Staff, 2022-11-06 09:00:00,
Every year, tourists from around the world flock to Crystal River. A brief drive through the charming Citrus County hamlet provides a hint as to why: You’ll find manatee-shaped mailboxes, manatee placards on the streetlights, manatee statues and murals. The city’s logo, a smiling sea cow, is festooned upon a water tower downtown.
Crystal River, home to roughly 3,000 people and located 90 minutes north of Tampa, is the only place in North America where you can legally swim with manatees. For Tampa Bay residents looking for a magical getaway, this one-tank destination is the perfect place to get up close with these gentle creatures.
Manatee season runs from Nov. 15 through the end of March, when cold temperatures push the mammals into Crystal River’s mild waters. The springs around Kings Bay remain at 72 degrees year-round, and in the peak months it’s not uncommon to see hundreds of manatees clustering together to enjoy the warmth.
Even though we booked a trip during the off-season, we were optimistic about spotting some manatees. Crystal River is home to roughly 50 to 60 resident manatees, attracting travelers year-round. In fact, visiting before the season is a great way to get close to these creatures while avoiding the crowds.
To book responsibly, find a tour group that takes a conservation-minded approach. Photographer Martha Asencio-Rhine and I opted for…
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