Citrus County: Manatee Encounters and Water Adventures
Citrus County is a water lover’s paradise, famous for its manatees. Its crystal-clear springs stay at a year-round temperature of 72 degree Celsius and attract people from all over the world, who are eager to meet the endangered manatees. Because it is close to Orlando, there are many tour packages that include Disney World, but a trip to Citrus County is far different from what you’ll experience anywhere else.
Swim with Manatees in Crystal River
Citrus County is the only place in the world where you can legally swim with Manatees. I rushed to sign up for the tour and got on the boat that departs from The Plantation on Crystal River, the amazing resort where I was staying. As we headed for Three Sisters Springs on Crystal River, I couldn’t tame my excitement – I had never seen a manatee before! We got to the springs, and I sank into the water with my snorkelling gear on. I swam around with small fish in the water, but no manatees. After a while, I noticed a big, grey object coming toward me. By the time I realized what was happening, it was right in front of me, with its friendly face looking right at me, as if it was smiling at me! I didn’t know how to react to the sudden encounter, but I managed to smile back in time. You are not allowed to touch or startle manatees, so I tried my best to quietly pass by. I will never forget those gentle eyes.
After my manatee tour, I went to the Manatee Toy Company in Crystal River’s historic shopping area, Heritage Village, to get a stuffed manatee to take home with me. They had so many cute souvenirs. It is a great store.
Animal Encounters at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is another must-see for nature lovers. I boarded the boat that departs from the visitor centre in the park. As we travelled down Pepper Creek, the boat’s ranger told us interesting facts about the area. For example, “Homosassa” is a Native American word that means “where the peppers grow.” As the boat glided through the jungle, I felt like I was on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland that I loved so much as a kid – only this was real! After the boat ride, I saw much of Florida’s wildlife: alligators, black bears, bobcats and river otters. When a wild river otter dove into the water and popped its head out with a pair of sunglasses, which obviously someone had lost, it gave me the biggest smile.
Learning to Scuba Dive in the Springs
If you're a scuba diver, you’ll want to visit Citrus County. Divers, in search of crystal-clear water, come here from all over the world. Visit the Adventure Center at Plantation on Crystal River for your diving gear needs. Don’t worry if you have never been scuba diving before; you can get certified in just three days. The Adventure Center can help you with this as well.
On the very last night of my trip, I sat right on the river to enjoy my last warm Florida breeze. Suddenly, two dolphins appeared out of nowhere, and started to frolic right in front of me. Only the moonlight illuminated us in the dark, and the dolphins looked almost like an illusion. It was a very mystical, dreamy end to my amazing holiday.