The time we had to visit USA passed quickly, and finally came our last stop. Miami was supposed to be only a short, peaceful stop before a completely new experience in South America. It turned out to be a sensational city, full of incredible energy and a source of many (perhaps too many) ideas for further journeys. All thanks to two special girls – Giovanna and Eliana and a group of their friends, with whom we spent a memorable week.
What you cannot miss while in Miami
Miami – a city in the south of Florida, surrounded on the east and south by the ocean and on the west by Everglades wetlands. is situated in an area with an average height of 2 metres above sea level, with the highest altitudes not exceeding 13 metres. Due to the constant rise in the ground water levels, researchers estimate that over the next 50-100 years the lowest parts of the city will be flooded. The level of ground waters throughout South Florida is so high that it’s not possible to make any holes in the ground to a depth greater than 4-6 m.
However, this doesn’t change the fact that Miami is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, and in no way it means to stop the progress. The city can safely be called one of the biggest centers of global finance and international trade, culture, art, media and entertainment. The center of Miami is the largest concentration of international banks in the United States. At the same time the city is a major producer and the headquarters for the leading Spanish-speaking television stations operating in the United States.
Since 2001, the intensive development of downtown Miami manifested especially in the amount of skyscrapers here. More than 50 buildings with a height of at least 122 meters, which are already built or in the phase of construction, is only a half of the planned 100. This number, however, is enough to put Miami on 3rd position in the United States (second only to New York and Chicago) and 19th in the world in terms of “the most impressive skyline of the city”.
A final fun-fact – in just 110 years, from 1896 to 2006, the number of residents increased from less than 1,000 to more than 5.5 million, to reach a staggering 6 million in 2015. All of the above, as well as many other things, summarizes Miami nickname – the Magic City.
It’s commonly known that it’s good to have friends in such a magical places 🙂 Especially if they want to help you get to know the city and the surrounding area in a much more interesting way. And here come our friends. Gio has provided us a room at her place, gave us lifts whenever she could, took us on a trip (more on that further down in this post) and treated us with the world’s best Cuban coffee (oooh, delicious cortadito). Eli was working as a guide at one of the tourist companies and she arranged free tickets for us, so we could sightsee Miami on “hop on – hop off” bus for two days. We were able to visit almost all of the most interesting places.
Our bus journey started from the famous Coconut Grove. Founded in the early XIX century, it’s the oldest continuously inhabited part of the city, which became part of Miami in 1925.
It recalls a charming village on the shores of the ocean surrounded by booming city. There are plenty of small local cafes and bars, hidden among the narrow and winding streets and roads, along which grow old trees. While walking around Coconut Grove you can see the old Town Hall and lifestyle center called “CocoWalk”. You can also visit any of the numerous galleries and boutiques, or take a walk to one of the parks or gardens, e.g. Villa Vizcaya, The Kampongi or The Barnacle Historic State Park. Charming and peaceful neighborhood, which is definitely worth visiting. This is the place where many famous people have their homes – in past Sylvester Stallone and Madonna had villas here. If you would like to have LeBron James as your neighbour, you have to take out at least 1 million USD from your piggy bank to buy a house in this neighbourhood.
Another part of Miami, which we absolutely recommend to visit, is the Latin district of Little Havana. It’s basically a part of Cuba created in Miami by Cubans who massively escaped to USA, after Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959. Most of them settled in this part of the city, creating a very characteristic district. Currently both Cubans and people from other countries in Central and South America live here together, however, in ’90s Little Havana was dominated mainly by Cubans and Cuban culture.
The main street is Calle Ocho. You can find here numerous true Cuban coffee and cigar shops, stalls, street market where you can buy fresh fruits and restaurants serving real Cuban food, with our favourite medianoche sandwich (delicious!), croquettes or amazing ropa vieja (Spanish for ‘old clothes’ – it tastes better than it sounds ;)).
While in Little Havana you should go to Calle Ocho Walk of Fame, where the famous Latino celebrities such as Julio Iglesias, Celia Cruz or Gloria Estefan have their commemorative stars embedded in the sidewalk, see the Cuban Memorial Boulevard or stop at Domino Park, in which each day the club members play domino.
Of course we couldn’t miss Miami Beach with the famous beaches of South Beach. The well-known resort covers 6.5 km 2 of beaches stretching from the center of Miami Beach to the Port of Miami. Its popularity increased significantly after airing TV series “Miami Vice” in the ’80s. The beach have become part of must-see places to visit for tourists in Miami and a favorite vacation spot.
Quite frankly, we felt a bit disappointed with this famous beach. Since Miami Beach is located on several (both natural and man-made) barrier islands separating the Atlantic Ocean from Biscayne Bay, the beach itself looks like a great amount of sand poured out over the ocean. No palm trees on the beach, no shelter for the sun – just plain sands to fry in the sun… But this is only our opinion.
What didn’t disappoint us on the other hand was the center of Miami Beach, on the contrary – it surprised us positively. The historic Art Deco District is the largest collection of buildings in that style in the world. 960 Art Deco buildings, built in between 1923 and 1943, hundreds of hotels, apartments and other buildings with beautiful villa of Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace among them. If you’re interested in architecture, it’s definitely worth coming here to see such unique collection of Art Deco.
Since 2005 the center of Miami started to expand at a fast pace. Also the area of Wynwood began to attract more and more developers. One of them, Tony Goldman, wanted to create something great – a real transformation – in the warehouse district. Driving through the streets of Wynwood and seeking inspiration he came to a simple conclusion: “Wynwood’s large stock of warehouse buildings, all with no windows, would be my giant canvases to bring to them the greatest street art ever seen in one place.”
The Wynwood Walls project began in 2009 with six different warehouses. But the Goldman’s goal was to create a center where people could explore and develop their potential. To date, the program was attended by more than 50 artists from 16 countries, and covering more than 7500 m2 of walls, and Wynwood has become a Mecca for graffiti artists.
Art and fashion have become the main part of Wynwood. You can see it almost everywhere here, while walking through the streets of the district. Numerous murals – each unique -, many boutiques and artists presenting their works on the street. All this adds up to a unique atmosphere of Wynwood, which you will not find in any other part of Miami, and probably nowhere else in the world.
Tony Goldman’s wish came true in our case – we’ve never seen before so much street art in one place. And although we loved whole Miami – Wynwood is definitely a cherry top of places we visited in the city.
Just south of Miami you’ll find archipelago of coral islands and islets named Florida Keys. About 1700 islands arranged in a chain with a total length of 240 km. Along the archipelago stretches coral reef known as Florida Reef, which is the third largest coral reef in the world.
Until the early XX century, the only connection between the island was by sea. It was only in 1912 when the railway line was completed, which just 23 years later was almost totally destroyed by Labour Day Hurricane. It was never rebuilt – part of the train route was replaced by roads and the remaining fragments were transformed into tourist attractions. Currently all islands are connected by over 200 km stretch of State Road No. 1., called the Overseas Highway. The road has 42 bridges, of which the famous Seven Mile Bridge was the longest bridge in the world, at the time it was constructed.
We really wanted to see the Seven Mile Bridge, and Gio helped us with that, and took us on a tour through Keys. Located about 120 miles from Miami, the bridge connects the islands of Knight’s Key and Little Duck Key. Currently a new bridge is linking the islands, and the old Seven Mile Bridge is completely closed to traffic for safety reasons, yet it’s still open for pedestrians between Knight’s Key and Pigeon Key.
Usually 2-hour walk in the hot sun isn’t defined as pleasant, but this time the approximately 7 km long stroll was very interesting. We stopped a lot just to watch the water – its color was charming, and we could see eagle rays swimming in circles, and few moments later hunting reef sharks. For complete happiness we only missed to dive in the crystal clear water and be able to admire the coral reef, which was twice named the Diving Capital of the World. But we leave that for our next visit in Miami;)
Another extremely interesting, and one of the most beautiful places in Florida, are definitely Everglades. These largest wetlands in the United States are UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site. Everglades National Park was created in 1947 to protect the delicate ecosystem of mangrove forests. The area of 6105 km2 of the park is a vast system of slow-flowing rivers, freshwater and saltwater swamps, marshes and islands. This is where you can meet more than 350 different species of birds, 300 species of fish, 40 species of mammals and 50 species of reptiles. Among them, 36 species is endangered or legally protected, such as Floridian panther, American crocodile and West Indian manatee. It is also the only place in the world in which alligators and crocodiles live next to each other.
While in Miami we just had to go and see this amazing place. Unfortunately we couldn’t spend more time here, so we decided to explore the wetlands in a condensed form, in one day. Just like in New Orleans for swamp tour, same in Miami we decided to buy tickets for a trip to the Everglades from one of the many tour companies – with a large discount thanks to Eliana 😉
According to the plan we showed in the morning in the appointed place in Miami. From there the bus took us for about one-hour long way to the Everglades. During the road we watched several times the movie on how to behave in case of a close encounter with a crocodile or an alligator, but none of us had plans to participate in such situation 😉
When we got there, we were charmed by all the green and water plants… and at the same time surprised by the size of the airboat, which was to take us to the swamps. Airboat could accommodate about 50 people and was equipped with two powerful, big propellers. At first we were surprised when we were handed ear plugs, but a moment later we knew why. Those airboats, in addition to being large, very fast, and (at least theoretically) relatively easy to maneuver, are extremely noisy. However, this was basically the only downside of our trip. The rest was advantages only.
We passed huge areas of wetlands in a flash, stopping from time to time to hear another interesting fact about the park from our guide or to take a peek at the animals living in the Everglades. Among them were the various kinds of birds, and of course alligators – from quite small, hiding in the grass, to adults resting in the sun.
At the end of the tour we also took part in a short alligator show, during which the trainer, while talking about the differences between alligators and crocodiles, was tenderly stroking and patting his pupils. It was another nice touch of our one-day-trip to the largest wetlands in North America. As much as we loved it there, if someone asks us: “What’s better – the Everglades or Louisiana swamps?”, we’ll definitely answer – “Louisiana swamps”.
- Public transportation in Miami is high standard. Bus and metro routes are highly complex – with 95 bus routes and over 35 km of train routes. To use the subway you must buy a rechargeable Easy Card or single tickets called Easy Ticket. To ride the bus you can use Easy Card or pay with the cash. Both Easy Card and one-off Easy Tickets can be purchased at vending machines at all metro stations. All pricing information and discounts for trips can be found at www.miamidade.gov.
- Moving around the strict city center is easy thanks to completely free and automatic Metromover. It’s a overground tram service with three different routes and includes a total of 21 stops. Map with Metromover routes can be found here.
- Large number of companies offer guided tour of Miami and/or “hop on – hop off” bus tickets. Most of the routes are similar so in most cases it doesn’t matter which travel agency you choose (unless you have friends with discounts ;)). For example BigBus Miami offers 3 routes to different parts of Miami for the price of 40 USD per day or 45 USD for two days, while the City Sightseeing Miami offers the same three routes for the price of 45 USD per day ticket. There are also tickets combined with boats cruises with respectively larger prices. More information can be found directly at: bigbustours.com, www.citytours-miami.com, www.viator.com or www.getyourguide.com.
- If you feel like saving some money and walking more around the city, we highly recommend taking a look at the website: www.miamiandbeaches.com. You will find there, among others, list of free attractions and lots of information about the city and its parts.
- Did you got interested in seeing Wynwood? We definitely recommend it! But in case don’t have time or money to go to Miami, and would like to learn more about the Wynwood Wall Project, take a look at the page: thewynwoodwalls.com.
- If you are going to Miami for a few days, then don’t forget to visit the largest wetlands in North America. For those wishing to explore the Everglades in a less commercial way, you can go to the park on your own – walking, kayaking, or even camping. The entrance fee for a week admission for one passenger car costs 20 USD. All other necessary information can be found on the official website of Everglades National Park .
- If you like more fast-paced tours, several tour companies and crocodile farms organize airboat tours to the Everglades swamps. 30-40 minute airboat trip to the wetlands costs about 25-27 USD when getting there on your own, or about 47-55 USD with pickup from your hotel in Miami or Orlando. Especially in the latter case it’s worth remembering that often you can get a discount when you buy online or in a package of two or more trips organized by your travel agency. It’s always worth to check with the company, and the example of them are: www.evergladessafaripark.com, www.everglades.com, www.viator.com or www.evergladestours.org.