Story and photos by Lynn Burshtein
For the first half of the 20th Century, Miami was often considered a low-key resort town for retirees, a place to escape winter and play games of Canasta or MahJong while sunning by the pool. Fast forward several decades and the city experienced a surge in population. Businesses grew and the once quaint art deco buildings were transformed into glamourous hotels and hip nightclubs. The city’s art scene prospered and buzzy South Beach became a de facto fashion runway. Miami is now mainly looked upon as a decadent destination befitting of stars and socialites.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau wants you to know, however, that there are adventure travel experiences and plenty of activities to experience in Miami besides sunbathing and shopping. So, a group of intrepid travel writers from around the globe, including representatives from Brazil, the UK, the US and Canada, were recently treated to a four-day whirlwind of adventure activities that left us literally and figuratively breathless.
Our journey began at the PaliHouse hotel, a restored Art Deco property originally built in the 1940s, then opened as a hotel in October 2019. With its retro-kitsch style, this low-rise hotel offers a number of active-minded amenities, including the Beach Butler, a valet service that provides roundtrip transportation to nearby Mid-Beach (much quieter than South Beach), as well as al fresco dining options at the hotel’s charming Greenbriar Swim & Social Club (the swim club also offers outdoor yoga classes). The hotel is a ten-minute bike ride away from Sunset Harbour) a neighborhood where fitness studios and juice bars abound. Bikes are available on loan to guests of PaliHouse
Over the next few days, we kayaked to Oleta River State Park near Biscayne Bay, on scenic waterways through mangrove forests, paddling to a quiet island inhabited by remarkably friendly raccoons. We also visited Jungle Island, an eco-adventure park on Watson Island that offers up-close-and-personal encounters with exotic animals including lemurs, capybaras, sloths, flamingos and macaws.
We were told this attraction site has been visited by the likes of Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, whose flamboyant wardrobes have been no doubt inspired by the vibrant colors of the Jungle Island parrots. Some brave souls also tested SuperFlight, a wind tunnel flight simulator that provided each participant with a few minutes of airborne excitement. Filled with trepidation, and experiencing a sore back, I made like the resident sloths and watched from the sidelines.
The action continued near Key Largo and Key West, where we had a chance to visit the famed Florida Everglades. At Everglades Alligator Farm near the entrance of Everglades National Park, we witnessed a snake show and slow-moving alligators. We also took an airboat tour of the park, followed by a back-country boat tour of the Everglades River, where we saw crocodiles and manatees, as well as Blue Herons. The park also offers canoeing, kayaking and bike routes.
To be closer to the Everglades, we moved to the Miccosukkee Resort & Gaming, owned by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. A massive property with endless rooms of 24-hour/day casino gaming, this is not a wellness resort by any means, but guest rooms are large and offer all key amenities. However, if wellness-minded travelers are bent on finding eco-minded lodging near the Everglades, they could rent one of the newly-constructed, furnished Eco-tents at Flamingo Everglades Park for a rustic glamping experience.
Aside from the fitness adventures with back-to-back nature experiences, our hosts also provided fascinating walking tours of historical downtown Miami and the outdoor street art museum at Wynwood Walls which boasts works by Shepard Fairy and Kenny Scharf, among other notable modern artists. Considered the “Brooklyn of Miami” this is definitely a must-see for art aficionados.
We certainly did not go hungry those four days either, having dined extravagantly at the Greenbriar Swim & Social all-day restaurant at the PaliHouse and sampled delicious Italian food at Genuine Pizza at the outdoor Aventura Mall as well as at Bravissimo restaurant at the Miccosukee resort. We also indulged in high-end surf & turf at Meat Market on pedestrian-friendly Lincoln Road, and had a memorable lunch at the Asian food hall, 1-800-Lucky located near Wynwood Walls. In addition, we also ventured to the Kendall district for a Peruvian meal at Pisco Y Nazca Ceviche Gastropub. Our meals were not wellness-oriented, per se, but most menus had at least a few healthy (including vegetarian) options.
I now see Miami in a whole different light. It is a destination filled with adventure and eco-minded wellness options and authentic street life that goes well beyond the beaches.
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A frequent contributor to Travel to Wellness, Lynn Burshtein was a guest of Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau in January 2020.