When we left Orlando we ventured South to the town of Homestead. Our first night we stayed for free at the Tamiami Casino until we could check out a couple parks that were first come, first served. We originally planned to stay at a city RV park but after driving through it we determined it to be a little to “sketchy” for our liking. We decided upon a park called Southern Comfort which seemed a little safer. It ended up being a great place. Homestead is a good base camp location. It is close to Miami, the Keys and the Everglades.
When we left Tennessee we had hoped to leave the bad weather and rain behind. When we reached the “Sunshine State” we had high hopes days sunning ourselves on those wonderful white sand beaches. It wasn’t to be. The rain was relentless. I guess that’s what you get here during an El Nino winter. Normally this is the dry season.
One day we drove up to Miami to check out famous Miami Beach. Due to the weather we just drove by instead of getting out and walking on the beach. It’s the busy little tourist area that you would expect and looks like it could be fun in better weather. On a different day we checked out little Havana, the Cuban area, although much of Miami has a Cuban feel. My personal favorite thing about the area is Cuban coffee! We got our first taste of the wonderful little shots of very strong but very sweet coffee at David’s Cafe. I liked it so much I’m now making my own and even have Megann joining in my morning coffee routine. Cuban food however, we found to be a little bland. We ate at one of the highest rated restaurants in the area called Versailles so it was good but not as exciting as we expected. Cubans seem like such a lively bunch that we were surprised the food wasn’t more exciting. Perhaps we just weren’t trying the right things. One thing we did really enjoy were the empanadas and pastry’s. In Havana we tried a chicken empanada and it actually had some spice. We also tried these guava and cheese pastries from a little bakery in Homestead that were amazing!
Near our RV park was Biscayne National Park, which seems small because most of it is under water. The coast line is pretty but to enjoy it you really need to get out on a boat and preferably below the water above the reefs. It would be amazing for diving or snorkeling! We would like to go back to this park when the weather is nicer and we can get in the water.
Of course we had to explore the famous Florida Keys! One day we drove all the way to Key West and that takes like 3 hours! It was a lot less fancy-shmancy than we thought it would be, but we like that! It is expensive to stay out there in a hotel or RV park but it’s not really all that uppity. We would love to be able to work at one of the many beautiful State parks or RV parks out there in the future. We especially liked John Pennekamp Coral Reef and Bahia Honda. There are tons of places to fish, kayak or just enjoy the beaches and blue waters. We actually lucked out and booked a snorkeling trip with Spirit Snorkeling for the one sunny/non-windy day while we were there! It was great. We took a catamaran out to the reef and got to snorkel for a good hour. We saw lots of different fish and the water was pretty clear. On one of the keys, Islamorada, is Robbie’s where you can pay a small fee to feed the tarpon – Megann had a great time doing that! We found a good dog daycare for Dexter while we were exploring the keys so he got to go and play twice.
Everglades National Park (East)
We spent a day exploring the east side of Everglades National Park. From the East entrance you ca access Ernest Coe and Flamingo visitor centers. There is a mixture of marshlands and mangrove filled swamps. There are lots of boardwalks in different types of “hammocks” which are treed areas among the swamp and grasslands. We were planning on going on a slough slog, a hike in the swamp, but we ended up cancelling due to the rain. We were fine being thigh deep in the swamp, but it just didn’t sound as fun if our whole body was soaking wet. We saw the most wildlife on the Anhinga trail at Royal Palm.
Everglades NP (West) and Big Cypress National Preserve
We left the Homestead area and headed over to the west side of the Everglades. Most of the campgrounds in the park were booked up, but we were able to get a spot at Burns Lake, no hookups, but a beautiful spot. They were doing an Everglades “triathlon” for visitors where you did a four hour canoe trip, 15 mile bike ride and a 3 mile walk at designated areas to earn a sticker. The canoe trip was super cool and we did much better in that than we did in the double kayak! They took us from the Gulf Coast visitor center along the coast line and then up in to a river through the mangroves and cypress trees. It was a really interesting experience! The bike ride was from the Shark Valley visitor center out to an observatory. It poured rain the entire time but we wanted the sticker so we did it anyway. We saw a ton of birds up close as they were sitting still waiting out the rain. We also saw some quite large gators really close to the path, like 3 feet from it! We didn’t linger too long near those. The 3 mile walk left from the Oasis visitor center but it was mostly flooded so we probably only went a third of the way.
Everglades city is where the Gulf Coast visitor center is but is also home to a number of tour companies offering air boat rides and other swamp themed adventures. We almost didn’t go on the air boat ride since we’d done the canoeing but I’m glad we did. It is a different experience to be zooming through the tree enclosed waterways on a boat like that! You don’t see as much wildlife but it’s fun. After our ride we went to City Seafood for burgers and a plate of Stone Crabs which are a local favorite. These are the crabs they harvest just the claws from and then throw them back to regrow the claw.
Despite the bad weather we enjoyed the area and would love to return and work/volunteer for a winter. We’re actually in the process of filling out our application for Florida State Parks for next year. These are sought after positions so we probably won’t get one but we’re trying anyway! From here we headed back North en route to New Orleans!