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Welcome to Miami

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  It used to be called 'God's Waiting Room'. And even today, if you mention Miami to someone who hasn't been here or read about it lately, they might conjure up a blurry memory of beautiful beaches and sunshines.

  Miami is the most populated city in Florida. It sits at the southeastern tip of the Florida, the most southeastern state of the United States, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the neighboring states of Alabama and Georgia to the north. The Greater Miami Area, which includes Miami and Miami Beach as well as distinctive neighborhoods like Little Havana and Little Haiti, is a melting pot that America's founding fathers would be proud of. Half of Miami's population is Hispanic.

  The boundaries of 'season' in Miami

  which used to be limited to winter - have been blurred by the huge number of people moving to the area and the stampede of fashion and film shoots. But the most popular time to come here is still between December and May, when temperatures average between 16-30°C, and average rainfall is a scant couple of inches. Miami's Carnival, which takes place in early March, is the biggest and best reason to come, and hundreds do, so book early and prepare for the parading masses.

  Miami Beach

  Most people come to Miami Beach for its beaches, clubs and bars, and to witness one of the most spectacular redesigns in modern architectural history. The Art Deco Historic District, a collection of bright pink, lavender and turquoise buildings dating from the 1920s, is one of the largest areas on the US National Register of Historic Places. Its protection and renovation has been one of the major reasons for the rebirth of Miami as a top-notch tourist destination. The Deco district is in the heart of funky South Beach (SoBe), the southwestern section of Miami Beach.

  For a city beach, Miami Beach is one of the best around. The water is clear and warm, the sand relatively white and, best of all, it's wide enough and long enough to accommodate the throngs. The Promenade is a wavy ribbon of concrete at the Beach's westernmost edge. If you've ever looked at a fashion magazine, you've seen it: it's the photo shoot site. If you show up early in the morning, you're likely to see shoots in progress. This is also the hot spot for in-line skaters, bicyclists, skateboarders, dog walkers and people watchers to mill about bumping into each other.

  Little Havana

  After the Mariel Boatlift, the section of town to which Cuban exiles had been gravitating for years blossomed into a distinctly Cuban neighborhood, now known as Little Havana. Spanish is the predominant language here, and you'll run into plenty of people who speak no English. The heart of Little Havana is Calle Ocho (KAH-yeh AW-cho), Spanish for SW 8th St (actually it's Spanish just for 8th St, but what the hell)。 The entire length of Calle Ocho is lined with Cuban shops, cafes, record stores, pharmacies, and clothing and (most amusing) bridal shops.

  But while the wall-of-sound-style speakers set up outside places such as Power Records are blasting salsa and other Latin music into the street, Little Havana as a tourist attraction is elusive. It's not concentrated like a Chinatown; it's actually not really a tourist attraction at all. It's just a Cuban neighborhood, so except during the occasional street fair or celebration, you shouldn't expect Tito Puente and Celia Cruz to be leading colorfully attired, tight-trousered men and scantily-clad women in a Carnival parade. You're more likely to see old men playing dominoes in Máximo Gómez Park.

  Everglades National Park

  The Everglades is a unique and delicate ecosystem made up of swamps and marshes at the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. It's the largest subtropical wilderness in the continental US but is currently under threat from pollution.

  From the brackish waters of the mangrove and cypress swamps, to hardwood hammocks, saw grass flats and Dade County pinelands, there is simply no place in the world like the Everglades. These marshes are home to crocodiles and alligators, bottle-nosed dolphins, manatees, snowy egrets, bald eagles and ospreys. You can visit for an afternoon or get totally absorbed for days canoeing around the 10,000 Islands and along the Wilderness Waterway.

  The main points of entry to the park have visitors centers where you can get maps, camping permits and information from rangers. Free camping permits are required for overnight stays. By far the easiest and cheapest way to get to the Everglades is by car. The drive from Miami takes a little less than two hours. Greyhound only serves Naples, about 25 miles (40km) north of the Gulf Coast Visitor Center.

  Key Biscayne

  South of downtown Miami, along Biscayne Bay's shore, lie a number of the city's best attractions. They're spread out, but if science and animals intrigue you, it's definitely worth heading this way.

  The Miami Museum of Science Space Transit Planetarium share a building at Miami's southern city limit, near the entrance to the Rickenbacker Causeway, the bridge that connects Miami with Key Biscayne. The Science Museum has excellent displays on the Everglades and Florida's coral reef, and its hands-on exhibits are a hit with kids.

  Further east, the causeway travels along Virginia Key, home to the excellent Miami Aquarium. While the star of the show is Lolita, the 7000-pound (3150-kg) killer whale, far more impressive is the genuine effort these folks are making to preserve, protect and explain aquatic life. Case in point, their Manatee Presentation Exhibit, where West Indian manatees are brought after being injured by boat propellers. The manatees are nursed back to health and some are released. More crowd-pleasing highlights include the Flipper Dolphin Show and Salty's Sea Scoundrels, starring Salty the Sea Lion.

  Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area, at the southern end of Key Biscayne, offers acres of exotic plants and nature trails bordered by white-sand beaches. At the park's southern tip is the Cape Florida Lighthouse, built in 1845. Key Biscayne is 5 miles (8km) southeast of mainland Miami.

  Florida Keys Key West

  The strings of islands to the south of Miami were once underwater coral reefs, and they're still recognized for their great diving and marine life today. Linked to Miami by a precarious island-hopping 135-mile (216km) highway, the string of islands ends at Key West, the legendary land of Hemingway, sunset celebrations and Key Lime Pie.

  Key West's reputation as a tropical paradise with gorgeous sunsets and sultry nightlife is well earned. It's been overrun by tourists, but if you look carefully you'll find fleeting images of the Key West of the past: walking through the narrow side streets away from the action, you'll see lovely Keys architecture and get a sense of how the locals who aren't there to sell you a T-shirt or book you on a glass-bottomed boat ride live. However, if you're looking for Hemingway's Key West, you're several decades too late.

  If you're just looking for evidence of the big guy, the Ernest Hemingway Home Museum is one of Key West's biggest attractions. Hemingway lived in this lovely Spanish-Colonial house between 1931 and 1940, but kept ownership until his death in 1961. While he's not buried here, the Key West Cemetery is one of the more enjoyable cemeteries in the country: tombstone epitaphs include 'I told you I was sick' and 'At least I know

  Fort Lauderdale

  As recently as the late 1980s, the sand in Fort Lauderdale was sticky with beer and the streets ran wild with pimpled youths storming about in celebration of that American university rite of passage, Spring Break. Locals would look on in horror as yahoos overtook their city, and they finally decided to do something about it. They renovated, groomed and trimmed the whole place, turning Fort Lauderdale into more of an international yachting center than an intercollegiate multi-kegger.

  That's not to say that it's not a party town —— it decidedly is. These days, you can carouse at dozens of clubs, pubs and beach nightspots, as long as you dress respectably (meaning in clothes of some sort) and behave yourself. And for those visitors who insist on getting out in the daylight, Fort Lauderdale has a surprising number of cultural and historical sites for a beach town.

  Miami is served by two main airports: Miami International Airport, about 12 miles west of downtown, and the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, about 30 miles north of the city. If you love sea and nature to be precise, why not travel light and take a swimming suit and start this fantastic trip to Miami, leaving you one of the sweatiest memories in your whole life.


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