World’s Top 10 Happiest Countries
Where are the happiest people? Hint: Mostly in Latin America. See the world’s most blissful places, according to the leading global happiness measurement the Happy Planet Index.
With the second biggest barrier reef in the world, a laidback Caribbean lifestyle and a favorable climate, there’s a lot to be happy about in Belize. But its cultural diversity is what is truly believed to make this country so content and welcoming: European, Creole, Hispanic and Mayan are some of the prevalent groups that form one harmonious culture here.
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Seven of the top 10 countries listed on the Happy Planet Index are in Latin America. Even more surprising is that Guatemala, a country once torn apart by civil war, ranks high on the list. Despite all their problems, Guatemalans are sustained by all the magical beauty that surrounds them -- mountains, volcanoes and sacred Mayan ruins.
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This developing county has the highest well-being score in all of South America, and even ranks higher on the index than the US. While the country’s crime reputation is well-documented, the people here feel lucky to be surrounded by so many natural wonders. The Amazon wildlife, the highest waterfalls in the world and sand dunes are just some of the country’s unique attractions.
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This Central American country values its natural beauty, with a very low ecological footprint score. Adventurous travelers are starting to take note, too. Locals are excited to see tourism grow rapidly here, with increasing interest in Nicaragua's eco-tourism, surfing and “off-the-beaten path” vibe. And it might surprise you, but this country is one of the safest in Central America -- that’s something for locals to feel good about, too.
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Positivity runs rampant in Panama. Yes, that’s right: Even though Panama is one of poorest countries in the world, it has a very high well-being score. Perhaps a rising standard of living and growing economy have something to do with it. Panama has a lot to offer visitors, too, including untrampled beaches and a festive cultural atmosphere filled with plenty of dancing.
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“Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be alright.” The words of this island nation's immortal native son, Bob Marley, still echo in Jamaica today. The typical Jamaican response to any request, “No problem,” also sums up the national attitude. And who wouldn’t have a constant smile on their face if they lived in this sun-soaked Caribbean paradise?
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Even though this country is overshadowed by neighboring Guatemala and Mexico as a hot tourist destination, locals are content with what they have: Friendly neighbors, hearty comfort food like yummy pupusas and chicharron, and under-the radar beaches. And travelers should take note: While El Salvador has a reputation for gang violence, a recent truce has seen a huge drop in incidents.
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Some of the best coffee in the world comes from Colombia -- could a continuous coffee buzz be keeping this country happy? Or perhaps, it’s the fact that Colombians have the second highest number of national holidays in the world. Plenty of days off coupled with lots of good coffee would put a smile on our face, too.
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Did you think Thailand, the Land of Smiles, might have the highest HPI score in Asia? According to the HPI, Vietnam is actually the happiest country in Asia. A resilient and growing nation, Vietnam has become a major tourist destination over the last 20 years. The Vietnamese have a high level of satisfaction in life, appreciating what they have: quiet beaches, booming cities and some of the best cuisine in the world.
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An-army free country has to be doing something right. The happiest country on Earth can’t have many enemies (maybe that’s why they have a high life expectancy of 79.3, too). With abundance of natural beauty --- from beaches to volcanoes to rainforests -- Costa Ricans appreciate their bounty. The local saying, "Pura vida," loosely translates as "Life is good." And here in Costa Rica, life is pure happiness, too.
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No. 20: Richmond, VirginiaVirginia’s capital rounds out the list thanks, in part, to all its dog parks. If you’re visiting with your pooch, check out Ruff House Dog Park at Rockwood Park, an off-leash dog park that’s a favorite among locals. You’ll also routinely see Richmond residents get in their exercise alongside their furry friends on historic Monument Avenue. 960 1280
No. 19: ClevelandCleveland makes the list for its ample recreation facilities and park-related spending. The city is home to the new $11 million Collinwood Recreation Center, which is free for all to use, even nonresidents of the city. Another big attraction is the West Side Market (pictured), the oldest operating indoor/outdoor market space in the city. 960 1280
No. 18: Virginia Beach, VAVirginia Beach consistently ranks among America’s fittest cities. The oceanfront city boasts many light and non-lighted tennis courts across town, and the area is home to 265 parks, totaling more than 4,000 acres of land. 960 1280
No. 17: BaltimoreBaltimore ranks well for its high number of park playgrounds, recreation centers and swimming pools. Another draw is Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, which sees 13 million visitors a year. Among its attractions is Baltimore Beach, a stretch of sand that’s home to 7 volleyball courts. 960 1280
No. 16: PittsburghPittsburgh didn’t rank too well in terms of “healthy eating.” However, the city has many opportunities for visitors and residents to stay active outside. Renting a bike is easy at Golden Triangle Bike Rental, with their main location on the Eliza Furnace Trail. Hourly and daily rentals are available for the entire family. All rentals include a helmet, bike lock and self-guided trail map. 960 1280
No. 15: Raleigh, North CarolinaRaleigh gets high marks for setting aside a high percentage of city land as parkland; 17% of municipal land is devoted to parks compared with the national average of 10.6%. Cycling, boating, camping and hiking are all easy day excursions, with Umstead State Park and the American Tobacco Trail nearby. Plus, get in outdoor art at the North Carolina Museum of Art, where you’ll find this monumental sculpture. 960 1280
No. 14: San DiegoAlong with its great weather, “America’s Finest City” is known for its physically fit residents, who go surfing in San Diego at places like South Carlsbad State Beach. For quiet time, locals and visitors alike can enjoy the meditation gardens on the grounds of San Diego’s Self-Realization Fellowship Temple, founded by an Indian spiritual leader in the 1930s. 960 1280
No. 13: CincinnatiLocals in Cincinnati find plenty of outdoor inspiration in this stretch of southwest Ohio, from hopping aboard a riverboat cruise to kicking back in the city’s new 45-acre Riverfront Park. On the food front, Findlay Market delivers as Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market. 960 1280
No. 11: Austin, Texas<a title="Austin, TX" href="http://www.travelchannel.com/destinations/austin/articles/austin-city-guide" target="_blank">Austin, TX</a>, has <a title="superb food" href="http://www.travelchannel.com/destinations/austin/articles/austins-best-food-carts" target="_blank">superb food</a>. The Texas capital can also get very hot, which may explain why it has so many public swimming areas, at an affordable fee, too. The average price for a day pass to one of the city’s public pools is only $3 for adults and $1 for children. Barton Springs Pool is one place to cool down; find the recreational pool in Austin’s Zilker Park. 960 1280
No. 10: San Jose, CaliforniaOften called the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” San Jose, as California’s third-largest city, also has some great outdoor attractions. Alum Rock Park, nestled in the eastern foothills of Silicon Valley, is a great place for picnics, hiking, biking and exploring. The park also boasts great scenic trails, and 1800s-era natural spring baths. 960 1280
No. 9: Hartford, ConnecticutThe capital city has more than 50 public parks and squares that cover more than 27,000 acres. More than a million people annually picnic, jog, attend rallies and socialize at Hartford's restored Bushnell Park (pictured). As the oldest publicly funded park in the US, Hartford’s historic “Central Park” has added new landscaping, benches and a play area in recent years. 960 1280
No. 8: SeattleBeach volleyball, anyone? In Seattle locals head to Alki Beach Park, a nearly 136-acre park with a half-mile of beachfront. Another favorite for the physically fit is Discovery Park, a 534-acre park on the shores of Puget Sound that includes more than 11 miles of walking and biking trails. The park, the largest in Seattle, is also a great place to view wildlife. 960 1280
No. 7: Sacramento, CaliforniaIn the Sacramento area, go kayaking on Lake Natoma, within the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. Another big attraction is the city’s park system; in 2013, Sacramento tied with San Francisco and Boston for having the third-best park system among the 50 most populous US cities. 960 1280
No. 6: BostonBeantown is a walker’s city. Lace up for a walk along Boston Harbor. Plus, enjoy a 2.5-mile walk along the Freedom Trail, which leads to 16 historic sites in downtown <a title="Boston" href="http://www.travelchannel.com/destinations/boston/articles/travel-channels-guide-to-boston" target="_blank">Boston</a>. The city is also the birthplace of <a title="November Project" href="http://november-project.com" target="_blank">November Project</a>, a free fitness movement that started in 2011 (and has since spread to other major cities), with a membership of professional athletes and fitness rookies. 960 1280
No. 5: DenverOutdoors lovers especially love the Mile High City. The big outdoor attraction is the Front Range Trail. Just 30 minutes outside the city, the 876-mile trail stretches from Wyoming into New Mexico, with trails ideal for hiking, running, rock climbing and mountain biking. And just 20 miles west of Denver, check out Genesee Park; you may spot American bison. 960 1280
No. 4: San FranciscoThe San Francisco Bay Area is known for its fresh, healthy food, with a focus on seasonal ingredients and sustainable agriculture. Dig into organic delights at local restaurants like The Plant, where organic salads and meats grace the menu. And whip up your own menu with items from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, which sells more than 1,500 varieties of local produce. 960 1280
No. 3: Portland, OregonWith more than 10,000 acres of public parks, including 300 miles of greenways and bike boulevards, Portland is a great city for anyone seeking outdoor urban adventure. Enjoy a bike ride along the Willamette River, or start exploring the great outdoors on foot with a trip into Forest Park, one of the largest protected wilderness areas inside any US city. 960 1280
No. 2: Washington, DCWashington, DC, promotes a healthy lifestyle through its Capital Bikeshare program, with 2,500 bicycles located throughout the city. Another big draw is Eastern Market, a city fixture for more than 135 years, selling local farm-fresh produce. And if you want to get in cardio, a jog around the National Mall is a great option; you’ll cover 5 miles. 960 1280
No. 1: Minneapolis-St. PaulFor the third year in a row, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area ranks as the No. 1 healthiest city. Minneapolis was one of the first cities nationwide to add bike trails; it also sets aside a high percentage of the city as parkland. Another healthy draw is the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Established in 1937, the market supports some 230 local vendors. 960 1280
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Athletic VolunteerismGet fit, give back, and see a new city at the same time. According to Cheapflights.com, this year will see an increase in athletic volunteerism, a trend fueled by growing participation in mega sports events like the New York City Marathon. Biking more your thing? Check out events like the Ride to End AIDS, a 7-day bike ride from San Francisco to LA. 960 1280
Detox and Unplugged VacationsOn a quest for quiet? Need to unplug from your gadgets? Resorts and hotels are answering our growing addiction to technology with detox vacation packages that promise not to have Wi-Fi or TV on isolated grounds, but rather wellness services like yoga and meditation -- all designed to quiet your mind. 960 1280
Vacation With Your PetAccording to a recent PetRelocation.com survey, nearly 1/3 of all pet owners planned to travel outside the US with their pets this past year. Pet travel is likely to grow, as more hotels and airlines, such as Pet Airways, continue to make it easier to bring your pooch along on your next break. And since traveling with your pet guarantees a more active vacation, you won’t have to worry about hitting the hotel gym. 960 1280
Weight-Loss CampsWant to take off work and pounds at the same time? The Biggest Loser resort at Fitness Ridge, in Ivins, UT, offers healthy meals, a day full of exercise, the power of group motivation, and plenty of spectacular scenery with daily canyon hikes. 960 1280
Healthier Options for In-Flight MealsFruit on a plane? For some airlines, yes. Air Canada and Virgin America offer the healthiest in-flight food, a recent nutritional survey found. Pictured here is Virgin America’s “protein box,” sure to help give you an energy boost on your next redeye. 960 1280
Healthier Cruise ShipsWhen you think of taking a cruise, you may think of buffet food and unlimited drinks, aka a vacation of overindulgence. But in 2012, cruise lines are offering more ways to experiment with fitness trends or at least keep up with your daily workout regimen. Fred Olsen Cruise Lines offers yoga, Pilates, personal trainers, daily organized walks around the deck, and even pools with waves for resistance swimming. 960 1280
Holistic HolidaysTop US spas, such as Miraval near Tucson, AZ, offer more than physical benefits. In addition to helping you find your freshest layer of skin, Miraval’s spa services help calm your inner core enjoy with programs designed around mindfulness and self-discovery. 960 1280
Fitness Friendly HotelsHotels are feeling the pressure to offer healthier food options and better exercise facilities for travelers who don’t want to fall off the health wagon while on vacation. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts not only offers state-of-the-art cardio and weight-training equipment, but also studio classes and personal trainers. 960 1280
Medical TourismFrom Lasik to knee replacement, the high cost of health care is continuing to push a growing numbers of Americans to go abroad for health care. Perhaps it’s easier to recover from surgery, too, in tropical paradises like Costa Rica and Thailand. 960 1280
Spa Breaks Not Just for WomenSpas aren’t just for the girls anymore. Couples are choosing romantic spa getaways. Don’t worry, guys. Spas are making services more appealing to men, too, with less “girly” options, such as sports massages and gentlemen’s facials. 960 1280
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