Miami Florida's largest city with it's famous beaches, sun-kissed lifestyles and cigars!
To understand Miami is to know a little about the background of Florida. It has been bounced backwards and forwards throughout its history. The Spanish and French took turns at various times until the Spanish ceded it to Britain in 1763 in exchange for Havana. The British handed it back to Spain in 1783 at the end of the American Revolution and in 1817 the United States held it "in trust". It was officially handed to them in 1821.
Today the sprawling city has evidence of the nationalities which have gone into making it the vibrant melting pot it is. It has neighbourhoods such as Little Havana and Little Haiti. Half the city's population is Hispanic and events in Havana or Caracas are as closely followed as those in Washington DC.
Day time is very casual but people do dress up at night, particularly Cuban residents who go to clubs to enjoy Latin and Caribbean music – salsa, reggae, merengue, mambo, rumba, cha-cha and calypso.
In the heart of Little Havana is Calle Ocho. It is lined with Cuban shops, cafés, record shops, clothing and bridal shops, all teeming with action.
In nearby Máximo Gómez Park scores of elderly Cuban men play dominoes for hour after hour – except for one day of the year when they are elsewhere celebrating their special day.
Cuban-made cigars being on the banned import list hasn't lessened their popularity. El Crédito Cigars are made right on Calle Ocho, and you can look through the windows to see Cuban tabaqueros handrolling the aromatic leaves into serious cigars.
Miami's Art Deco area, considered to be the largest and most cohesive concentration in the world, is colourful and popular and many people enjoy a leisurely walking tour conducted by the Architectural Historic District. With a guide you can go into the buildings, most of which are Art Deco inside as well as out.
Rather than being traditional Art Deco, the Miami version has been dubbed "Tropical Deco" – pelicans, nautical themes, sunsets and flowers have been added and tropical pinks, yellows, blues, purples and greens used to depict the figures. In the 1950s the area fell almost into ruin but in the mid-1980s was saved by some far-sighted people and it is a highlight of the city.
The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables is another famous landmark. It opened in 1926 and its 100m tower is the crown on a building with an amazing history of murder, intrigue, gangsters and detectives. The Capone Suite was once a speakeasy owned by the gangster.
Its architecture is referred to as Mediterranean-revivalist. Its wonderful vaulted ceiling is the canvas for extremely detailed painting and the tower was modelled after the Giralda bell tower at the Cathedral of Seville. The 18-hole Donald Ross golf course was there even before the hotel was built, and continuing in the superhuman theme of the hotel, its pool is the largest in the continental US.
There are tours of the hotel and its grounds and each Thursday at 7pm a storyteller talks about the background of the hotel, celebrity guests and ghosts who have been in residence over the years.
If you would rather stay in the heart of South Beach (known locally as SoBe) the Pelican is a quirky, surreal hotel owned by the Diesel Jeans group. It has just 30 rooms, each different from the other, daringly designed by a Swedish decorator.
There is plenty of chrome, granite, stainless steel and a huge canary yellow dining table in the penthouse, a favourite of Saudi Arabia's Prince Faisal. The front bar is a spot for people watching in a place that never seems to sleep.