Standing at the boarding gate inside Costa Rica’s main airport of San Jose, my name bellowed across the tannoy inviting me to approach the customer desk of American Airlines. With some trepidation, knowing the strict rules for the transportation animals in hot weather, I proclaimed myself to the waiting staff member who duly invited me to board the plane as Hamish was now safely on board.
As we took our seats and the engines roared, the skies above us darkened and the heavens opened amidst a fierce tropical storm forcing a lengthy delay as Mother Nature showed her magnificent raw power with a menacing display of thunder and lightening forcing the closure of all runways in and out of the airport.
After an hour eating free mini pretzels, we were cleared for take off and Miami bound.
The two and a half hour flight was smooth and we landed without any further delays, though the long queues through customs meant another hour before we could pick up Hamish and our baggage. But with that we were now in a taxi heading to the first of many different apartments throughout Miami.
We initially planned to stay in Miami for roughly two or three weeks however, family news from home kept us close to the international airport should we need to fly back in a hurry. As a result we booked rentals on a week to week basis and were here for nearly two thirds of our visa allowance of 90 days.
Hollywood, North Miami was first up and a week in a quaint little “granny” apartment in a quiet residential neighbourhood; reasonably close to parks and Hollywood dog beach where Hamish had an absolute ball, playing and chasing dogs of all different shapes, colours and sizes whilst owners lovenly and sometimes nervously looked on. This section of beach is open to dogs between Friday’s and Sunday’s so we only visited once whilst here.
Eating in most nights, we tried the Seniõr Café which served excellent Cuban dishes, and walked the short distance to downtown Hollywood, sitting at outside tables of cafés for a beer, coffee and snack watching the world go by.
A couple of days of heavy rain saw a brief influx of Bufo toads. These toads can be extremely poisonous, sometimes fatally, to cats and dogs, and unfortunately Hamish’s Terrier instincts took over when out on a late walk (2am). The toads release a poison from their back which can lead to paralysis or death. After Hamish bit the amphibious little hopper he began to cough and choke. A quick look on-line said try and flush your dogs mouth with water to clear the toxins, which we did. Luckily, we also had peanut butter, which one blogger said worked to neutralise the poison due to the release of saliva. It seemed to work though a bout of diarrhoea followed the following day. A lucky escape for the wee fella.
After a week of “Hollywood life”, we edged closer to downtown arriving at the MiMo district just on the fringes of Little Haiti.
We were warned against venturing into Little Haiti for our personal safety and well-being but with no real reason to go there we instead walked the short distance of two blocks to Biscayne Blvd which hosted some nice restaurants (Organic Bites, our favourite) and a couple of good parks, Legion Park and Baywood Park, for some off the leash time for Hamish and a little dolphin spotting by the bay. The small array of shops here gave us little reason to venture out of the area.
Our accommodation was a large two bedroom first floor apartment separated from the main residence below. It was comfortable enough and close to the Tropical Supermarket which stocked an array of produce from the Caribbean and beyond. Again we’d eat in most nights.
Our week passed in a flash and it was time to move on again, this time to the much grittier areas of Alapattah and Wynwood where we would stay for the next two weeks.
At the moment Wynwood is going through a renaissance and is the up and coming area of Miami. Art galleries, shops, bars and restaurants are moving in. Weekends are a big party scene with visitors and young revellers flocking to this once run down part of town. Every building is decorated with murals and paintings and the galleries are as much outside as the ones inside hanging on walls painted on print and canvas. Music blares and bars are choc-full. Residential homes once sold for peanuts now change hands in the hundreds of thousands; prices are still rising.
Allapattah was different. A tough working class neighbourhood situated on the edge of Wynwood and the run down area of Overtown. Our apartment here, a converted industrial unit, was billed as Wynwood but was four blocks off and across a freeway. Though comfortable enough, our immediate surroundings were shared with a homeless shelter, bikers bar, former mental hospital and Florida’s base for the US National Guard all within two blocks. Crime rates for Alapattah are extremely high and are currently 142% higher than the national average (US). Residents have a 1 in 14 chance of being a victim. That said, and despite sharing our street with several homeless people, including a very friendly guy called PJ, we had no issues. PJ happily spoke and gave us the lowdown on the neighbourhood and pointed us in the right direction to café’s and restaurants, including a great place called Smart Bites and it’s resident Pit Bull Terrier which happily played with Hamish.
Most days we’d walk the four blocks to Wynwood to explore, sometimes going further afield to the Bayshore area and the excellent Margaret Pace Park with its dog park for Hamish to play and socialise. Another day we booked an Uber taxi to Little Havana for some Cuban culture, including the famous Versailles’s Restaurant and Bakers for lunch and The Ball and Chain bar/restaurant for supper, a cold beer (or two) and the chance to enjoy live Cuban music.
We lasted less than a week at our Wynwood accommodation due to a collapsed roof. By this time however, we’d seen enough and were ready to move on and hopefully catch a bit of quiet. The top place for us whilst here was the celebrated bakery called Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop and Café. Run by….. a fireman called (yep) Derek. His pies and cakes were delicious and for Wynwood priced reasonably well. The “Crack Cake” being particularly good.
With a hole in the apartment roof, Airbnb were obliged to help us find alternative accommodation. With little available at last minutes we luckily secured an excellent unit, with swimming pool, in the plush Coconut Grove area of town for the remainder of our planned Wynwood stay. At last a bit of peace and quiet and we enjoyed our short stay here walking through Kennedy Park, past the Marina to the shopping district of Coco Walk. We sat and enjoyed some ice cream at Dolce Vita Gelato Café before giving Hamish a run off the lead in Peacock Park and a soak in the bay to cool off.
To top off our brief stay we found the hidden gem, El Carajo tapas and wine restaurant serving traditional Spanish fare. Hidden in the rear of a gas station, the food was delicious and the surroundings pristine, prices very reasonable. Highly recommended but very busy. Booking your table is advisable but walk-ins are accepted though you may have to wait a little.
It was now the end of May and for Tracy’s birthday we left AirBnB apartments behind and treated ourselves to 3 nights in The Standard Hotel and SPA resort….. dogs welcome, no kids.
Three days of luxury and pampering, the hotel was situated on the man-made Venetian Islands, a set of islands linking downtown and south beach via a set of road bridges. Fifteen minutes walk from Lincoln Road mall and twenty from the famous Miami beach and Ocean Drive. We preferred the sanctuary of the hotel than the madness of the beach which we visited only once as dogs weren’t allowed. Within the hotel dogs had unlimited access with the exception of going into the pool (he was allowed pool-side) and the spa area. Across the street a large park and dog park gave Hamish the freedom to run.
The spa itself offered a hammam (heated marble slabs), sauna, steam room, baths, tropical showers and a scrub room. Pool-side offered a hot waterfall, cold plunge and mudbaths as well as a bar and restaurant. There is also a gymnasium.
We ate in the hotel restaurant only once which we found slightly overpriced. The following evening dined out at a French bistro on Lincoln Road called Colette, the third night bought in from the nearby Fresh Foods Market.
All in all a fabulous hotel and we’ll worth checking out if your planning a stay in Miami. The Spa facilities are also available to non guests as membership or a day pass.
With our Miami stay now over, we remained in the area, moving to the quiet city of Fort Lauderdale around forty minutes north.