Travel Tips

Miami Airport Guide: Connecting Travelers to Latin America

Filed Under: Airports, Miami

Miami International Airport is the main airport arrival point for America’s top oceanfront playground (we’re talking about South Beach, of course). It’s also the largest US gateway to destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America. Some 80 airlines fly to roughly 150 destinations across the planet from here -- from Aruba to Zurich. Whether you find yourself on an unexpected layover or you’ve planned to enlighten your travels with sunny times in Florida’s savviest city, Miami’s airport has you covered.

Coming and Going
Landing at Miami International Airport (MIA) puts you within about 15 minutes of downtown Miami and just a few minutes more to the famed Miami beaches. All the major car rental companies are here, and to reach them you take the MIA Mover, a free train that carries up to 3,000 passengers per hour to the rental car center. Alternatively, take a bus connection from the airport to the Tri-Rail, a train service that transports people all around Dade County and into Broward (Fort Lauderdale) and Palm Beach counties. If you’re headed to Miami Beach, hop on the Airport Flyer bus, which departs regularly from the airport to points along Collins and Washington avenues.

New Developments
If you’re flying to the Caribbean or South America, you’re likely transiting through the newly renovated North Terminal (Terminal D), the American Airlines hub for the region. More than 90% complete as of September 2011, the North Terminal will be fully open by summer 2012. The many dining options here include sit-down seafood and sushi restaurants, as well as an outpost of Miami’s famed Cuban restaurant, Versailles. The terminal is beautiful, with cast bronze starfish and coral inlaid into sleek gray terrazzo floors. Sculptures of fish -- jack, marlins and other Atlantic marine life -- create geometric patterns on the walls. When it opens in April 2012, the AirportLink, a 2.4-mile extension of Miami’s Metrorail, will provide seamless rail service to the airport from the city.

The Overnighter
You needn’t leave the airport to rest your traveler’s legs for the night. MIA is one of the few airports in the country with a hotel inside the terminal, the Miami International Airport Hotel. With more than 250 rooms, it’s located before you go through security on the second floor of Concourse E, steps from airline check-in counters, restaurants and shops. If you have a long layover, you can snag a room for just $105 for 2 people. Near the airport and with free shuttle service from the terminal, consider the Miami Airport Marriott and the Hilton Miami Airport. In South Beach, stay in an Art Deco hotspot on Ocean Drive like the Pelican hotel or scope out the scene at one of downtown Miami’s splashiest rooftop pools at the Viceroy hotel.

Day Tripping
If you have more than 5 hours between flights, it’s worth making a fun foray into Miami. Stash your luggage at the baggage checkroom on the second level of Terminal E (from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily) and set off. In Little Havana, less than 15 minutes from the Miami airport, sip a café con leche at Café Versailles or stroll along Calle Ocho to pop into a cigar shop or watch men in guayaberas play dominoes on the street. Just east are the beaches (count on half an hour to get there from the airport), where you can bask in the South Beach scene at News Café in the Art Deco district or indulge in a stone crab feast at Joe’s. The Design District’s furniture shops and chic restaurants, like Mai Tardi make for good layover fun, too. And if shopping’s your prerogative, hit Coral Gables and the Miracle Mile, where bookstores, fashionable boutiques and jewelry stores await.

Airport Entertainment and Food Finds
In 2011 alone, 20 new restaurants and stores opened in the North Terminal. When renovations are complete in 2012, the Miami airport will have 200 concessions, including sushi restaurants, children’s and adult art galleries, and a variety of retail stores. Before reaching security in the South Terminal, hit the Jetsetter Spa for a pre or post-flight massage. And in the H-J Connector area, you can treat yourself to manicures, chair massages and paraffin treatments at :10 Minute Manicure. Some of the best airport restaurants are in the North Terminal, where you can sit down for super fresh sushi at Sushi Maki or try an authentic Cuban sandwich or empanada at Café Versailles.

Going Mobile
Access wireless internet from your laptop or PDA most everywhere within the Miami airport ($4.95 for 30 minutes or $9.95 for 24 continuous hours). Data port connections are also available. A fee-based business center in the South Terminal has 5 online computers, as well as fax machines, printers and photocopy machines. The lobby bar at the Miami International Airport Hotel has a few internet workstations, too.

Based in Orlando, FL, travel writer Terry Ward travels frequently to the Caribbean and always passes a layover at MIA, enjoying spicy tuna and tempura roll from Sushi Maki in the North Terminal.

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