What are the five best things to do and see in Miami?

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The glamour, the excitement, the international flair — Miami is a new-world city, located in southeast Florida between the Everglades and the Atlantic Ocean. Known for its diverse culture and ethnicities, Miami is a gateway to Latin America and more than 9.5 million visitors come here each year. To really get a taste of Miami culture, spend time in both South Beach and Little Havana. Parrot Jungle, Seaquarium and Everglades National Park will expose you to the kinds of wildlife in Florida, and Vicazya Museum and Gardens is as much of a history lesson as it is beautiful.

1. South Beach was spared from demolition through the efforts of citizens and local designers, who began repainting and restoring Art Deco buildings from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s using bright pastel colors. Subsequent redevelopment of the area transformed the structures into electric boutiques, galleries, hotels, nightclubs and restaurants specializing in alfresco dining overlooking the ocean.

2. Newly relocated to Watson Island in Biscayne Bay, Parrot Jungle populates its 18.6-acre spread with 3,000 exotic animals, including orangutans, reptiles and birds. The park’s highlight, a 20-minute winged wonders show, present scores of parrots, cockatoos and macaws trained to astonish by roller skating, among other antics. Make sure to check out the rare albino alligator. If you’re able to visit one of Florida’s oldest coastal towns, Dunedin, check out Everglades National Park — the largest subtropical wilderness in North America. The Everglades are easily reached from cities along Florida’s east coast, and they’re a uniquely Floridian experience. Alligators, snakes, bobcats and different kinds of fish, among other animals, call this huge, water-sodden wetland full of saw grass and cabbage palm their home.

3. Ever since the 1960s, when the television show Flipper was filmed here, the Miami Seaquarium has been one of the city’s top tourist draws. Located on 38 acres of Biscayne Bay shore, Miami Seaquarium presents crowd-pleasing dolphin and killer whale shows throughout the day, while sea lions perform under a geodesic dome built by architectural whiz Buckminster Fuller. Additional exhibits feature sharks, tropical fish, crocodiles and manatees, an endangered species the park actively rescues and rehabilitates.

4. Just south of downtown, Southwest Eighth Street, also known as “Calle Ocho,” is the epicenter of Cuban exile culture in Miami. A flood of islanders seeking refuge from ruler Fidel Castro in the 1960s settled in this modest neighborhood known as Little Havana, painting it in tropical colors and opening cafés and nightclubs. Although many of the original inhabitants have moved out of the neighborhood to be replaced by later waves of Latin immigrants, Little Havana is a lively nightlife destination for authentic Cuban food, music, hand-rolled cigars and intense games of dominoes.

5. In 1914, retired International Harvester magnate James Deering employed 1,000 workers (10 percent of Miami’s population at the time) to construct his winter home, modeled after Italian renaissance architecture of the 16th century. Deering died in 1925, and in 1952 the county acquired and began restoring his deteriorating dream home and its surrounding gardens, now a National Historic Landmark called Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Inside the villa, 34 rooms showcase furniture and decorative art from the 15th through the 19th centuries. The multi-terraced gardens are similarly lavish, with decorative urns, cascades, reflecting pools and a maze.

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  • Toni Pashley, Rome, Italy
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