When the water temperature drops in the Gulf of Mexico, hundreds of West-Indian manatees move to the warmer waters of the Crystal River. The naturally-occurring warm water springs offers a constant 72°F water temperature in the bay, and a safe heaven to these endangered animals. If you are dreaming about encountering manatees in the wild, the head to Three Sisters Spring, at the heart of Crystal River. It is the only spot in Florida where people can legally swim and snorkel with manatees.
Crystal River is a small city located in an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico, a 1 :30 hours drive from Orlando and Tampa, and 4 :30 from Miami. Due to the environmental regulations, the easiest way to encounter the manatees is to book a tour in Crystal River. Many tour-operators and diving centers in the town offer snorkeling tours, with prices ranging from $30 to 80 per person. Contact them in advance, because some snorkeling sites (including Three Sisters Springs) are sometimes closed, depending of tides, season and water temperature.
Three Sisters springs is also accessible by land, via the trolley service run from the Visitor’s Center every 30 minutes ($15pp. for round trip). Those who don’t want to snorkel will enjoy the springs and the manatees from the boardwalks.
The trip organizer will take you to the spot, and you can enter the water from the boat.
The area to explore covers the spring and its surroundings, where the depth is constant, around 5 to 12ft (1.5 to 4m). The crystal-clear waters offer spectacular underwater visibility, and the constant temperature of the springs (around 72 to 74°F) allows to practice snorkeling all-year-round in good conditions.
The areas around the springs are critical for protection of the West Indian manatee, and have been designated as manatee sanctuaries. One-sixth of Florida’s manatees population can be found in winter in Crystal River area. This being so, more than 200 to 300 manatees can be present at the same time in Three Sisters Springs. They congregate in the warmest areas, especially in the winter months, from November to March.
Encounter manatees underwater is a profound experience you will always remember, but just remember these gentle and giant animals are in the warm springs for survival. In winter, outside the springs, manatees experience cold stress and hypothermia. To allow the manatees to enjoy a peaceful rest in the springs, do not harass or disturb them, do not touch them, chase them or try to feed them.
Crystal River is a particularly touristic town, and offers a wide range of accommodation, restaurants and supermarkets.
These spots are accessible to anyone with basic snorkeling skills, and feeling comfortable in the water and with his snorkeling gear. You will enter the water from the shore (beach, pontoon, ladder, rocks) or from a boat. The water height in the sea entrance area is reasonable, but you will not necessarily be within your depth. Moderate currents can occur in the area, even when the sea conditions are good. The distance to swim to reach the most interesting snorkeling areas of the spot does not exceed 200 meters.
This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.
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Snorkeling spots are part of a wild environment and their aspect can be significantly altered by weather, seasons, sea conditions, human impact and climate events (storms, hurricanes, seawater-warming episodes…). The consequences can be an alteration of the seabed (coral bleaching, coral destruction, and invasive seagrass), a poor underwater visibility, or a decrease of the sea life present in the area. Snorkeling Report makes every effort to ensure that all the information displayed on this website is accurate and up-to-date, but no guarantee is given that the underwater visibility and seabed aspect will be exactly as described on this page the day you will snorkel the spot. If you recently snorkeled this area and noticed some changes compared to the information contained on this page, please contact us.
The data contained in this website is for general information purposes only, and is not legal advice. It is intended to provide snorkelers with the information that will enable them to engage in safe and enjoyable snorkeling, and it is not meant as a substitute for swim level, physical condition, experience, or local knowledge. Remember that all marine activities, including snorkeling, are potentially dangerous, and that you enter the water at your own risk. You must take an individual weather, sea conditions and hazards assessment before entering the water. If snorkeling conditions are degraded, postpone your snorkeling or select an alternate site. Know and obey local laws and regulations, including regulated areas, protected species, wildlife interaction and dive flag laws.