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When the water temperature drops in the Gulf of Mexico, hundreds of West-Indian manatees move to the warmer waters of Crystal River. The naturally-occurring warm water spring 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, then head to Three Sisters Spring’s area, at the heart of Crystal River. It is the only spot in Florida where visitors can legally swim and snorkel with manatees.

Snorkeleurs surrounding a manatee in Hunter Springs
Snorkelers swimming with a manatee near Hunter Springs (snorkeling area 2 on the map).

How to go snorkeling with manatees in Crystal River?

Crystal River is a small city located in an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico, a 1.30-hour drive from Orlando and Tampa, and 4.30 hours from Miami.

Due to 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 are sometimes closed, depending on tides, season, water temperature, and the presence of manatees.

Snorkeling with manatees at Crystal River
Three Sisters Spring offers the best underwater visibility, perfect for photographing the manatees.

Snorkeling tours will take you to the manatees, in Three Sister Springs itself (snorkeling area 1 on the map below) or in a neighboring area, for example near Hunter Springs Park (snorkeling areas 2 and 3 on the map). Some tours include visits to additional springs, such as House Spring or Jurassic Spring.

Three Sisters Springs is also accessible by land, via the trolley service. The service runs from the Visitor’s Center every 30 minutes ($15 pp. for round trip). Those who don’t want to snorkel will enjoy the springs and the manatees from the boardwalks.

Crystal River snorkeling map, Florida

Entering the water at Crystal River

The trip organizer will take you to the spot, and you will enter the water from the boat.

Crystal River snorkeling tips and recommendations

The snorkeling area covers the spring and its surroundings, where the depth is constant, around 5 to 12ft (1.5 to 4m). The crystal-clear waters, especially in Three Sisters Springs, offer spectacular underwater visibility, and the constant temperature of the springs (around 72 to 74°F) allows practicing snorkeling all year round in good conditions.

Snorkeling with manatees at Crystal River
During the winter months, manatees gather by dozens in the springs.

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 manatee population can be found in winter in Crystal River area.

Because of this, 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. They are also present in numbers in the surroundings areas, particularly around Hunter Springs Park.

Underwater landscape at Crystal River, Florida
Crystal River boasts fascinating underwater landscapes.

Encountering manatees underwater is an experience you will always remember, but keep in mind that 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. It is prohibited to touch, chase, or try to feed them.

Close encounter with a manatee near Hunter Springs.
Close encounter with a manatee near Hunter Springs.

Restaurants and accommodation nearby

Crystal River is a tourist area, and offers a wide range of accommodation, restaurants and supermarkets.

 

  • Level required Intermediate
  • Protected areaCrystal River National Wildlife Refuge
  • Maximum depth4m
  • Water entranceEasy, from a boat
  • Visitor numbersHigh
  • Access costsExcursion price ($30 to 80pp.)
  • Restaurants nearbyNo
  • Public toilets & showersNo

MAP Spot

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.