Florida manatees which are the West Indian manatees are easy to love. They are like slow-moving islands, 12 to 15 feet in length and up to 1500 pounds.
As a vegetarian and docile creature, people in Florida want to be near manatees. The best place in Florida to explore the life of manatees, both on and under the water, is at Crystal River in Citrus County.
But, please do not swim up to a manatee and kiss it. You might scare them, but even more dangerous is the possibility you will get between a mother manatee and its calf. Manatees can ram a shark with the power of a torpedo.
There are lots of places in Florida, particularly in the bays with springs on Florida’s West Coast to meet manatees. In winter, the manatees head into the bays and springs and rivers where the water temperature is higher.
The huge number of springs surrounding Kings Bay around the Crystal River makes the area the ultimate all-year residence of a large number of the 2,500 known manatees in the Sunshine State. Crystal River is located on US19, 3 hours from Tampa-St. Petersburg, Orlando, and Jacksonville. It is a great weekend vacation spot.
Crystal River is not just a place with scuba and snorkel diving, it has fishing and boating, and the largest Indian mound site at the Crystal River Archaeological State Park.
HOW TO GET THERE: Crystal River is just 66 miles from Tampa on toll-road FL 589 to US19, but longer for Saint Petersburg people who must drive north on US19 with heavier urban traffic. Orlando people taking the Florida Turnpike to I-75 and west on US44 will arrive in under 100 minutes (86 miles).
US19 is lined with modern chain restaurants and motels, which are acceptable stays but are not scenic choices. There are some things to do that are not outdoor adventure such as visiting HERITAGE VILLAGE just north of US19 on FL405 (Citrus Avenue), with its wonderful local art FRANKLIN ANDERSON GALLERY, General Store, BBQ restaurant, and other stores in old buildings. South of US19 on Citrus Avenue is the COASTAL HERITAGE MUSEUM in a stone building which was City Hall in the 1920’s.
The big land excursion in Crystal River is visiting the 61-acre riverside CRYSTAL RIVER ARCHAELOGICAL STATE PARK, north of town off US19. Occupied by Indians for 1600 years the huge plaza is surrounded by burial mounds and earthworks. The most popular attraction is the large 55-step Temple Mound, which gives a fine view of the Crystal River. There are some picnic grounds and an educational museum, but no food facilities.
There are so many snorkel, scuba, and kayak tours offered on Kings Bay in TripAdvisor and other online sites, I suggest you study the websites with their exciting photographs and make reservations for excursions and adventures. The THREE SPRINGS BOARDWALK to Crystal Lake with its springs is beautiful, but kayak access is only from tours or HUNTER SPRINGS PARK.
If you arrive in town without reservations, you will probably have to pick one of the US19 chain motels like the Hampton Inn, but it would be better to stay on the Bay in a full-service location. The most upscale is the historic PLANTATION ON CRYSTAL RIVER (352-795-5411), a 232-acre eco-friendly resort with a golf course, full marina and restaurant and Plantation Adventures with Kings Bay Scenic cruises and several swim with manatee tours. Less expensive is the PORT HOTEL and MARINA (342-795-3111), seven acres of recreation services, boat and kayak tours, and the popular waterfront MARGARITA BREEZE restaurant.