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.
GuatemalaSeven 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.
Happiest Planet Index: #10 960 1280
VenezuelaThis 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.
Happiest Planet Index: #9 960 1280
NicaraguaThis 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.
Happiest Planet Index: #8 960 1280
PanamaPositivity 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.
Happiest Planet Index: #7 960 1280
Jamaica“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 <a href="http://www.travelchannel.com/destinations/jamaica/photos/things-to-do-in-jamaica">Jamaica</a> 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? <br/><br/><b>Happiest Planet Index:</b> #6 960 1280
El SalvadorEven 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.
Happiest Planet Index: #5 960 1280
BelizeWith 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 <a href="http://www.travelchannel.com/destinations/belize/photos/why-you-should-visit-belize">Belize</a>. 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. <br/><br/><b>Happiest Planet Index:</b> #4 960 1280
ColombiaSome 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.
Happiest Planet Index: #3 960 1280
VietnamDid 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.
Happiest Planet Index: #2 960 1280
Costa RicaAn-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.
Happiest Planet Index: #1 960 1280
Banjar Hot SpringsLess than a mile from the village of Banjar in northern Bali, this hot spring is a relaxing 98.6 degrees. The hot spring water pours from the mouths of 8 stone-carved naga (mythical, dragon-like creatures) into a rectangular-shaped pool. 960 1280
Calistoga Spa Hot SpringsHead to Napa Valley for a dip in this mineral pool, one of 4 geothermally heated pools on the grounds of Calistoga Spa Hot Springs hotel in Calistoga, CA. Recline in waters ranging from 80 to 104 degrees, while enjoying the surrounding beauty of nearby Mt. St. Helena. 960 1280
Dunton Hot SpringsA century ago, miners in southwestern Colorado soothed aching bones in these natural hot tubs. Today, the tradition continues: Choose from among 5 different pools, the hottest of which reaches 106 degrees. The wine-red waters are rich in iron and magnesium, with a dash of lithium. 960 1280
Cascate del MulinoTake a dip in the most famous natural springs in southern Tuscany. Consisting of several natural pools of warm thermal water, the Cascate del Mulino are open to the public -- and free -- throughout the year. At a warm 99.5 degrees year-round, the waters contain properties that have been known to help skin, digestive and circulatory ailments since Roman times. 960 1280
Banff Upper Hot SpringsWith the spectacular Canadian Rockies just beyond, settle into the soothing waters of Banff Upper Hot Springs. Located in the town of Banff, these hot springs were discovered in 1884 and continue to draw visitors with their year-round temperatures between 98 and 104 degrees. Minerals such as bicarbonate, which may assist in opening peripheral blood vessels and improve circulation to the body’s extremities, can be found in the waters. 960 1280
PamukkaleFor thousands of years, people have bathed in the hot springs of Pamukkale, located 12 miles north of the city of Denizli in southwestern Turkey. The hot springs, 17 in all, are saturated with calcium. When the calcium cools on the hillside, it forms a white limestone known as travertine. This explains the name of the hot springs -- literally translated as “cotton castle.” 960 1280
Big Bend Hot SpringsAfter a long day of hiking through Big Bend National Park, consider a dip in these hot springs -- 105 degrees bubbling up from a hole in the ground. The water carries dissolved mineral salts that some say have healing powers. Just make sure you limit the exposure of little kids to these warm waters -- they can feel super-hot in summer! 960 1280
Arenal Hot SpringsUntil 2010, Arenal in Costa Rica was one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world. Arenal has been calming down, leaving room for travelers to kick back in area hot springs, heated by an underground geothermal river. 960 1280
Lava Hot SpringsWho says Idaho is all about potatoes? The small, sleepy town of Lava Hot Springs (population: 407) is noted for its many hot springs, suitable for bathing as well as a bumpy inner tube run through part of town. The waters range from 102 to 112 degrees. 960 1280
Blue LagoonThis outdoor geothermal spa owes its steamy waters to a lava field in the fishing town of Grindavik on Iceland’s southwestern coast. The waters are rich in minerals such as silica and sulfur, and is said to help people suffering from skin conditions like psoriasis. 960 1280
Ma'In Hot SpringsMix a journey back into ancient times with a relaxing reprieve in the Middle East. Situated 866 feet below sea level, this hot freshwater mineral spring and waterfall offers a refreshing spa experience. The hot springs are located on the edge of Wadi Mujib, a gorge in Jordan that feeds the Dead Sea; nearby attractions include the Tomb of Moses (Nabi Musa) and the city of Petra (about 3 hours by car). 960 1280
Grutas de Tolantongo, MexicoAbout 125 miles from Mexico City is a small canyon with steep walls called Tolantongo. Near the bottom of the steep box canyon are heated pools, as well as warm waterfalls that flow down the steep canyon walls. 960 1280
Yangbajing, TibetWelcome to the highest altitude hot springs in the world. Set at an altitude of 14,764 feet above sea level, these hot springs are located about 54 miles northwest of Tibet’s capital city of Lhasa. While taking a dip, visitors can view the far-off snow-covered Nyainqen Tanggula mountain range. 960 1280
Hot Springs Around the World 13 Photos
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
10 Healthy Travel Trends 10 Photos
MauiWith more than 120 miles of coastline, Maui tops Mandy Ingber's list. Channel your inner roar, and strike a warrior pose, as you take in the sights and sounds of the deep blue Pacific splashing against the island’s rocky headlands. 960 1280
Viceroy Bali“I have wanted to travel to Bali, and have seen the pictures of the Viceroy -- luxury resort!” says Ingber. Luxury, indeed: The family-owned-and-operated property on the Indonesian island of Bali is home to 25 villas, nestled on a hill overlooking the “Valley of the Kings.” 960 1280
Harbour Island, BahamasThis island, located off the northeast coast of Eleuthera in the Bahamas, may be a trek to get to, but it’s worth it for the “quaint, sweet town [vibe] and casual, beachy feel,” says Ingber. We’re betting you’ll agree as you stroll past colorful rows of homes and “om” away on the island’s pink sand beaches. 960 1280
GaneshpuriThis small village, about 50 miles north of Mumbai, is “very poor, but soulful and where many gurus have lived and died,” says Ingber. Explore the village’s Siddha yoga tradition at the local ashram, then while away the hours in one of the hot springs near the area’s Tansa River. 960 1280
Kauai“Incredible setting!” says Ingber of this Hawaiian island. “Not only were we in a gorgeous, Bali-style house but the boat ride up the Na Pali Coast is dreamy. Waterfalls and beautiful hikes. So much wild nature here. One of the most bountiful and beautiful places I have been to and taught in.” 960 1280
One & Only Palmilla, MexicoIngber gives this Los Cabos resort overlooking the Sea of Cortez high marks. “I have been here twice, and have had some lovely yoga sessions in this beautiful setting,” says Ingber. “Many of my clients love Mexico because it’s sandy and close -- and we love the sunny weather!” 960 1280
Sha Wellness ClinicThis medical and luxury spa, overlooking Spain’s Costa Blanca coastline, also makes Ingber’s shortlist. A big draw is the surrounding natural beauty; the resort is situated in the Sierra Helada Natural Park, home to protected areas of plants as well as vibrant marine wildlife such as bottlenose dolphins. 960 1280
Aix-en-ProvenceThis region in southern France is another personal favorite; Ingber stayed at a private estate in the country. “We had fresh eggs from the chickens on the property and practiced yoga daily,” she says. “A little sweaty in the summer, but with a farmers’ market and incredible architecture!” 960 1280
Pranamar Villas and Yoga RetreatThis posh oceanfront hotel, built on a stretch of sand near the Costa Rican town of Santa Teresa, came recommended by a friend. “It’s on my wish list,” says Ingber. With 2-story villas built around a saltwater pool, a restaurant with organic fruits and veggies, tropical gardens … ah, we can see why. 960 1280
Best Places to Go "Om" 12 Photos