Florida is best explored by car! There are so many amazing views along the way, the drive is actually just as fun as the destination.
My parents came over to visit me for three weeks last week, and we started up in Tampa to hit up a few places along the way to our destination of the Florida Keys.
So firstly, why should you visit the Crystal River/Homosassa area and what is there to do?
Homsassa & Crystal River are perfect for:
- The nature lover
- Meeting manatees
- Getting to know Florida’s wildlife and climate
- Seeing a completely different part of Florida
- Active travellers
- Some peace and quiet
Homosassa and Crystal River aren’t really like anywhere I’ve been before. Homosassa is a very sparse town, with not much going on in terms of nightlife or shopping. For the nature lover, however, it is a must visit, and the best place in Florida to really get up and close to the manatees. There are a few cute places to visit, and some nice little locals bars and restaurants, but the main appeal are the outdoor activities.
Must do’s in the Homosassa/Crystal River Area:
- Snorkelling with manatees
- Diving in Rainbow River
- Visiting the Little Salt Spring cenotes
- Visiting the Homosassa springs wildlife park
- Eating fresh seafood
Our first few nights were spend in Homosassa, and this is what we got up to!
Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park
We took my parents to the Homosassa springs wildlife park, which is an incredible place and well worth the $13 entry fee.
The first thing you do on entry is take a 20 minute boat ride down the river to the entrance of the park. It is really informative, and there are lots of sea turtles, birds, and few gators to be seen along the way.
Once you get inside the park you can wander around at your leisure. The first thing to see is all the fish that bask in the shallow waters from the underwater observatory. It is quite an impressive sight!
After that is Lucifer, the 57 year old hippo who is a resident of Florida and the only exotic creature not native to Florida who lives in the park. Some people are major Lucifer fans (note the socks below! – not mine!!!)
Then there is the gator pond, where you can stand literally feet away from huge, very scary looking alligators!
The bird sanctuary is absolutely packed with different species of birds, most of them rescued due to be injured in the wild, and some of them just hanging out by choice and due to the fact they get free food! My favourites were the flamingoes and the rosate spoonbills (maybe because they are both pink…!?)
The reptile house is really interesting, and you can get to know all the snakes native to Florida. This is a good opportunity to take note as to which are venomous (just in case!)
The park also has many big cats and other mammals, including foxes, wolves, and a black bear.
And last but not least, is the most incredible resident of the park…
Homosassa springs has several permanent manatee residents, but the river is home to hundreds of wild manatees who all gather in the river’s fresh water. You notice one at first, and then suddenly see all the shadows looming like rocks in the water. Occasionally they pop up to the surface for air and you can see their cow-like noses. I just couldn’t believe just how big they are the first time I saw them… they are huge!
As of last year, the manatee is no longer an endangered species! Great news for these amazing gentle giants!
Once you have seem them here, you will definitely want to take a snorkel tour and go and get up close to these wonderful animals.
Where To Eat After Visiting the Homosassa Springs
I cannot recommend the seafood bar The Freezer highly enough. It is a real word-of-mouth place, nestled inside a marina and wholesale fish market. From the outside it literally looks like a freezer, with the plastic curtain you have to pass through. Inside it is a really buzzing bar, with bar tables and a waterfront view. The menu is written on the wall and you have to order at the bar.
I recommend: The snow crab! It is about $12 for a huge portion of two four legs, with coleslaw and butter. Delicious! We always over-order, getting clam chowder, peel n’ eat shrimp, and garlic steamed mussels as well!
So there you have my top picks in Homsassa and Crystal River. Come back soon for the next leg of our Florida road trip: the Everglades!
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