Let me start by telling you this. Kayaking with manatees was one of the coolest experiences in my life (behind actually swimming with them). To be near these large species in their natural environment is absolutely incredible.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and Buccaneer Bay is definitely a tourist’s destination – most known for it’s real (or live) mermaids that perform underwater shows. It has attracted visitors for many years with its waterpark built on the natural spring. You will pay an admission fee in order to enter. However, there is more to Weeki Wachee than just the park.
I first learned of Weeki Wachee when I saw the exit sign on road trip from Crystal River. I thought the name was rather interesting, so I Googled it to find out how remarkable it actually is with its pristine, blue-green water. Named by a Seminole, it means “little spring” or “winding river.”
Weeki Wachee’s seven mile river is supplied by springs that release 112 million gallons of water a day from its many caves, with its largest stretching more than 400 feet deep. You really get to admire the beauty of the river as you paddle through its narrow stream. Beyond curves and bends you make your way through a channel lined with private residences, as well as see Florida’s untouched greenery.
Not only is Weeki Wachee popular because of its crystal clear water, but manatees migrate from the Gulf to the river during the winter months.
The best time to go is between November and March because manatees seek the warmer water of the springs – a constant 74 degrees. Seeing manatees is not guaranteed as you are in their natural habitat.
Manatees are a slow-moving marine mammal weighing roughly 650 pounds and measuring about eight feet long. Manatees generally pop up to the top of the water for air; however, when manatees rest on the bottom of the river, they can stay underwater from anywhere between 15-20 minutes.
Despite their size, manatees are credited with being friendly and gentle. We were particularly flattered and enjoyed when they came to surface to show off.
After a couple failed attempts at renting kayaks, I finally made a reservation in plenty of time. I made sure to call ahead and rented at least two weeks prior.
We went through Weeki Wachee Kayaking. It is a self-guided tour that allows you to explore at your own pace – as long as you return within their business hours. This is definitely an easy kayak for all skill levels. Rates were $35 for a single-person kayak and $40 for a tandem kayak. You can visit their website for more information. I highly recommend these guys. Make sure to book ahead of time! It fills up fast due to its popularity.
The shuttle van brings you to a launch ramp on the river where you can set out on your own adventure. You are not required to stay together, nor do you have a tour guide. We did run into other kayakers along the way, but you can make your way from the pack.
Most of the river is fairly shallow, except for the opening of Hospital Hole, which is approximately 150 feet deep. Hospital Hole’s deep well attracts manatees because of its supposed healing solutions. Unfortunately, many manatees face injuries due to human activity.
In this area it was harder to see because of the darker water; however, as we waded, we were not short of seeing multiple manatees. Ask the the company to help point out this area on a map ahead of time.
Lastly – and most importantly – although it may be tempting, do not chase (or even touch) the manatees. This is considered harassment. Although the Florida manatee was recently removed from the endangered list and, despite criticism, is now considered threatened, you need to be sure to understand and follow manatee etiquette and manners found here.
Now that I’ve come to the end of my summary, I’ll never forget how to spell Weeki Wachee – ha! I recommend this excursion and would do it again in heartbeat, but please, please, please, respect our manatee friends.
Things to bring:
- GoPro or other underwater camera to catch those shots!
- Dry bag to keep your belongings safe and (obviously) dry
- Strapped sandals in case your feet get wet, but are easy to take off while kayaking
- Swimsuit, if you are daring enough to jump into the cool water
- Something to drink and snack on during your multi-hour trip
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