Far and away the most exciting city in Florida, MIAMI is a stunning and often intoxicatingly beautiful place. Awash with sunlight-intensified natural colors, there are moments – when the neon-flashed South Beach skyline glows in the warm night and the palm trees sway in the breeze – when a better-looking city is hard to imagine. Even so, people, not climate or landscape, are what make Miami unique. Half of the two million population is Hispanic, the vast majority Cubans. Spanish is the predominant language almost everywhere – in many places it's the only language you'll hear, and you'll be expected to speak at least a few words – and news from Havana, Caracas or Managua frequently gets more attention than the latest word from Washington, DC.
Just a century ago Miami was a
swampy outpost of mosquito-tormented settlers. The arrival of the railroad in 1896 gave the city its first fixed land-link with the rest of the continent, and cleared the way for the Twenties property boom. In the Fifties, Miami Beach became a celebrity-filled resort area, just as thousands of Cubans fleeing the regime of Fidel Castro began arriving in mainland Miami. The Sixties and Seventies brought decline, and Miami's reputation in the Eighties as the vice capital of the USA was at least partly deserved. As the cop show Miami Vice so glamorously underlined, drug smuggling was endemic; as well, in 1980 the city had the highest murder rate in America. Since then, though, much has changed for two very different reasons. First, the gentrification of South Beach helped make tourism the lifeblood of the local economy again in the early Nineties. Second, the city's determined wooing of Latin America brought rapid investment, both domestic and international: many US corporations run their South American operations from Miami and certain neighborhoods, such as Key Biscayne, are now home to thriving communities of expat Peruvians, Colombians and Venezuelans.