Saturday, October 8, 2011

Everglades Roadtrip

Miami is a gateway to one of the most popular attractions in southern Florida, the Everglades. A motorhome rental or campervan hire trip is an excellent way of getting about and experience what the Everglades is about; of course, if you want to ‘test the water’ you’ll need a boat of some kind!

What are the Everglades?
The Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the US. A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, the park plays host to rare and endangered species with its International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance. It is over 2500 square miles of National Park.

Everglades National Park
by zqvol Flickr Creative Commons

What’s the best time of year to visit?
Probably the best time to visit is from December until April, this is when the temperatures are warm and pleasant. The average temperatures are between 77°F/25°C and 53°F/12°C; it’s rare, but cold fronts can sometimes produce near freezing conditions.

Summers are hot and humid, this is when temperatures are regularly in the 90°F/32°C region, but what’s probably more noticeable is the humidity, which can reach over 90%; it’s also when you will experience afternoon thunderstorms. June to November sees the hurricane season, and the rainy season, but of course it’s quieter as there are fewer tourists.

What is there to do?
With over half a million acres of the park being immersed, fishing is an extremely popular pastime in the Everglades National Park. There are opportunities for both fresh and saltwater fishing along the park's coastal zone; both require separate fishing licenses, so check out the details at one of the information centres if this is something you want to do. Fishing from the shore is limited; however, park waters have acres of water flats, channels, and mangroves where you can drop your line.

Walking trails. In many areas of the park walking trails allow you to explore diverse habitats. There are a large number of land trails, which range from gentle walks, to extended hikes, and bike trails. One thing to remember on the trails is that collecting plants and animals in the park is prohibited, and this includes orchids, seahorses, starfish, conch, coral, sponges, and driftwood (except for fuel), although you can collect one quart of non-occupied sea shells per person.

Explore Florida and Whitewater Bays, and the Ten Thousand Islands, each with its own unique characteristic and habitat, by boat, canoe, or kayak. The best way to enjoy the water is with a group as the waters of the Everglades include hazardous passes through banks of mud and sea grass. Other areas, especially in the Ten Thousand Islands, have oyster reefs and sandbars and your safety, and the protection of the areas underwater habitats, are essential and travelling with a guide is the best for everyone as they understand the scope and limits of your boat.

Ranger-led activities. Depending on the season there’s lots of choice when it comes to activities with the park rangers. Stop off at one of the visitor centres, and they will let you know what activities are taking place.

As well as the ranger led activities, there are other guided tour options such as boat tours, air boats, and tram tours, as well as kayak and canoe rental, and some excellent campsite facilities. So make sure you plan ahead and spend some time in one of Florida’s most popular parks on a miami motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Miami.

Scuba Diving and Snorkelling in Miami

Beautiful white sandy beaches, warm, clear water, and some excellent facilities make Miami the perfect place for taking to the water on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Florida.

Miami is famous for being the best dive spot in Florida thanks to its artificial reefs; artificial they may be, but none the less exciting. Tugs, army tanks, aircraft, and ships, have all been sunk just off the coast attracting all kinds of coral and sea life, making this perfect diving country. Many people head for the Caribbean, but the waters around Miami are just as good if not better! They contain the same species of fish, and because of the Gulf Stream, the waters are warm and clear all year round.

by Matthew Hoelscher Flickr Creative Commons

A whole host of dive boats now operate out of Miami, and the good news is that because many of the dive sites are grouped together, you can usually get to visit more than one site during your dive. Most of the sites are aimed at intermediate and advanced divers, however, there are a couple which are also suitable for beginners and snorkelers too.

If you’re just interested in snorkeling try out Bache Shoal, the average water depth here is just 10 feet, and features a shallow patch of coral reef. The reef is mainly brain and boulder coral with some very colourful reef fish. The reef is considered to be one of the best places for snorkeling, especially with kids.

by Ines Hegedus-Garcia Flickr Creative Commons

For intermediates, the C-One, a US Navy tug sits on the bottom of the ocean, 25 meters down. This artificial reef, created in 1990, attracts hundreds of fish which include Barracuda, and if you’re feeling brave you can follow them through open portholes and explore within the vessel.

For advanced divers and photographers it has to be ‘Blue Fire’. The 175-foot passenger freighter was sunk here in 1983; seized by the US Coast Guard during the exodus from Cuba. The site is south of Miami, at a depth of 110 feet, the currents are strong here, so care should be taken. If you do check out this wreck you will be rewarded with an excellent experience, and you’ll also get to swim with some of the ‘big boys’, snapper, jacks, barracuda, and jewel fish.

If you’re not a PADI diver, but would like to have a go, many of the dive schools offer special packages which will allow you to become certified, and then experience some of the best reefs in the world. If you didn’t bring your kit with you, or you weren’t anticipating an exploration of the depths, don’t worry, the dive shops will soon have you kitted out and raring to going no time.

by Matthew Hoelscher Flickr Creative Commons

Miami’s dive sites are some of the best in the world, find out for yourself on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in the area.

Parks in Miami

Parks are popular places for residents and visitors to relax, keep fit, and learn with the family and in Miami, there are over 263 of them. So if you’re on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Miami, check one out to see what makes them so popular.

Miami-Dade county has the third largest park system in the US, and its not all green grass with trees. There are education centres, animal parks, parks for tennis, golf, baseball, football and running, marinas and beaches, and there are also parks with campsites. Some of the most popular with visitors on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday are:
  • Miami Zoo – The zoo covers more than 740-acres with mover 900 animals, all living without cages. The zoo has some excellent exhibits and zones such as the Amazon, with rare and endangered animals.
  • Deering Estate at Cutler - This historic 1922 stone mansion sits in 444 acres of parkland right on the bay. The park consists of areas with nature reserves, archaeological sites, and a small island, as well as a museum and an education centre.
  • Fruit and Spice Park – This 35-acre park is the only tropical garden of its kind in the US. It’s a horticulturalist’s dream, with more than 500 varieties of exotic fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, and herbs.
  • Crandon Golf Course – This is one of southern Florida’s premier golf clubs. It is immaculately kept, and has its own wildlife as well as some incredible views.
  • Bayfront Park – This is one of Downtown’s largest parks with lots of activities. The park hosts the free DWTWN Concert Series, a weekly event in the amphitheatre; it’s also where America’s annual birthday bash takes place on Independence Day.
  • Bicentennial Park – This park holds many of the cities largest outdoor concerts including Lollapalooza, the Ultra Music Festival, the Vans Warped Tour, and the famous Cirque Du Soleil.
  • A.D. Barnes Park - A 65-acre park in the heart of the city, and home to ‘The Sense of Wonder Nature Centre’ with a trail through one of the last remaining pine rock lands the country. This is where you can watch migratory birds on the lake, and see the reptile collection of the Miami-Dade Fire Department’s Anti-Venom unit. This is the place to visit for snakes, birds, swimming, or even just a picnic.

Deering Estate
by Matthew Hoelscher Flickr Creative Commons

Bayfront Park
by Phillip Pessar Flickr Creative Commons

For visitors with a motorhome rental or campervan hire vehicle you can even stay in a real park, the Larry and Penny Thompson Park, 12451 SW 184 Street, Miami. The campground is adjacent to the Miami Zoo, with 270 acres of natural woodland, bridle, and hiking trails. The campground has 240 separate campsites with electric hook ups and water, large restroom and laundry facilities, camp shop, picnic spots, a large freshwater lake with its own beach and water slide. It’s popular, so don’t forget to book, especially in high season!

Miami Zoo Motorhome Roadtrip

With over 300 species of animal living outside of the usual cages, Miami Zoo is an exciting day out if you’re on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Florida.

The 290 acre/116 hectare zoo keeps its animals and visitors separated by moats, so they can be as free as possible. As well as animals at a distance, you can also get up close with some of the inhabitants at the petting zoo, see some beautiful bird life at Jungle Island, and visit Monkey Jungle, where you’ll be the one behind bars whilst the primates roam free around you.

Facts and highlights:

  • There are over 3 miles of walkways.
  • More than 50 species represented by 2,000 animals.
  • See over 40 species considered to be on the endangered list.
  • Over 1,000 species of plants, palms, and trees.
  • The Eastern Orchid Society has hundreds of orchids and trees on display.
  • Visit Dr. Wildes World where up to 15,000 Italian honeybees are exhibited
  • Enjoy special exhibits and a dedicated children’s area.

Special Exhibits.

If Central and South America aren’t on your itinerary on this trip, then get an idea of what you’re missing out on at the Amazon and Beyond exhibit. Journey through the Central Village Plaza, the gateway to the jungle, then come across the misty Cloud Forest where you can hear Howler Monkeys in the treetops, see beautiful hummingbirds, snakes, and perhaps even the illusive Jaguar. As you move deeper into the forest, you come upon Amazonia, with its flooded forests and river, rich in birdlife and animals. The smell of vanilla, cocoa, and coffee fill the air, and just out of reach an anaconda, the world’s largest snake, electric eels, and the Orinoco Crocodile keep their beady eyes on visitors, whilst eagles soar overhead in the free flight enclosure. Finally, you reach the Pantal and the Atlantic Forest, where rare species of toad and frog, anteaters, and giant otters, are some of the animals and reptiles you'll come across.

Moving on from America to Asia, the American Bankers Family Aviary is where you can see real live dinosaurs, well, their descendants anyway. Learn how the tiny Mandarin Duck is related to the T-Rex, see skeletons, dinosaur footprints, and in the Observation Centre, see how aquatic birds swim and dive to catch their food. The aviary is the largest in the western hemisphere and home to over 70 species, including over 300 species of exotic and endangered Asian birds.

If you’re travelling with the family, an extremely popular part of the zoo is the Children’s Zoo. This is where the kids can meet strange and not so strange looking animals for some excellent photo opportunities. The Wacky Barn is where they can comb a sheep, watch the keepers train the horses, and even feed the animals. Probably one of the most popular exhibits is the Meerkat exhibit. Each day at 1230 dinner is served, and the family sit down to a tasty meal of grubs and crickets. As you would expect there are lots more rides, exhibitions and learning opportunities, as well as places to eat.

The park is open 365 days a year between 9:30am and 5:30pm, the perfect place to visit if you’re travelling with the family on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Miami.

Miami Sports Roadtrip

With all that sunshine, warm water, and acres of space, Miami is the place for sports fans on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Florida. Whether you enjoy watching the professionals, or taking part yourself, you can’t go wrong when it comes to every conceivable kind of sport. So, what’s your favourite?

Sun Life Stadium
by Lauren Mitchell Flickr Creative Commons

Professional Football- Miami is home to the Dolphins and the Hurricanes. The Dolphins are part of the AFC and the NFL; the highest level of football with 32 teams. They play their home games at the Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, in the northern suburbs of the city, a stadium which they also share with the Hurricanes. The season runs for 17 weeks starting in September, with games taking place once a week on a Thursday night. The Superbowl marks the culmination of the season.

If you're looking to experience NBA Professional Basketball, then check out Miami Heat. Their home games are played at the American Airlines Arena from October to April. If you can get to see a game against their biggest rivals the New York Knicks, the Chicago Bulls, or Orlando magic, you’ll be in for exciting times!

The Marlins are Miami’s home Baseball team. Their season runs from April until October at the brand new home ground of the Marlins Ballpark, which will open in 2012 on the site of the Miami Orange Bowl.

The Panthers are Miami’s professional Ice Hockey team. Their home stadium, the Bank Atlantic Center, sees action from October until April, the official ice hockey season. Being a hot and sunny kind of place they hold the title of being the most southerly team in the NHL.

Away from team sports, thoroughbred racing is also a popular sporting activity, and Miami is home to two racecourses- the Calder Racecourse, and the Gulfstream Park. The Gulfstream Park is home to the $1,000,000 Florida Derby, and the season runs from December to April.

If golf is your thing, Miami has over 30 private and public golf courses and over 250 tennis courts if you prefer a different kind of swing. Finally, if you’re not into outdoor sports, then what about Jai Alai. Jai Ali is a ‘big thing’ in Miami; it’s a game from the Basque country, similar to squash, and involves bouncing a ball off a wall. It’s known as the fastest sport in the world, with balls reaching a top speed of 302km/h or 188 mph, and competitors use some rather oddly shaped basket rackets.

It’s not just ball games, all kinds of sports are enjoyed in Miami, here’s a list of some of the principal sporting events.

January - Miami Marathon.

March - Grand Prix, World Championship Golf, and the Sony Ericsson Open Tennis Championship.

April - Swim Miami, and the Miami Beach Polo World Cup.

June- The Powerboat Challenge.

July – The Internatioanl Judo Federation World Cup.

September – The Miami Triathalon.

November - NASCAR weekend.

Nascar Track
by Katy Warner Flickr Creative Commons

For all kinds of sports fans, a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Miami has endless possibilities to get involved, and to follow sport, all year round.

Miami Music

The Miami music scene is an extremely significant part of American culture. The southern states have always been at the heart of popular country and jazz music, but Miami in particular, has its own very unique sound. For music fans on a tour of the US southern states of Nashville and New Orleans, don’t forget to add Miami to your itinerary, and here’s why.

Miami is diverse. There are influences from its Caribbean neighbours, as well as the very popular disco beats originating from the ‘70’s, and there are a whole host of famous names who originated from the city.

Latin. The Cubans brought with them the Rumba and the Congo, the Dominicans brought the Bachata and the Meringue, the Caribbean residents brought Reggae, Calypso and the steel drums (love them or hate them), and the Brazilians brought the Samba. All these rhythms combine to make Miami a hip swinging place to dance, or, if you’ve got two left feet, to admire how these dances look so effortless! If you do suffer from lack of rhythm then perhaps stick to reggae, where you can sway without really having to move your feet too much. On the other hand, if you’re feeling pretty flexible consider the meringue or the samba, but be prepared to end up in a tangle.

Even the kids are doing it!

If Latin isn’t your thing, what about Disco? The 1970’s were huge in Miami with bands like KC and the Sunshine band and the Bee Gees, later came names such as Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound machine. This type of music was in its heyday until the 80’s, when tight trousers and big hair do’s were all part of the look. Then came the ‘80’s and 90’s when dance music was the style of the day. If you thought the meringue was difficult don’t even consider Freestyle and Hip-hop, where spinning around on your back is one of the moves you’ll need to master. Acts such as Debbie Deb, Expose, and Pretty Tony all originated from Miami, and in contrast so did Cat Power and Iron & Wine, two Indie acts.

Amazing Hip Hop in Miami

Rock. Perhaps the most famous rock star, from neighbouring Fort Lauderdale, is Marilyn Manson, a band who got their name from a combination of Marylyn Monroe and Charles Manson. Definitely no nifty footwork needed to appreciate their music.

Miami Bass. Now don’t try this in your motorhome rental or campervan hire vehicle, because if you blow up the speakers, you’ll have to pay for them. Miami Base is the kind of music you play in your vehicle at extremely high levels with all the windows open, and acts feature names such as 95 South, Quad City DJ’s, and Tag Team.

Finally, if you haven’t got a clue what any of this all means, and the names don’t ring any bells, why not take in one of the many music festivals that Miami hosts each year. There’s the Winter Music Conference, the largest dance festival in the world, and the Ultra Music Festival, or visit one of the clubs such as Space, which is the US equivalent of Ibiza.

Whatever your taste in music, if you’re travelling to Miami on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday, you’re bound to find something that you can tap your toes to.

Little Havana Motorhome Roadtrip

Much of Miami culture stems from Cuba, and Little Havana, is the best place to experience a piece of the country without leaving the US, on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday.

Located to the west of Downtown Miami, Little Havana, also known as the Latin Quarter, was where many of the Cuban and other Southern and Central American immigrants lived from the 1970’s up until the 1990’s. Today its main street, Calle Ocho, 8th street, is where you can experience traditional shops and restaurants, and practice your Spanish, as that’s the common language!

Calle Ocho Walkway
by Phillip Pessar Flickr Creative Commons

If you’re here on the second Sunday in March, you have to stop by and experience the annual Calle Ocho parade; said to be the largest street parade in the world. The free festival, part of the Miami Carnival, has a Caribbean atmosphere with tasty food, street stalls and some great music; dance to meringue, bachata, and salsa, or simply watch the locals. If you can’t get here for the festival, Friday nights is another wonderful time to experience a party atmosphere. Cultural Fridays on 8th Street, between 13 and 16 Avenue, is where the street comes alive with works of art, galleries, music and dancing; the best thing of all is that it’s free. The event takes place on the last Friday of each month, and is a mini festival with a stage and free walking tours with Miami historian Dr Paul George. Make sure you’re outside the Tower theatre at 7pm.

An amazing example of local music at Calle Ocho.

There are lots of interesting buildings, but these sights are of particular interest- the Cuban Memorial Boulevard, the Bay of Pigs Museum, and the Art Deco Theatre Tower. What’s really good here is the food. Try out traditional Cuban coffee at Los Pinarenos Fruteria, one of the oldest establishments where the strong syrupy coffee is addictive, they also produce an incredible fruit smoothie and sugar cane juice. Other popular haunts are La Carretta, and across the street, the Versailles Cuban Restaurant. The Versailles also has a bakery, ideal if you’re on the move, but if you want a tasty meal, go inside, the desserts are particularly mouth-watering!

So if you’re visiting Miami on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday, don’t forget to stop by Little Havana, and experience Cuba first hand.

Kayaking in Miami

As a change from the open road on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Miami, why not take to the water for a few hours in a kayak. The Miami area offers paddlers some serious kayaking options, from mangroves and peaceful bay waters, to the open ocean and the wild Florida Everglades. So whether you’re a beginner or an expert, there are some excellent options to try out.

by Chauncey Davis Flickr Creative Commons

Launch sites include boat ramps, beaches and many parks, one of those being Oleta River State Park. With its own kayak rental shop, Oleta is the perfect setting for kayaking, once your boat hits the water the noise of the city disappears, and you can explore the tree-lined streams with their native plants and wildlife in peace. The park has gently curving mangroves, which take you along the river where hanging branches reach down to the water. Follow the canal, and in time, you will meet the mouth of the river which takes you out into open water. The ocean is a different experience with crabs and stingrays, even bottlenose dolphins if it’s quiet. You will also experience birds such as ospreys, hawks, and cormorants.

As well as the State Parks, Miami’s National and County Parks also offer some exciting kayaking opportunities. Biscayne National Park and the Everglades National Park both offer an opportunity to escape the city and experience the wilderness. If you are inexperienced and don’t feel like going it alone, why not try one of the many companies who offer day trips, or longer, out into the mangroves and ocean. Eco kayak tours, in the red mangroves, are now one of the most popular guided excursions; it’s also suitable for beginners. Lasting for around three hours, you get to discover isolated lagoons and secret passageways which are only accessible to paddlers.

If you like the idea of kayaking, but prefer to combine it with something else, or perhaps you don’t like the thought of taking to the water, many companies now incorporate a kayaking adventure with mountain biking through the forest. Just like kayaking, all the safety gear is included along with bike. In addition to the fourteen miles of challenging off road trails in the Oleta River State Park, there are easier routes which make it suitable for all family members. Take a guided tour, with plenty of stops, or rent a bike and go it alone through the park.

As well as the kayak and bike rental option, there is another option too, and that’s to come to the park and chill out on the beach. You can even rent an umbrella, chair, charcoal grill, and fishing rod, so if you want to relax, or combine any of the sports on offer during a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in the region, you can!

Coral Castle Motorhome Roadtrip

Miami’s equivalent of the Taj Mahal, the Coral Castle is one of those amazing, thought provoking places that should be a stop on everyone’s journey on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday.

Gates to the Coral Castle
by Christina Rutz Flickr Creative Commons

The Coral Castle is the work of just one man, Ed Leedskalnin. It took Ed 28 years to carve the castle, which he began in 1923; he worked under the cover of darkness, and used no modern technology. He told no one of his methods, the only thing he would reveal is that he knew the secret of how the pyramids were constructed, and if he could understand, then we could too; but Ed’s secret died with him.

Many visitors wonder why Ed took so much effort in building his palace, the answer, it was all for love. Ed, from Riga in Latvia, fell in love with sixteen-year-old Agnes Scuffs, they were to be married, but Agnes called off the wedding the day before the ceremony. Poor Ed was heartbroken, so devastated, that he decided to create a monument to his lost love by carving over 1,100 tons of coral rock, single handily. How romantic! What makes it even more romantic was that Ed was only a tiny little man, less than five feet tall and less than 100 pounds in weight. He cut and moved enormous blocks of coral to create his masterpiece, and when asked how he moved such large and heavy weights he again referred to the pyramids and the art of leverage. He worked at the castle everyday guiding visitors through the site and showing them the sculpture garden, where he brimmed with pride over his creation.

Inside the Coral Castle
by Christina Rutz Flickr Creative Commons

In December 1951, Ed put up a sign saying “going to hospital”, he closed the castle and took the bus to the nearby hospital, where he died three days later.

Today, without Ed, the story is told via audio stands in many different languages, and in place of the man himself, knowledgeable guides conduct tours explaining the feats of engineering, which include a 9 ton gate which you can move with your finger, fully functioning rocking chairs, and a telescope, all made from stone.

With such effort and love involved in making such a beautiful tribute to his lost love, you simply must visit Ed’s Coral Castle on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Miami.

Airboat Adventures Near Miami

Airboat loading up
by Andy Powell Flickr Creative Commons

Fast, fun, and educational, an Airboat adventure is a fantastic way of experiencing the unique ‘river of grass’ of the Everglades. Leave your motorhome rental or campervan hire on dry ground, experience the wind through your hair and hold into your hats, as you skim over the surface of the water.

Airboats are big, with an enormous fan at the back which powers the boat over even the smallest amount of water. You sit up high, looking down from a safe distance at the giant alligators which live in the water; you also get a chance to see hundreds of bird species and other wildlife such as turtles, snakes, and fish which live the area.

If you suffer from sea sickness don’t worry, its not like a boat trip, the experience is more like low level flying than a boat on the high seas. As you would expect, there are a wide range of companies offering packages which include airboat adventures. Sunrise and sunset tours, private tours, tours which include a picnic or barbeque, and tours where you get to mingle with the ‘gators’.

Your journey starts gently at first. You slowly pass through the water taking in this unusual habitat and seeing some beautiful birds. Then, your experienced guide starts pointing out something moving just under the surface, and it's time for the alligators. Large fully-grown adults and smaller juveniles are almost always seen. You’ll also see soft-shelled turtles, so be sure to remember your camera!

A lazy 'Gator
by Sali Sasaki Flickr Creative Commons

After your sighting you pick up speed, this is where the grass grows tall and the water is dotted with tree-covered islands called hammocks. This is where you will see raccoons, white tailed deer, and wild boar, before returning to base.

Some of the operators also have areas where visitors can meet the gators at close quarters, restaurants, and gift shops where you can buy a souvenir of your day. So if you’re looking for a hair raising experience on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Miami, why not try a day trip- an airboat adventure!