
They were discovered in 1500 and hunted for meat almost to extinction. In 1893, Florida banned hunting of the manatees. They are still endangered so if you get the chance to visit them, be respectful.
They are gray or gray-brown, they have a short trunk to feed on greens. They are herbivores, so don’t be afraid of them.
They breathe through the nostrils, not through the blow hole as some people might think. When they stay underwater they can completely seal their nostrils before they go back to the surface to take a deep breath again. They also sleep underwater and don’t have to wake up to take a breath because they do it subconsciously – around 3 times per hour.
Manatees have calves on average every 5 years and the calf stays with the mother up to two years.
They move quite slowly but if they want they can swim up to 25 km per hour for a short time.
When to visit
Best time to see the manatees is from the end of October to mid-March. They come to the springs for the warm water (22 C/72 F) from the springs.
They come because they can suffer from hypothermia in cold waters during the winter months and because there is much more food in the King’s bay springs.
Better chance for seeing active manatees is early in the morning (8-10am). They usually sleep during the day so you may not see them swim around that much.
Three Sisters Springs are located on the Crystal River. This area is natural part on the east side of Kings Bay. You can access the springs by kayaks or Tour boats. It is also accessible by land. We didn’t have time to do the walk but it looked really nice with the wooden path trails around the springs.
If you decide to do the Manatee tour with the boat, they will tell you stories and explain a lot about manatees. They drive you to some locations they think the manatees are spending their time at.
We did the manatee tour with River ventures. We didn’t enjoy it as much because the group was quite big (11 people) and most of the time we spent sitting on the boat (without the view) looking for spots to park near manatees. In my opinion, this experience was too commercial, too restrictive and not enjoyable at all. We prefer less organized trips so after the tour we rented kayaks the next day. It is much better and cheaper as well. You can kayak wherever you want and spend as much time as you want underwater with the manatees.
We rented kayaks with BIRD’S UNDERWATER, located directly at Kings bay. You can start at 9 and be back by 13:30. We rented double seat kayak because it is better valued than one seat kayak. $35 for single and $45 for double. They have a super friendly staff and you can rent a wetsuit too because the water is quite cold if you want to stay for a longer time. You can do a manatee tour with their Tour boat as well. At 9, 11 or 2 PM.
Thank you for reading! Did I miss anything? Have you been here or is it on your bucket list? Would you like to see something more in this post? I would love to know in the comments bellow!
Check out Crystal River area post as well to see what you can do in this beautiful area full of nature and wildlife!