Citrus County, Florida: Mother Nature at its Finest
By Ricardo Berron
I’d had only ever heard of Citrus County, Florida before my recent holiday there from the famous novel “Citrus County” by author John Brandon, describing a place like no other with springs, colourful landscapes and enchanting marine animals. Luckily, I experienced all this beauty he narrated for myself.
Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River
I arrived at the Plantation Hotel in Crystal River, a true hidden gem, surrounded by the natural springs of Kings Bay. This is the only place in North America where you can legally swim with West Indian manatees. Early on, Captain John was waiting for us ready to sail on his boat. An important tip for this adventure: You need to use a snorkel, fins and a wetsuit, supplied by the outfitter.
When he saw a figure in the water that could be a manatee, the captain did not hesitate to anchor the boat and get all of us into the water calmly and quietly. It is amazing to swim with this huge being in its natural habitat, while it feeds on aquatic plants. My host was Furby, a friendly 3-year-old manatee with a huge appetite for the vegetation on the river bottom. What an animal! So kind and receptive. Remember that the animals here are not in captivity, and you need to follow some rules not to interfere in their habits, so play close attention to the captain’s directions.
Paddle Boarding Tour in the Crystal River
Next, I was looking forward to my paddle boarding adventure in the Crystal River. Just seconds after getting on the water we saw a dolphin and then a manatee! In just a few minutes, even more surprising, we all paddled through a tunnel of trees to a lovely place called Three Sisters Springs. It got its name from three different springs that turn bubble up from the bottom of the springs. The water is crystal-clear but with a turquoise hue that I had never seen, a true manatee sanctuary. We also saw an alligator snapping turtle and many types of fish. You can dive, snorkel or kayak while admiring the beautiful natural scenery.
Getting to Know Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
When I entered Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, I headed straight for the underwater observatory where I came face-to-face with the largest manatees I saw during my stay in Citrus County. The only thing that separated us was a few inches of window under the water. We also saw large alligators, river otters, flamingos, swans, bobcats and even a Florida Panther cub. I also visited Lu’s Pond to see the huge hippo that has lived there for over 50 years and is a real character.
I ended my trip with a sunset boat tour on the Crystal River. I viewed this truly colourful spectacle with picturesque landscapes while watching various marine animals. And once I finished my day filled with water activities, the night invited me to enjoy the live music, fresh seafood and a delicious dinner on the seafront in Crystal River. What more can I ask for?