Playing soccer on the Beach in Rio

Rio de Janeiro-Galeão International Airport (GIG)

One would expect great things from a place that inspired both Jobim's "Girl from Ipanema" and Duran Duran's "Rio" — and Brazil's second largest city and former capital doesn't disappoint. The Portuguese founded the city in 1565, but this thoroughly modern city will play host to the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Two Heavenly Views

Rio de Janeiro is one of the world's largest cities and can seem daunting to first time visitors. However, Rio's public transit system, especially its subway (Metrô Rio), makes getting around safe and convenient. For an unforgettable panoramic view of the city, take a cable car ride up Sugar Loaf Mountain. At its peak of nearly 1,300 feet, you'll be suspended over Rio's deep blue harbor, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Or find yourself at the base of the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue. This 130-foot colossus, completed in 1931, has become Rio's symbol that sits atop the Corcovado Mountain, some 2,300 feet above sea level. You don't compromise mountains for beaches here. Rio's pristine beaches with famous names like Arpoador, Ipanema and Copacabana simply can't be missed.

This is a town that really knows how to party. On December 31, the place to be in Rio is Copacabana Beach, where more than two million people ring in the New Year. Few celebrations on the planet can match Rio's Carnival. Held every February, you can enjoy the lavish parades and samba with five million of your best friends.

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