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7 Cities in South America to Tack On to Your Rio Olympics Trip

Add these destinations to your itinerary and make the most of your vacation.

U.S. News & World Report

7 Cities in South America to Tack On to Your Rio Olympics Trip

A Brazilian flag flying over the top of Rio Brazil.
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(Getty Images)

Many destinations are within easy reach of Rio.

South America lures travelers with its natural wonders, cosmopolitan cities and secluded beaches. If you're already planning to visit Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics, consider taking a few more vacation days to explore all that South America has to offer. Several of the continent's most prized gems are easy to fly to from Rio and offer diverse landscapes, unique cultures and plenty of history. So, read on to see where else you should budget some time – you'll already be in South America after all.
Sun setting over São Paulo, Brazil.
Credit

(Getty Images)

São Paulo

This vibrant city – the largest in South America – is within close reach of Rio, making it a choice destination to add to your itinerary. São Paulo is just a 40-minute plane ride from Rio and daily (and affordable) nonstop flights are available regularly between the two cities. A hub for art, business and fashion, São Paulo teems with cultural sites, museums and lively markets. Must-see attractions include the sprawling Ibirapuera Park (often compared to New York's Central Park), the sky-high Edifício Itália (where you can get a bird's-eye view of the city) and the stunning Catedral da Sé (a neo-Gothic cathedral characterized by tall spires and intricate carvings). "Don't miss the street graffiti and art tour itineraries," says Jill Siegel, Brazil travel specialist and owner of South American Escapes. 
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Many destinations are within easy reach of Rio.

South America lures travelers with its natural wonders, cosmopolitan cities and secluded beaches. If you're already planning to visit Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics, consider taking a few more vacation days to explore all that South America has to offer. Several of the continent's most prized gems are easy to fly to from Rio and offer diverse landscapes, unique cultures and plenty of history. So, read on to see where else you should budget some time – you'll already be in South America after all.

São Paulo

This vibrant city – the largest in South America – is within close reach of Rio, making it a choice destination to add to your itinerary. São Paulo is just a 40-minute plane ride from Rio and daily (and affordable) nonstop flights are available regularly between the two cities. A hub for art, business and fashion, São Paulo teems with cultural sites, museums and lively markets. Must-see attractions include the sprawling Ibirapuera Park (often compared to New York's Central Park), the sky-high Edifício Itália (where you can get a bird's-eye view of the city) and the stunning Catedral da Sé (a neo-Gothic cathedral characterized by tall spires and intricate carvings). "Don't miss the street graffiti and art tour itineraries," says Jill Siegel, Brazil travel specialist and owner of South American Escapes. 

Florianópolis, Brazil

Located on the southeastern coast of Brazil, Florianópolis, or "Floripa," is lauded for its sands, surfing and rip-roaring party scene. Floripa comprises one main island (Ilha de Santa Catarina), a few surrounding isles and a small part of mainland Brazil. Sun-seekers have plenty of room to spread out – the city boasts 42 beaches. Meanwhile, seafood lovers can sample the fresh fish, oysters, shrimp and crab at the eateries around town. Plus, Florianópolis is a great destination for visitors who want to learn how to surf or test South America's swell (the island sees some of the best surfing conditions from April to October). Another tip? "Bring and use mosquito repellent. Although August is not considered peak mosquito season in Brazil [typically that's January to March], it's best to protect oneself at this time," Siegel says, pointing to the rapid spread of the Zika virus across the country. When it comes to getting to Floripa, two-hour nonstop flights are available daily from Rio.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Are you a big fan of intricate architecture, steamy tango and thrilling fútbol (soccer) matches? Buenos Aires is calling. This city is known for its combination of European influences and South American charm, as evidenced in its building facades and buzzing neighborhoods. You can spend your days strolling the streets, learning how to tango, filling up on Argentine steak and reveling in the nightlife scene. One must-visit spot is "the San Telmo neighborhood, with its weekend market and great steakhouses," says About.com's South America travel expert Ayngelina Brogan. Plus, getting to Argentina's capital is a cinch with multiple daily nonstop flights available from Rio.

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Located off the northeastern coast of Brazil, this 21-island archipelago is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site that's a remote paradise. The 7-square-mile main island hosts travelers (the smaller islets require special authorization), but the number of tourists allowed to visit at any given time is restricted. This means visitors can enjoy sunbathing (and dolphin-watching) on the pristine beaches and hiking the national park's trails without worrying about crowds. This Brazilian spot is also popular among water sports enthusiasts. "Fernando de Noronha is a mecca for divers and snorkelers at any level of expertise. It has more than 200 species of fish, five shark species, sea turtles and dolphins," Siegel says. Keep in mind, you'll have to pay an environmental preservation tax, which varies in price depending on the length of your stay, to access the island. Multiple airlines offer flights from Rio to Fernando de Noronha, which typically include a layover in Recife, Brazil.

Santiago, Chile

Chile's capital city is best described as artsy and picturesque. Sitting in a valley surrounded by the towering Andes and Chilean coastal mountain ranges, Santiago beckons to globetrotters. The city is home to everything from grand cathedrals and storied plazas to wineries and parks that offer panoramic views. Nonstop flights from Rio de Janeiro, which take about five hours, can be expensive, but there are multiple flight options with a single layover that are available at more affordable rates.

Iguazú Falls

Straddling Brazil and Argentina, the Iguazú Falls are a sight to behold. More than 275 separate falls that tumble more than 200 feet to the rocks and river below comprise this monstrous natural landmark. Visitors can get up close and personal with Iguazú Falls – and snap some unforgettable photos – thanks to the multiple walkways and observation platforms positioned throughout the surrounding forest. Helicopter rides are another popular activity; these allow travelers to take in a wide aerial view of the falls and verdant flora. The Iguazú Falls are "absolutely amazing to visit and will make Niagara Falls look puny," Brogan says. A fee to access the falls applies, though costs vary depending on whether you visit the landmark via the Argentine or the Brazilian side. Nonstop flights, which take about two hours, are available daily from Rio to Foz do Iguaçu/Cataratas International Airport, which is about 10 miles north of the waterfall.

Salvador de Bahia, Brazil

Salvador de Bahia was the first capital of Brazil (from 1549 to 1763) and today it's recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This eastern Brazilian city is characterized by its bright pastel-hued houses and its Afro-Brazilian culture; the strong African influence originates from the descendants of slaves brought to the region. That means everything – from music and dance (like samba and capoeira) to food and festivals – incorporates and celebrates Bahia's Afro-Brazilian heritage. The Pelourinho neighborhood is the heart of the city where you'll find colorful buildings, historic churches, cobblestone streets and charming cafes. Nonstop flights from Rio de Janeiro to Salvador, which take around two hours, are available daily.
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