This Florida Town Is the Only Place on the Continent Where You Can Swim With Manatees

And this $65 swim with manatees tour is one of the top-rated activities in the U.S.

Crystal River, on the west coast of Florida, is the only place on the continent where swimming with manatees is permitted — and this top-rated Tripadvisor experience allows visitors to go on a three-hour adventure with an in-water guide who will take photos of the experience.

Swimming with the manatees in Florida
Courtesy of Explorida

The tour is run by Explorida, which was started by local Citrus County residents, who wanted to provide an educational and responsible way to interact with the local wildlife. "When done responsibly, these encounters can be a life-changing experience by facilitating a soulful connection with nature," the company says in its mission statement.

Taking a photo while swimming with the manatees in Florida
Courtesy of Explorida

More than 400 West Indian manatees — who are about 10 feet long and can weigh up to 1,000 pounds — migrate to the area in the winter during peak season, which runs November 15 through March 31. Since the concentration is so high, many manatees stay throughout the summer, and they can be spotted year-round.

Swimming with the manatees in Florida
Courtesy of Explorida

The tour includes the use of a wetsuit and snorkel gear, as well as the guidance of a U.S. Coast Guard master captain and an in-water guide, who will also serve as a photographer. Suitable for travelers ages 3 to 103, the level-one snorkel experience is recommended and float noodles will be provided. Visitors need to bring their own swimsuits, towels, sandals, or water shoes, as well as a change of clothes.

By booking through Explorida's site, Manatee Swim Tours are $64, while a Sunset Snorkel is $74. Private tours are also available from $575. For those who don't want to go into the water, a viewing cruise is available for $35.

The Explorida boat used for swimming with the manatees in Florida
Courtesy of Explorida

The tour ranked No. 3 in Top Overall Experiences in the U.S. in Tripadvisor's Travelers' Choice Best of the Best rankings in 2021, behind a glass-bottom kayak tour in Tierra Verde, Florida and a zip line tour in Colorado Springs. Travelers gave the manatee swim 1,062 5.0 reviews with one recent traveler saying that it was "more than we could have ever anticipated" and that they "were treated like royalty by all the staff."

Taking a photo while swimming with the manatees in Florida
Courtesy of Explorida

The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects wildlife by prohibiting human interactions with whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and sea turtles in the wild, but this Crystal River experience is legally permitted (only in this area), according to Visit Florida. Manatees were placed on the endangered species list in 1966. Since they are protected by law, careful instruction is given on the tour about how to safely interact with the slow-moving creatures.

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