People and Places of Miami
Let’s start with an obvious fact: Miami is heavily dominated by Latin Americans and Spanish speakers. If you learned Spanish and haven’t found a place to practice, then Miami will be your time to shine; however, don’t be intimidated or frustrated if you can’t understand what some of the locals are saying. Cuban dialects, for instance, take a lot of getting used to and can sound incomprehensible to those of us who aren’t familiar with Cuban culture. One thing you should definitely know before coming to Miami is some basic Spanish. We also recommend that if you showed up with a little salsa or merengue ability, that wouldn’t hurt either!
Let’s talk about dodgy neighborhoods. There are many gentrified areas in Miami that have been transformed into safer, prettier and more successful business zones — Wynwood, Miami’s art district, is one of them. You can expect to find art on the walls everywhere you go as well as pleasant little galleries, cafés and restaurants that will make you feel right at home. However, walk a few blocks to the north and you’re in Overtown, a place that will not feel so homey. Overtown, along with Liberty City, Carol City and parts of Little Havana are not the safest places to hang around in Miami. Similarly, North Miami Beach has fallen by the wayside in the last couple of years, so we recommend areas such as South Beach, Coconut Grove, Pinecrest, Key Biscayne and Coral Gables.
Tourism, Traffic, and Hotels
If you’re not a local then you’re a tourist, simply put. Each year, Miami expects an average of 14 million tourists, making for a booming hospitality industry that rakes in billions of dollars annually. Make a reservation well in advance and do your research when it comes to accommodations. Miami has a wide variety of boutique hotels, luxury resorts and hipster hostels, so don’t settle on anything before you’ve done your homework. Miami is known for its Art Deco buildings and many of the boutique hotels in Miami Beach are examples of this architectural style that was popular in the post-war era of the 1950’s and 60’s.
You should know before coming here that traffic can be terrible, so it’s better to take the scenic route because you never know when it will slow to a screeching halt. Be aware that people drive like lunatics and it seems like half of the population doesn’t bother obeying traffic signs. Be aware that if you are coming from Europe, where people actually drive with courtesy, you might be taken aback by the sheer lack of respect that some drivers display.
PLEASE be on the lookout for elderly drivers going 50 mph in the left lane, or teenage drivers maneuvering recklessly, overtaking on the right and trying to take a selfie for Instagram while going 95 on the freeway; we wouldn’t want your trip to be spent dealing with an accident that wasn’t your fault. We recommend staying close to South Beach, the Gables and Downtown Miami where you won’t have to travel far to find restaurants, beaches, clubs, bars, shops and everything in between.
Exploring South Florida
Of course, we do encourage you adventurous folks to take day trips to places such as Fort Lauderdale, Homestead and the Florida Keys. Keep in mind that if traveling by car, it will take approximately two hours to get from South Miami to Key West — but the trip itself is half the fun. You will have unimpeded views of the majestic waters of the Atlantic (especially during sunrise and sundown) while driving along the famous Seven Mile Bridge. The people in the Keys are friendly and laidback and at night, Key West can get pretty lively when the bars and clubs open up on Duval Street.
Lastly, it’s very important to make sure you have the essentials before you head out to explore. Spending the day at the beach? Then make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and water. The humidity in south Florida can make 80 degrees Fahrenheit feel like 95, so don’t neglect your hydration, especially during the summer months. Just as sunscreen is important during the day, insect repellent is a life saver at dusk when the mosquitoes come out to pray on the sweet blood of unsuspecting tourists. You should be aware that Miami had many reported cases of the Zika virus this summer. Health officials have quarantined the affected areas but that’s no reason to let your guard down. Spray your ankles, legs and arms thoroughly to avoid those annoying bites.
By Laurence Kidd