TAMPA, Fla. — With summer almost here, you may be itching to get out on the water, and there are just so many places to visit in beautiful Florida. It doesn’t sound like a bad problem to have.
So, what are some of the best places in the Tampa Bay area for the clearest and most refreshing water to take a dip in? There are two spots in the area that stand above the rest; and while both are very different from each other, you’ll definitely want to make time to check them out.
Just south of Tampa Bay, heading toward Sarasota, there are a series of islands that run parallel to the mainland. But, one of those islands is a stand-out for gorgeous blue gulf water, and that’s Anna Maria Island.
According to experts, the island was formed about 25,000 years ago, acting as a barrier island. It protects the mainland from the Gulf of Mexico. About 4,000 years ago, its dense and diverse ecosystem attracted settlers. In the 1530s, explorers from Spain claimed the island, despite it being inhabited by indigenous people.
The Tocobagans, one of the four tribes on the island, used Anna Maria as a spot for fishing, hunting turtles, and foraging. Tales of pirates, a popular aspect of the history and culture of the Tampa Bay area, made their way to Anna Maria Island, with stories of shipwrecks off the coast.
Today, you probably won’t see any pirates, but you will see tourists. The main industry on this island is tourism and it thrives off it for good reason. On a nice day, the water is some of the clearest you’ll see in the area.
Activities like kayaking, snorkeling, and parasailing are super popular, and while you’re out on the water you’ll see all kinds of fish, dolphins, and even manatees.
If you’ve had your fill of the beach, there’s another spot in the Tampa Bay area with water described as “gin-clear,” and it’s not the Gulf of Mexico.
Home to mermaids and manatees, Weeki Wachee Springs sits in Hernando County, about an hour north of Tampa.
This area is quite a sight to see. Weeki Wachee was named by the Seminole Tribe and means “little spring” or “winding river.”
One of the more popular activities is kayaking down the river. You’ll see schools of fish, and if you’re lucky, a manatee may even swim right underneath you. The water is so clear that you can see straight to the bottom without goggles.
Weeki Wachee may resemble any other spring, but there’s one feature that makes it very, very different. Every day, 117 million gallons of fresh, clear, 74-degree water bubbles out of subterranean caverns in the spring. And, these aren’t just any caverns.
Since 1996, experts at Karst Underwater Research have taken on the task of mapping the Weeki Wachee cavern and spring system. So far, they’ve discovered a depth of more than 400 feet, making it the deepest naturally formed freshwater spring in the United States.
And, that’s not even the bottom. The spring is so deep that no one has actually found the bottom, so who knows how deep this cavern system could go.
But, unfortunately, not just anyone can take a dive into the caverns. It’s closed off to the public and you have to have a special permit. If the water is too high or too low, it’s physically impossible to get into the caverns because of the high levels of flow. Divers have described it as diving into a fire hydrant shooting out water. That’s how fast the flow feels. If you’re not an experienced cave diver, it could be a fatal exploration.
If you’re checking out Weeki Wachee, it’s best to stick to the kayak, but it’s amazing to know there’s a maze of caverns right beneath the surface.