We had been looking for ways that we could ethically swim with manatees in Crystal River, Florida, but after a lot of research, we came to the conclusion that you really can’t ethically swim with them if you take a tour boat. So instead, we decided we would kayak and hope that we would just come across them on our own. Our friends the Roamin’ Ryans came through the area a few weeks prior and documented how they had seen the manatees, so we followed their blog post on where to park and how to kayak around the marina to Three Sisters Springs.
We packed up our kayaks and left the RV at about 6 AM so we could be there first thing in the morning to beat the crowds. We arrived at Hunter Springs Park around 8 AM where we parked and could launch our kayaks. Even before we launched, we could see one of the boats that had half a dozen people or so floating in the water which meant that they were huddling around a manatee. We launched our kayaks and skirted around them since they were in the “swimming only” section and started following the directions we had. Shortly after leaving the swimming area, this massive sea cow cruised right by us and startled us both. We knew that they were big, but we were not prepared for just how big they were! They easily were the length of our kayak and definitely wider.
We followed along with the manatee until he swam out in a different direction and we continued on our way. As we were making our way to the Three Sisters Springs area, we came across several more swimming through the area and it was always surprising when they would pop up out of nowhere. When we finally made it to Three Sisters Springs, it was roped off for the season to protect the manatee while they are feeding and resting, which we had expected. Even so, there were a few that came out into the main waterway and swam around checking us out. We spent a good hour with a few of them when all of a sudden the boats started showing up.
The main tourist boat unloaded about a dozen people in wetsuits who then proceeded to swim directly up to all of the manatee in the area and start petting them and surrounding them. Immediately we felt happy that we had decided not to do one of the tours because they really should be called manatee harassment tours. At this point, we felt that there wasn’t anything else we could do and we didn’t want to watch them be harassed so we headed back to where we launched. We highly recommend heading up to Crystal River to check out the manatee because they are absolutely an incredible sight to see. If you do go, we recommend that you do not take one of the tours and instead get there early enough with some kayaks and have an amazing experience.