Five Ways to Befriend a Manatee: Start with a Visit to Crystal River, Florida

There’s no better place in the world to befriend a manatee than in Crystal River, Florida. Why? Because Three Sisters Springs in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is where the manatees go. You’ll find sea cows—specifically West Indian Manatees—year-round in the waters of Crystal River and Homosassa. But from January through March, the creatures congregate by the hundreds because of the water’s constant 72-degree temp. It’s also the only place in the U.S. where you can legally swim with manatees, so it’s really no contest.

Once you get to The Manatee Capital of the World, here’s how to forge a friendship:

1. Connect through a mutual acquaintance

I, for one, haven’t had much success with the “Will you be my friend?” approach since kindergarten, so will recommend a slightly more sophisticated strategy. Let someone who already knows manatees introduce you. There are plenty of guides happy to take you and your travel mates out on a boat and into the water for an unforgettable, well-connected snorkel sesh. The guides will also offer helpful insights, so you and the ’tees get off on the right flipper.

2. Focus on what you have in common

Maybe you’re not a vegetarian with flippers who can hold your breath for 20 minutes, or maybe you are. Regardless, you probably have something in common with a manatee. For example, do you like swimming in warm, clear waters? Do that together! Shared activities can be bonding, and serves as solid conversation fodder (“Dude, remember that delicious-looking seagrass?”).


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AuthenticFlorida, excerpt posted on, Nov. 8, 2019