10 best places to travel in South America after the Olympics

Story highlights

Beaches, skiing and city breaks are post-Olympics travel options

In Chile, beaches and mountains are within easy reach

Quito, Ecuador, offers rich and well-preserved history

CNN  — 

Where to vacation after your vacation could be called a first-world problem.

Yet for a lucky few, the quandary remains: Where to go to relax and recover after the marvelous mayhem of the Brazil Olympics?

You’re already in South America, so it makes sense to stay “local.”

But narrowing your field of focus won’t put much of a dent in your options; South America is nothing if not varied.

From sipping a huge glass of Malbec to roaming the world’s highest capital city, here’s the lowdown on 10 top spots to explore after the Olympics.

The vineyard: Mendoza, Argentina

If you fancy some "vinotherapy" after the Olympics, Argentina's Mendoza is your ideal destination.

Ready to top up your glass? The ultimate antidote to the Olympic whirlwind awaits in Argentina’s famous wine region, Mendoza.

The Vines Resort & Spa, with its very own Francis Mallmann restaurant, sits in the foothills of the Andes in the Uco Valley an hour south of Mendoza.

A day may go something like this: Wake in a private villa (the smallest is a whopping 1,000 square feet), pad over to the floor-to-ceiling windows and rub your eyes as you can’t quite believe the view, then head onto the deck for a morning yoga session.

After breakfast the wine tasting begins. The Vines tasting room serves a range of Argentinian wines, including the in-house Recuerdo label, and visitors can have a go at blending a personalized Malbec.

Other nearby wineries, such as Clos de los Siete, offer their own site-specific Malbec blends.

Sobering up before dinner may call for some “vinotherapy” at the spa, or perhaps a horse ride through the vines.

Hungry? Mallman’s signature Siete Fuegos restaurant serves expertly prepared open-flame fare. The cooking technique goes back 12,000 years and produces what will arguably be the best steak of your life.

The slopes: Ski Portillo, Chile

Don’t forget it’s winter down in the Southern Hemisphere, so there’s no reason to just sit and look at the Chilean Andes.

Just a hop and a skip (a four-hour flight from Rio to Santiago, plus a two-hour transfer) and you’re at Portillo, a bright yellow beacon of a ski hotel that sits at 9,450 feet (2,880 meters) like a beached vessel on a sea of snow.

Originally a railway refuge, Hotel Portillo was expanded into its current 125-room form in 1949, making it South America’s oldest ski resort.

A privately owned resort belonging to the American-Chilean Purcell family, Portillo has a proud history including hosting South America’s first World Skiing Championships in 1966.

Here it’s an old-school skiing experience, a throwback to 50 years ago when skiing was glamorous, queues at the lifts were unheard of and waiters in red jackets served afternoon tea atop white tablecloths. All this still happens at Portillo.

In addition to 14 lifts, Portillo is home to the world’s only “slingshot” – a six-abreast, avalanche-defying draglift that pulls skiers up steep, ungroomed slopes at a greater speed than many later descend.

The Pacific: Zapallar, Chile

One of the unique things about the long, thin country of Chile is that you’re never more than a few hours from the beach, even when skiing.

When it comes to Chilean beaches, Valparaiso is where the boho bunch flocks, and Algarrobo is for the crowds (drawn by the glistening waters of the world’s largest swimming pool, San Alfonso del Mar).

And then there’s Chile’s hidden gem, the small beach town of Zapallar.

Compared to the Hamptons by some of those lucky enough to have walked its sandy shores, this central Chilean town is where the country’s movers and shakers build their pads – from Alpine chalets to Grecian villas.

It’s not easy to get a glimpse inside one of these houses, but the whitewashed, shingle-roofed Casa Wilson is an exception.

Brought across from Sweden by boat in 1906, this much-loved family home has recently opened as a waterfront B&B. Seven of the bedrooms are rented out, with polo-playing owner Samuel Moreno as host.

“It’s one of the oldest houses in Zapallar, built on top of a rock that my grandmother used to play tennis on,” says Moreno.

His grandfather bought the house for his grandmother, Irene Wilson, a “Zapallarina” who had been summering here since she was a little girl. It’s been in the family ever since, and the rock is now played upon by Moreno’s three young daughters.

Quirky and overflowing with history, you feel like a member of the family when staying in the house. Family photos and memorabilia dot the place, including a snap of Wilson being presented a cup after a polo match by Princess Diana.

The Atlantic: Montevideo, Uruguay

Surrounded by water, South America has no shortage of beaches to choose from.

Over on the east coast, with the Atlantic Ocean lapping the golden sand, sits Uruguay, South America’s second smallest country (after Suriname).

Inhabited by just 3.4 million people – and about four times as many cows – Uruguay is nothing if not laid back.

Although the 400-mile coastline is dotted with famous beach towns, like Punta del Este and Jose Ignacio, in August the best way to see the water is from the capital city, Montevideo.

The Rio de la Plata and the South Atlantic Ocean border this sleepy colonial city. A coastal road called La Rambla stretches for 14 miles from the Old Town to the French-style Hotel Carrasco, which dates to 1921.

In its glory days, Albert Einstein was counted among the guests, but recent decades saw the grand building fall into ruin before Sofitel restored it to its former glory.

The listed heritage site sits like a lit-up confection just meters from the water.

Energetic guests can borrow the hotel bicycles and peddle their way along the coastal path into the center. On Avenida 18 de Julio, Art Deco buildings provide a distraction along the route to Plaza Libertad for souvenirs.

The ancient city: Quito, Ecuador

UNESCO provides clues when it comes to city breaks: The best-preserved, least altered historic center in the whole of Latin America is among its heritage sites.

At 9,350 feet above sea level, Ecuador’s capital city of Quito was founded in the 16th century by the Spanish conquistadores.

Built on top of an Inca city, the hilly, cobbled streets are lined with mind-blowing architecture bringing together the very best mix of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish, Baroque and indigenous influences.

The Basílica del Voto Nacional is a good place to get your bearings.

The largest neo-Gothic basilica in South America, it has a wonderful web of passages within, allowing you to clamber up into the clock tower more than 300 feet above the ground.

With more than 40 churches in Quito’s old town, you’re spoiled for choice. La Compañia, with its gold-leaf interior, is a don’t-miss.

A growing foodie city, Quito has a range of offerings – from the Relais & Chateaux restaurant Zazu to street stalls lining La Ronda that sell enormous empanadas and artisan chocolates.

The highest city: La Paz, Bolivia

The spectacular views of La Paz from the city's first five-star hotel, Atix Hotel.

The world’s highest capital city makes an intriguing city break, too. Perched at 11,910 feet above sea level, La Paz claims the prize when it comes to height.

Walking the streets of La Paz delivers a diverse range of sights, from the colonial architecture of the main plaza to stores bursting with woolly hats and stalls organized in genres – one street illuminated by lightbulbs, the next with hardware, then fabric, clothes and jewelry.

A classic backpacking stop-off, La Paz is dotted with hostels, and travelers throng the markets decked out head-to-toe in alpaca knitwear.

Yet right on the heels of the Olympics, La Paz is welcoming it’s first five-star hotel. Part of the Design Hotels collection, the 53-bedroom Atix Hotel is scheduled to open its doors in September.

The glass, brick and wood fronted building designed by Stuart Narofsky will be decorated inside by a series of installations – video, sculpture and photography – by Bolivian artist Gastón Ugalde.

Inside, it’s an homage to Bolivia’s diverse scenery, with each floor representing a different ecosystem: the Amazon, Salt Flats, Lake Titicaca, Mountains, Lípez Desert and the Valley of the Spirits.

Aracari (+511 651 2424) offers a 10-night Best of Bolivia itinerary from £3,900 ($5,070) per person including four nights at Hotel Atix.

The lake: Lake Titicaca, Peru

Floating islands. If that doesn’t capture your attention, it’s probably best to skip this section.

Spanning Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is like something from “Gulliver’s Travels.”

South America’s largest freshwater lake and the world’s highest navigable lake at 12,500 feet, Titicaca is said to be the birthplace of the first Inca king, Manco Cápac.

There are more than 50 islands floating in the waters of Titicaca, constructed with woven reeds by the Uros, the pre-Inca people who inhabit them.

A home stay like no other, you can overnight in bungalows – made by woven reeds, of course – atop a floating island.

Thanks to solar power, electricity and hot showers are available, and days are spent learning about the Uros culture and eating home-cooked meals.

You’ll likely see the locals doing maintenance on the islands – new reeds need to be frequently added to the top as the lower layers decompose in the water.

The Galapagos: Ecuador

Mind-blowing for anyone who loves animals, the Galapagos is the closest you can get to stepping into a Disney film.

And there’s no need to be a pro diver. Darting penguins, schools of yellow and blue angelfish, hammerheads, stingrays and Galapagos sharks are just a paddle or a snorkel excursion away.

Located 600 miles from mainland Ecuador, the Galapagos archipelago is made up of about 20 volcanic islands that have been around for 10 million years – some say 20 million years.

The unique sub-climate, hospitable to animals you would normally expect to find either in the tropics or in Antarctica, is the reason the islands are home to such a wide range of animals.

Home to countless endemic creatures, including 13 species of finch alone, other animals include blue-footed boobies, herons, pelicans, marine iguanas and, of course, the famous Galapagos Giant Tortoise with an average lifespan of over 100 years.

The best way to explore is by boat. There are many options (bear in mind this isn’t a budget destination), including yacht La Pinta which sleeps up to 48 guests and includes two daily excursions.

The estancia: La Bamba de Areco, Argentina

Days at La Bamba start with fresh breakfast overlooking the lawn.

Carriage rides, gaucho games and long lunches – life at Argentinian estancia La Bamba is a lazy hazy heaven.

One of the country’s oldest rural estates, or estancias, La Bamba dates back to 1830 and is just a few hours from Buenos Aires.

Perfectly groomed lawns stretch out under centuries-old deciduous trees, the owners’ polo ponies canter around the field beyond, and the rust-red hotel takes pride of place at the heart of the estancia.

Days start with fresh orange juice and scrambled eggs at the breakfast parlor.

Then you might take a trip into the idyllic town of San Antonio de Areco with its timeless bars and plazas. Famous for its high-end artisan crafts, there are plenty of silversmiths, leather shops and chic boutiques to browse.

Back at La Bamba, lunch is a typical “parilla” (barbecue) of grilled meat with salad and, of course, a glass of Malbec.

Then it’s time for the iconic gaucho show, a display of traditional games and races followed by a horse-whispering routine using traditional techniques that lull the horse into rolling over like a puppy.

The Brazilian beach: Bahia, Brazil

The Bahia Coast is a popular vacation spot for the locals.

And last but not least, if you want to stay put in beautiful Brazil and just need a beach and a large caipirinha, the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia does sun and sand exceptionally well.

You’re spoiled for choice on the Bahia Coast – known by the locals as the place to vacation. It has no less than 600 miles of white-sand, palm-trimmed Atlantic beaches.

Avoiding the crowds often means traveling a little bit deeper, and the Marau Peninsula is one place where you’ll get the beach nearly all to yourself.

It’s also ideal for surfers, and mouthwatering local food – from Moqueca (Bahian fish stew) to grilled mango for desert – is a big bonus.

Wedged between banana trees and coconut palms, Butterfly House has individual grass-roofed bungalows surrounding a lake-like swimming pool, just meters from the beach.

This is the place for some laid back local luxury after the excitement of the Games.