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Why rent a car in Miami?
With more than 15 million tourists visiting the city every year, Miami is a pre-eminent travel destination in the United States. The primary reason for visiting the Miami area is for its beaches, which are enjoyable year-round due to the warm weather. World-class shopping, a renowned nightlife scene, and a large population of Latin Americans also draw visitors from around the world.
Due to the area’s sprawling nature, the fact that most locals travel by car, and the flexibility it gives, a large percentage of these tourists chose to get around via a rental car (and an even larger percentage of international travelers). While ride sharing apps have become more popular with tourists and taxis are prevalent, many still choose to rent a vehicle due to the low prices of rentals and the high prices of taxis and rideshares. It is particularly important for tourists wishing to venture out of the center of the urban area.
Top ways to enter Miami
Located just west of the city, Miami International Airport is a large hub for air traffic for North America, Latin America, and Europe. From all three terminals, you can take the free MIA Mover tram to the Car Rental Center, where rental desks from all suppliers are in one place.
Located an hour drive north of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport serves less international routes and hosts more low-cost carrier. Perhaps less crowded, the airport has a similar car rental center and is within a convenient drive of Miami, itself. However, some rental agencies may be located off-airport, in which you will need to call them to have a shuttle bus sent.
Travelers at the start or end of cruises to the Carribean will arrive at either Port Miami or Port Everglades, either of which has the possibility for rental car pick-ups and drop-offs.
Miami is also easily accessible by road from Tampa, Cape Coral, Orlando, and other Florida cities by way of Interstates 75 and 95 and Florida’s Turnpike. It would not be a problem to bring a rental car from any of these cities to Miami and back, given that your given milage is sufficient.
Useful city facts
Miami is home to the largest Latin American population outside of Latin America with 70% of the city’s population being of hispanic descent. This means that visitors will find spanish to be a dominant language. However, the overwhelming majority of residents speak English, even if it may not be their native or home-spoken language.
Hurricane season starts in June and runs through November, with mid-August through September having the highest likelihood of one making landfall. In the unlikely even you are visiting while a hurricane is threatening the city, heed all local evacuation orders.
Miami Beach, the popular beach known for its celebrity residents and fashionable clubs, is actually a separate city. Ever since the first resort hotel was built in the early twentieth century, Miami Beach has been a renowned beach resort destination.
Top destinations and activities
- Beaches, beaches, beaches - The primary reason for most travelers to visit Miami is to take in the sun on the area’s luscious beaches. From the see and be seen Miami Beach to the small beach town of Surfside, the Miami area has a beach for every type of traveler. Those with families shouldn’t miss Crandon Beach on Key Biscayne with its shallow and calm waters.
- Nightlife - Another thing Miami is notorious for, is its nightlife. From midnight to sunrise, Thursday through Sunday, Miami’s clubs’ DJs pump out the latest hip hop and house hits. Be prepared for the dress code if you want to go to the most fashionable nightclubs. If you want a more relaxing vibe, the luxury lounges and high end hotel bars are also an opulent option.
- Food - With so many ethnicities from all over the world calling Miami home, one can’t be surprised that the city has a wealth of culinary options. Of particular note is the Floribbean style of cooking which blends not just Carribean, but also other influences from elsewhere in Latin America. Miami is home to everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to delicious street food, encompassing almost any style and price-range a travel could seek.
- Little Haiti - North of Downtown Miami lies the neighborhood dubbed Little Haiti after it became the predominant home of immigrants from Haiti in the 1980s. This neighborhood gives visitors an non-touristy and authentic experience of Hatian culture.
- Little Havana - Located just west of Downtown Miami, Little Havana received its name, unsurprisingly, from a wave of immigrants from Cuba arriving settling in the area starting the 1970s. Its main drag, Calle Ocho, offers authentic latin American cuisine and shopping. While English is generally spoken by most of Miami’s population, in this neighborhood, you will find a higher proportion of residents speaking in spanish. The neighborhood is best reached by car with many on-street parking spots available.
Traffic and parking tips
The roads in the Miami area are generally in good condition. The streets are laid out on a grid, making them easy to navigate. As the primary mode of transportation for locals is the car, expect highways and main streets to be busy, particularly during rush hour.
While the roads themselves may be in good condition, the occupants of the vehicles surrounding you may not. Drivers in Miami have a reputation for being rude and having road rage. In fact, in some years, Miami topped surveys with the rudest drivers in the country. It would serve visiting drivers well to remain alert and drive defensively.
Parking in Miami may at times come at a premium. The city is currently in the midst of large-scale decision making concerning the choice between the addition of new parking garages and lots and other uses for the land. The most difficult area, and therefore the most expensive, to find a parking spot is South Beach, where rates will likely be double that of elsewhere. While street parking, parking garages, and parking lots abound, valet parking is also very popular. If you use this service, be sure to tip the attendants.
Florida’s Turnpike is the longest toll road in the Miami area, connecting Homestead south of Miami with Orlando and I-75 to the north. There are also express lanes on I-95 which are usable only with a SunPass transponder (avoid these lanes if you rental does not have one, otherwise you will be charged $25 dollar fee along with other likely fees from the car supplier). Other area toll roads of note are the Airport and Dolphin Expressways, one of which you will probably travel to and from the airport with.
Most of the toll roads in the Miami area do not have toll booths but instead rely on a cashless system. Payment in these cases takes place either by a SunPass transponder or toll-by-plate, a system which captures your license plate number and sends you an invoice in the mail. Unfortunately, Miami is unlike other locations and you are not able to register your rental vehicle and pay for the tolls online yourself. You, therefore, will be forced to pay for the tolls through your rental contact, whether the company provides a SunPass transponder or not. This will also incur a fee from the rental car provider. It depends on the provider whether this is fee is charged once, for every day that a toll is encountered, for every day after the first day that a toll is encountered, or for every day of rental period.
Once can best avoid these fees and the toll charges by avoiding the toll roads all together. The best way to avoid toll roads is using Google Maps or another online map or GPS device with an option for avoiding toll roads. Of course, you should definitely seek to avoid rush hour traffic in this case.
Ideas for a day-trip
- Fort Lauderdale - Depending on traffic, it only takes 30 minutes to an hour to drive from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale. This city, similarly to F, offers beaches, resorts, and nightlife. A drive down the Strip or a stroll down Las Olas provide many entertainment, shopping, and dining opportunities for travelers.
- Biscayne National Park - Located south of Miami, the park’s visitor center of the Biscayne National Park is at Convoy Point. While most visit park park that is mostly water with their own boat, there is plenty to see and do without renting one. The Biscayne National Park Institute offers numerous guided tours which include some equipment, such as stand up boards or kayaks, while other equipment can be rented from the park store (e.g., snorkeling gear).
- Everglades - The heart of the Everglades from a traveler’s point of view is Everglades National Park. Venture southeast from Miami to Homestead and then Ingraham highway to reach the park. Most of the park is only accessible via boat, but guided tours are available. The park also hosts various trains for hiking or cycling. There only lodging in the park comes in the form of campsites. Note that the park’s operations are heavily curtailed during South Florida’s wet season.
- Palm Beach - Located an hour or so north of Miami, the Palm Beach area has more gorgeous beaches. Visitors often flock to the city to see the houses, most of which are worth millions of dollars. The beaches here also make for a good location to watch rockets launched from Cape Canaveral. One should be careful not to park illegally on the city’s streets, as police often tow vehicles.
- Jonathan Dickinson State Park - It takes less than two hours to drive to this unique state park from Miami. Teeming with wildlife, the park offers opportunities for hiking on various trails, paddling down the National Wild and Scenic Loxahatchee River, camping, fishing, and more.
- Bahamas - Drive north to the port Ft. Lauderdale to catch a ferry to Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama. The ferry runs six days a week and is best booked ahead. With it taking just two and a half hours to make the journey, it is completely possible to make intercountry day trip. Enjoy a grand beach of the bahamas. Please be aware of the visa requirements, if necessary, for your nationality and note that even for American citizens, a passport is necessary
Most popular rental types and cars
The most popular class of rental cars in Miami is economy, of which the Hyundai Accent is an example. After the economy, the compact class is the next most popular, represented by cars such as the Nissan Versa. But because Miami, is also family destination full-size cars, such as the Nissan Altima, are also popular.
- Tampa - Head down I-75 from Miami to reach the bay area of Tampa with the largest port in Florida. Here a trip to Busch Gardens may be in order. If theme parks aren’t your interest, then exploring the famous neighborhood of Ybor bordering downtown will keep you occupied both day and evening.
- Orlando - The theme park capital of the world, Orlando hosts over 70 million visitors every year. Just a few hours drive north of Miami along Florida’s Turnpike, here you can visit the world-famous Disney World, Universal Florida, and SeaWorld theme parks with your family. If, alternatively, you are adults traveling alone, you can have a great time at CityWalk, Downtown Disney or Downtown Orlando. Be careful that your mileage allowance is sufficient to make the trip.
- Bahamas - Located close to South Florida’s Atlantic coast, the Bahamas are a chain of Atlantic islands and a famous exotic destination. Take a ferry to the town of Freeport on Grand Bahama from Ft. Lauderdale as the quickest, and probably cheapest, way to arrive to the islands. Alternatively, the capital Nassau can be reached via a short flight from Miami. Note that the ferry does not carry vehicles. Therefore, you would have to rent another car if you would like to have one on the islands. Also be sure to check the visa requirements if you are not an American citizen or carry your passport if you are.
- Cuba - If you’re not an American citizen, Cuba is wonderfully just a short flight from Miami. It is possible to rent a car in Cuba, though prices have risen dramatically in recent years, the road network may be found to be unsatisfactory outside of the main cities, and you will share the road with pedestrians, cyclists and salespeople. If you do intend to rent a vehicle in Cuba, be careful of scams and be prepared to make a deposit in cash.
- Florida Keys - No trip to Florida can be complete without making the journey south to the Keys. An archipelago off the southern tip of Florida’s peninsula stretching into the straits of Florida, the Florida Keys is notorious for its beaches. The tourist high season is from December to April, when mild temperatures combined with less rain to make it the perfect winter getaway. Therefore, later in spring towards the beginning of summer may be the more pocket-book-friendly time to experience the keys. June through November are hurricane season, and therefore can be risky.
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