Forget swimming with dolphins, manatees are the coolest mammal in town. Their ugly, yet adorable faces are stealing the hearts of tourists everywhere, none so more than in Florida. If you want to get to know these peaceful and playful creatures here are our top tips.
US travelers have plenty of options when it comes to where and how they want to interact with manatees. In addition to a number of conservation programs, the rising popularity of the manatees has led to a growing awareness of the endangered species and the growth of their population. Currently there are around 5,000 individual Florida manatees in the world.
Tips for swimming and snorkeling with manatees
The number one destination for swimming and snorkeling with manatees in the Sunshine State is Crystal River in Kings Bay, about 80 miles north of Tampa. During winter this place is home to 400 animals. Since Manatee tourism is relatively new and is considered controversial especially among animal right activists, visitors must abide by certain rules when dealing with the gentle giants.
Best time to visit: Book your flight to Florida between November and April, and visit the manatees between Tuesday and Thursday (early morning).
Price: snorkeling tours are offered from around $40.
• Do not touch the manatees
• Swim without beating waves
• Keep hands clasped behind your back
• Let the animals come to you
Manatees are curious and like to cuddle but make no spontaneous movements in order not to scare them. An adult manatee weighs about a ton and can also seem a little scary, but be assured the animals are peaceful. Fun fact: the closest living relatives to manatees are elephants.
You can also encounter the fascinating herbivores along the east and west coast of Florida. The animals live on the Gulf Coast and in the rivers of Florida. In some places you can find kayak or canoe tours where you can admire the manatees up close without getting wet (well maybe splashed).