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Travel: The wildlife playgrounds of Miami, Florida

It’s just before midnight on South Beach and the energized pulse along Ocean Drive is starting to palpitate. This artery that bisects Miami’s famed art deco district is the happening place to be, especially after the sun goes and the neon glows.
Travel: The wildlife playgrounds of Miami, Florida_0
LEFT: The nightlife scene along the South Beach Ocean Drive is full of energy and light just before midnight, as the streets fill with sounds and smells that are truly Miami. RIGHT: Finding more colourful creatures under water is also a must-do stop on a visit to the southern state.

It’s just before midnight on South Beach and the energized pulse along Ocean Drive is starting to palpitate.

This artery that bisects Miami’s famed art deco district is the happening place to be, especially after the sun goes and the neon glows.

We meld with the masses that flock to the gridlocked thoroughfare, where our adrenaline soars with the ongoing Latin beat.

Enticing aromas waft from bustling sidewalk cafes, offering us anything from Cuban cuisine to Floribbean fare.

Backed by confetti-coloured treasures and fronting the palm-studded beach, this setting is a feast for our senses.

Although we love having this taste of urban wildlife at our fingertips, by staying at the South Beach Hotel a few blocks away, we can easily escape the inevitable crowds.

The 1939 art deco treasure, designed by renowned architect, Henry Hohauser, has been renovated with a Latin feel.

Its sleek lines and contemporary interiors pay homage to the era while pampering perks provide us with modern day pleasantries.

During our stay in Miami, our travels also take us to Biscayne National Park, where we discover an entire flip side to the meaning of “wild” life.

The vast emerald Atlantic shimmers before us and while our vessel plies effortlessly through the water, I remain riveted to its bow rail.

From the ringside seat, I look forward to a different taste of entertainment.

It’s not the same kind of parade we experienced on Ocean Drive, but one that’s performed daily and naturally, thanks to the gifts from Mother Nature.

“The park is over 30,000 hectares in size,” our tour guide explains, “and 95 per cent of it is underwater.”

The remaining five per cent, we discover, is made up of the 44 keys that span 18 nautical miles.

We troll past a number of the evergreen mounds, shrouded in a maze of mangroves and tropical hardwood hammocks.

Rich with nourishment, these islets are a haven for waterfowl and sea life.

Long-beaked pelicans, delicate white ibis, double-breasted cormorants, blue herons and snowy egrets are just a few feathered friends

we see.

This glass bottom boat tour also provides us with a taste of the park’s underwater world without getting our feet wet and, while hovering over the surface, we can see the swaying sea grass that shimmers at the base of this tropical lagoon.

The explosive growth of algae and plankton are gastronomic delights for sponges and sea urchins, as well as starfish and spiny lobster, and it is a popular spot for the gentle blubbery manatees.

Weighing up to 13,000 kilograms, these beloved Floridian natives look more like whiskered whimsical sea cows.

Because of their slow-poke maneuverability, we are careful while making our way to the outer reefs.

When the wave action co-operates, there is a fanfare of productivity framed in the window of our hull, including porous sponges, ancient shipwrecks and dazzling coral gardens.

For those who like to take a dip, the snorkeling and diving promises an up-close and personal encounter with these iridescent inhabitants.

“There are around 250 different fish species, as well as a number of types of coral,” our guide reveals.

Elkhorn, staghorn and brain coral are most common and parrotfish, tigerfish, angelfish, blue tang, porkfish and trunkfish are just a few that bejewel the reefs.

Although incidences are rare, there are others that pose a threat to humans.

Portuguese man-of-war with its long tentacles, the razor-tooth barracuda and the infamous bull shark are predators that underwater visitors shy away from.

Although there has always been the risk of hurricanes and tropical storms, the keys have hosted a cross section of travelers over the years — from pirates to presidents.

Embraced in beauty and boasting so many natural wonders, it’s easy to understand why.

As we skim back over the bay, we reflect on its tranquility and splendour.

The remote setting is polar opposite to South Beach’s racy allure, yet both in their own right are wonderful “wild” life playgrounds of Miami.

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