There isn't much opportunity to bargain in Miami. Prices are fixed in most places. At some flea markets, you might be able to haggle a bit.
Dangers & Annoyances
Miami is a fairly safe city, but there are a few areas considered by locals to be dangerous:
- Liberty City, in northwest Miami; Overtown, from 14th St to 20th St; Little Haiti and stretches of the Miami riverfront.
- South Beach, particularly along the carnival-like mayhem of Ocean Dr between 8th and 11th Sts, and deserted areas below 5th St are also dangerous at night.
- Use caution around causeways, bridges and overpasses where homeless people have set up shantytowns.
- In these and other reputedly ‘bad’ areas you should avoid walking around alone late at night. It’s best to take a taxi.
- Natural dangers include the strong sun (use a high-SPF sunscreen) and mosquitoes (use a spray-on repellent).
- Hurricane season is between June and November. There’s a hurricane hotline (305-468-5400), which will give you information about approaching storms, storm tracks, warnings and estimated time to touchdown – all the things you will need to know to make a decision about if and when to leave.
Discount Cards Check out the Go Miami card (www.smartdestinations.com), which offers flexible, multi-day discount passes to major sights and tours.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Ambulance, Police, Fire||911|
|Poison Information Center||305-585-5250|
|US International Access Code||011|
Entry & Exit Formalities
A passport is required for all foreign citizens. Unless eligible under the Visa Waiver Program, foreign travelers must also have a tourist visa. To rent or drive a car, travelers from non-English-speaking countries should obtain an International Drivers Permit before arriving.
Travelers entering under the Visa Waiver Program must register with the US government’s ESTA program (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) at least three days before arriving; earlier is better, since if denied, travelers must get a visa. Registration is valid for two years.
Upon arriving from overseas to a US airport, all foreign visitors must register with the Orwellian sounding Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM), which entails having two index fingers scanned and a digital photo taken. For more information, see the Department of Homeland Security (www.dhs.gov/obim).
For a complete, up-to-date list of customs regulations, visit the website of US Customs & Border Protection (www.cbp.gov). Each visitor is allowed to bring into the US duty-free 1L of liquor (if you’re 21 or older) and 200 cigarettes (if you’re 18 or older) and up to $100 in gifts and purchases.
Required for most foreign visitors unless eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.
All visitors should reconfirm entry requirements and visa guidelines before arriving. You can get visa information through www.usa.gov, but the US State Department (www.travel.state.gov) maintains the most comprehensive visa information, with lists of consulates and downloadable application forms. US Citizenship & Immigration Services (www.uscis.gov) mainly serves immigrants, not temporary visitors.
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of three dozen countries to enter the USA for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a US visa. See the ESTA website (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) for a current list. Under this program you must have a nonrefundable return ticket and ‘e-passport’ with digital chip.
Visitors who don’t qualify for the Visa Waiver Program need a visa. Basic requirements are a valid passport, recent photo, travel details and often proof of financial stability. Students and adult males also must fill out supplemental travel documents. The validity period for a US visitor visa depends on your home country. The length of time you’ll be allowed to stay in the USA is determined by US officials at the port of entry.
To stay longer than the date stamped on your passport, visit a local USCIS (www.uscis.gov) office.
Miami residents are a pretty diverse bunch, but there are a few general things to keep in mind when traveling here:
- Introductions When meeting for the first time, it's common courtesy to shake hands and introduce yourself.
- Finger Food There's plenty of hand-held food here. Most folks eat pizza and burgers with their hands, not with a knife and fork.
- Hot Topics Talk of religion or politics is best avoided. Things can get heated among those who share divergent views.
In Miami, the gay scene is so integrated it can be difficult to separate it from the straight one; popular hot spots include South Beach, North Beach, and Wynwood and the Design District. Events such as the White Party and Swizzle are major dates in the North American gay calendar.
LGBT Visitor Center The best single source for all LGBT info on Miami. Check the website for Pink Flamingo–certified hotels (ie hotels that are most welcoming to the LGBT crowd). Run by the Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
Miami Visitors Bureau (www.miamiandbeaches.com/things-to-do/travel-guides/gay-miami) Miami's official tourist bureau has a useful guide to gay life in the city.
Damron (www.damron.com) Damron, an expert in LGBT travel, offers a searchable database of LGBT-friendly and specific travel listings. Publishes popular national guidebooks, including Women’s Traveller, Men’s Travel Guide and Damron Accommodations.
Gay Yellow Network (www.glyp.com) City-based yellow-page listings include six Florida cities.
Out Traveler (www.outtraveler.com) Travel magazine specializing in gay travel.
Purple Roofs (www.purpleroofs.com) Lists queer accommodations, travel agencies and tours worldwide.
It’s expensive to get sick, crash a car or have things stolen from you in the US. Make sure to have adequate coverage before arriving.
To insure yourself for items that may be stolen from your car, consult your homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance policy or consider investing in travel insurance.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Most hotels and hostels (and increasingly, even camping grounds) offer wi-fi access. It's usually free. Free wi-fi is also available in most cafes, many restaurants, some bars, and in libraries.
If you are stopped by the police, there is no system for paying traffic tickets or other fines on the spot. The patrol officer will explain your options to you; there is usually a 30-day period to pay fines by mail.
Possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor (amounting to a $100 fine). Possession of more than 20 grams or any other controlled substance is a felony, and can lead to your arrest.
If you’re arrested, you are allowed to remain silent, though never walk away from an officer. You are entitled to have access to an attorney. The legal system presumes you’re innocent until proven guilty.
All persons who are arrested have the right to make one phone call. If you don’t have a lawyer or family member to help you, call your embassy or consulate. The police will give you the number on request.
- Newspapers The Miami Herald (www.miamiherald.com) is the major daily covering local, national and international news, and El Nuevo Herald (www.elnuevoherald.com) is its Spanish-language edition. Diario Las Americas (www.diariolasamericas.com) is another Spanish-language daily. Miami New Times (www.miaminewtimes.com) is a free alternative weekly paper. Sun-Sentinel (www.sun-sentinel.com) is a daily covering South Florida.
- Radio WLRN (www.wlrn.org) is the local National Public Radio affiliate, at 91.3FM on the dial.
ATMs are widely available, though most ATM withdrawals using out-of-state cards incur surcharges of $3 or so. Major credit cards are widely accepted.
Prices quoted in reviews are in US dollars ($). Exchange foreign currency at international airports and most large banks.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Tipping is standard practice across America. In restaurants, tipping 15 to 20% of the bill is expected; only tip below this if the service was exceptionally bad (not tipping is a very drastic move).
- Food Normal service 15%, good service 18%, great service 20%
- Bars $1 per drink, $2 or more for complicated cocktails
- Taxi drivers 10% to 15% of fare
- Porters and skycaps $1 per bag
- Hotel cleaning staff A few dollars after a few nights
Unless otherwise noted the standard business hours in Miami are as follows:
Banks 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Thursday, to 5:30pm Friday; sometimes 9am to 12:30pm Saturday.
Bars In Miami, most bars 5pm to 3am; in Miami Beach, most bars close at 5am.
Businesses 9am to 7pm Monday to Friday.
Restaurants Breakfast 7am to 10:30am Monday to Friday; brunch 9am to 2pm Saturday and Sunday; lunch 11:30am to 2:30pm Monday to Friday; dinner 5pm to 10pm, later Friday and Saturday.
Post Offices 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday; sometimes to noon Saturday.
Shops 10am to 6pm Monday to Saturday, noon to 5pm Sunday; shopping malls keep extended hours.
This 1937 deco gem of a post office offers reliable mailing service. For other locations around the region and info on rates and services, visit USPS (www.usps.com).
On the following national public holidays, banks, schools and government offices (including post offices) are closed, and transportation, museums and other services operate on a Sunday schedule. Many stores, however, maintain regular business hours. Holidays falling on a weekend are usually observed the following Monday.
New Year’s Day January 1
Martin Luther King Jr Day Third Monday in January
Presidents Day Third Monday in February
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
Independence Day July 4
Labor Day First Monday in September
Columbus Day Second Monday in October
Veterans Day November 11
Thanksgiving Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
- Smoking Florida bans smoking in all enclosed workplaces, including restaurants and shops, but excluding ‘stand-alone’ bars (that don’t emphasize food) and designated hotel smoking rooms.
Taxes & Refunds
As elsewhere in the US, tax is not included in the posted price, so factor in an extra 7% when shopping, ordering food at a restaurant, purchasing concert tickets and booking tours. Groceries are exempt.
There are higher taxes for overnight lodging, with hotels charging an extra 13%. Remember that hotels in Miami Beach also apply an extra 'resort fee' of $25 a night and up.
- Always dial ‘1’ before toll-free (800, 888 etc) and domestic long-distance numbers. Some toll-free numbers only work within the US.
- For local directory assistance, dial 411; for international operator assistance, dial 0.
- To make international calls from the US, dial 011 + country code + area code + number.
- To call the US from abroad, the international country code for the USA is 1.
- Pay phones are a rarity in Miami. If you find one, local calls cost 50¢.
- Private prepaid phone cards are available from convenience stores, supermarkets and pharmacies.
Local SIM cards can be used in European or Australian phones. Europe and Asia’s GSM 900/1800 standard is incompatible with the USA’s cell-phone systems. Check with your service provider about using your phone in the US.
- In terms of coverage, Verizon has the most extensive network, but AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are decent. Cellular coverage is generally excellent, except in the Everglades and parts of rural northern Florida.
Miami is in the US eastern time zone: noon in Miami equals 9am in San Francisco and 5pm in London. During daylight-saving time, clocks move forward one hour in March and move back one hour in November.
You'll find public toilets at some parks and at various posts along city beaches. Outside of this, public toilets can be sparse. It's best to pop into a cafe.
Greater Miami & the Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau Offers loads of info on Miami and keeps up-to-date with the latest events and cultural offerings.
Art Deco Welcome Center Run by the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL); has tons of art-deco district information and organizes excellent walking tours.
Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce Provides info on attractions and upcoming events in the Coconut Grove area.
Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce Knowledgeable staff have loads of tips on exploring Coral Gables.
Coral Gables Visitor Center Set in the Coral Gables Museum, this friendly center has loads of tips on exploring the town.
Downtown Miami Welcome Center Provides maps, brochures and tour information for the Downtown area.
Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce Lots of info on attractions, tours, lodging.
Travel with Children
Miami has loads of attractions for young travelers. You'll find lovely beaches, grassy parks, nature trails, megamalls, zoos and other animal-centric attractions. Plus, there's plenty of great snacks, from Italian-style gelato to Venezuelan arepas (corn cakes). There are also loads of family-friendly hotels and restaurants to keep your young ones happy on holiday.
While not cheap, these parks are often a big hit with the kids. Monkeys, birds, tigers and other fine species – Miami has plenty of animal allure.
- Zoo Miami A 740-acre zoo with plenty of natural habitats (thank you, tropical weather).
- Monkey Jungle This habitat for endangered species is everything you’d expect: screeching primates, covered pathways and a grand finale show of crab-eating monkeys diving for fruit.
- Jungle Island Fabulous opportunity to see exotic creatures in a lush environment. Famous for its bird shows.
Rainy Day Activities
When the weather sours (rain or unbearable humidity), it's time to retreat indoors.
- Miami Children’s Museum An indoor playland where kids can go on many imaginary adventures (including under the sea).
- HistoryMiami Fascinating multimedia exhibits on Miami's history; there's even displays on pirates! The second Saturdays of the month are family fun days, with free activities from noon to 4pm.
- Patricia & Phillip Frost Museum of Science Aquarium, planetarium and hands-on exhibits exploring the wonders of the natural world.
Beaches & Pools
When the sun is out (which is often here in South Florida), cool off with a dip in the ocean or one of Miami's many enticing pools.
- Venetian Pool Spend the day splashing about in Miami's loveliest swimming pool.
- South Pointe Park Ice-cream stands, soft grass, a beach and mini waterpark.
- Mid-Beach Boardwalk Fronts a family-friendly stretch of sand.
- Arch Creek Park Has nature walks and ghost walks.
- Crandon Park Pretty Key Biscayne spot with sand and nature trails.
- Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park Picnic tables front a pretty sweep of beach, plus scenic walks among the greenery.
- Village of Key Biscayne Community Center Playgrounds, sports fields, a swimming pool and a packed kids’ activities schedule.
Parks & Green Spaces
You won't have to travel far to find open spaces for fresh air – especially if you lodge near the beach. Miami's parks offer a handy gateway to the great outdoors.
- Bayfront Park Right in Downtown, with open spaces for running around, a good playground and outdoor dining nearby.
- Oleta River State Park Huge park with waterfront access, and canoe and kayak rental.
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center Aquarium exhibits, short nature trails, and once monthly kid-focused outdoor activities.
- Vizcaya Museum & Gardens Older children will appreciate the whimsy of this fairy-tale mansion and sprawling gardens.
- Barnacle Historic State Park Outdoor paths and frequent family-friendly outdoor concerts.
Dining with Kids
Most midrange Miami restaurants have a dedicated kids menu, along with high chairs, crayons for coloring, and changing tables in restrooms. Even cheap ethnic eateries – a delicious, ubiquitous constant in the Miami dining scene – are good at accommodating children. Most restaurants, even high-end ones, are happy to make a kids meal by request. As a rule, families with infants or toddlers will get better service earlier in the dinner hour (by 6pm). Some high-end restaurants may look askance at young diners; simply ask when making reservations.
Need to Know
- Lodging Most hotels have cribs (often pack-and-plays) and rollaway beds (some charge extra). Inquire about extra charges for kids.
- Websites For family-centered travel advice and services, check out these sites: Baby's Away (http://babysaway.com), Babies Travel Lite (www.babiestravellite.com) and Jet Set Babies (http://jetsetbabies.com).
- Babysitting Many hotels, particularly larger resorts, offer childcare services. Or call the local Nanny Poppinz.
Most public buildings are wheelchair accessible and have appropriate restroom facilities. Transportation services are generally accessible to all, and telephone companies provide relay operators for the hearing impaired. Many banks provide ATM instructions in Braille, curb ramps are common and many busy intersections have audible crossing signals.
There are a number of organizations that specialize in the needs of disabled travelers.
Access-Able Travel Source (www.access-able.com) An excellent website with many links.
Flying Wheels Travel (http://flyingwheelstravel.com) Specialist travel agency for travellers with disabilities.
Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org) Advises disabled travelers on mobility issues and runs an educational exchange program.
For more information, download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Hands On Miami (www.handsonmiami.org) Maintains a calendar where you can volunteer for a day, doing arts and crafts, planting gardens, doing coastal clean-ups and other activities.
Miami-Dade Parks (www.miamidade.gov/parks/volunteer.asp) If you're around for a while, you can volunteer at one of the parks – either volunteering with seniors and kids, or helping to beautify the park (planting, cleaning, etc).