I’m a big fan of manatees. Their gentle ways, curious looks and trusting souls are fascinating. Living in Florida I’ve seen my fair share of manatees and still never pass up an opportunity to watch these lumbering creatures.
On a typically beautiful south Florida morning, I’m searching for things-to-do in Naples, Florida. I find a promising tour with See Manatees located slightly outside of town at The Port of the Islands Resort and Marina. A quick call and we’re booked for an afternoon tour of manatee sightseeing.
The Tour Boat and Viewing Area
Arriving, we spot our tour boat behind the ship’s store, a comfortable pontoon style boat with a full canopy for shade. Capt. Andrew introduces himself and welcomes us aboard while offering us polarized sunglasses for better viewing into the water.
As we settle into our seats we ease out of the marina and excitedly begin our search for manatees.
The inlet where the tour takes place is a bulkhead waterfront community with wide canals backed up into the Everglades. The calm waters of the canal areas make it easier to view the manatees below. Even if the manatees are being shy, the waterfront home tour is fun to see.
How to Look for Manatees
While we’re scanning the waters, Capt. Andrew gives us hints on what to look for (manatee noses pointing out of the water or the tell tale circle of a manatee tail thrust) along with interesting facts about the area and manatees.
The water is brackish and we’re thankful for those borrowed sunglasses. Capt. Andrew explains the fresh water (a must have for manatees to drink) flows into the inlet from deeper within the Everglades and saltwater makes it’s way up a long channel from the ocean. Mangrove trees are abundant and their tannins are what gives the water in this area a rusty color.
Our first sightings occur in one of the canals and our captain turns off the motor to maneuver closer with a trolling motor. At first, they’re too far off but soon a curious manatee comes over to peak at us.
Our first hour is full of manatees within several canals. Most are going about their busy day of caring for youngsters, eating and simply floating around the shallows giving us ample observations of their daily life.
Leaving the neighborhood, we start out the long channel where the scenery changes to solid mangroves, slow passing boats and cooler breezes.
Manatees are a little harder to spot out here. It’s simply a much wider waterway and more ripples on the water making it more difficult to spot noses sticking out of the water.
The Ultimate Manatee Performance
Off in the distance, Capt. Andrew spots a lone manatee near a small buoy (maybe a crab trap?) and heads her way. As we approach he turns off the trolling motor and we’re adrift. Looking over the side of the boat, we’re all staring at each other for a few minutes and she seems as fascinated with us as we do with her.
Our boat drifts with the current and she keeps up along side not wanting to let us go. We’re loving her interest in us and I truly appreciate how still she is so I can grab multiple photos. Then, her unexpected performance begins and lasts at least 15 minutes.
First, she swims up close to the boat as if to say “watch this!” then turns and swims a few lengths away. She turns back towards us seemingly to make sure we are paying attention, moves in a little closer and then starts her long slow rolls. She treats us to four or five shows, each time making sure all eyes are on her. It was incredible to watch her grace as she twirled.
Here’s our favorite manatee roll in pictures:
Once her last show was over, she took off down the channel disappearing from sight. We knew nothing could top her performance and all agreed it was time to get back to the marina. The boat ride itself is also relaxing, adding another layer of enjoyment to the tour.
On our drive back into the heart of Naples (which seemed much shorter than before), we all agreed to do it again the next time we’re down south.
Things to Know for a Manatee tour in Naples:
Tour Company We Used: See Manatees
Location: The Port of Islands Resort and Marina. It’s about a 30 minute drive from the shopping district in Naples. It seems long, but it’s most likely because half way there you leave civilization and there’s nothing but see but trees and more trees.
Best time: Mid-day probably offers the best viewing because the sun is directly overhead making it easier to see through the water. Also aim for a day with little wind and lots of sunshine.
What to Bring: We didn’t bring anything special except a camera!
Who is it for: I’m guessing small children might get bored easily. Photographers and Nature Lovers will love it and it’s great for folks who might tire easily on walking tours.
Enjoy the tour if you’re in the Naples area and if not, hope the pictures of a spectacular manatee roll brighten your day!