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
Top 20 Healthiest Cities 20 Photos
Top Natural Healing Spots 13 Photos
Blue Lagoon, Iceland"After I saw Samantha Brown and Anthony Bourdain take a dip (separately, of course) in the otherworldly Blue Lagoon, Iceland quickly moved to the top of my bucket list. Seeing the steamy Blue Lagoon firsthand literally took my breath away. I ended up spending an entire day soaking in the geothermal seawater and emerged feeling like a new person -- and looking like a new one, too. The mineral-rich water is a natural fountain of youth." -- Kathleen, Producer 960 1280
Spa at the St. Julien Hotel"As a man, I was skeptical at first … a spa, really? But after an evening of drinks, the only thing better than sleeping off an epic headache was to head down to the spa at the St. Julien Hotel. Take a dip in the spa’s indoor pool, then hop over to the hot tub -- fit for a king! Afterward, grab a cup of their extremely refreshing cucumber water (seriously, it was good). Top-notch facilities with a very friendly staff (not to mention good-looking), St. Julien’s spa is fit for any occasion." -- Ben, Producer 960 1280
Mii Amo Spa (Sedona, AZ)"There’s nothing more relaxing to me than experiencing the beauty of Mother Nature, from the comfort of a spa. This past year, I put the red rocks of Sedona, AZ, on my getaway list. One of my favorite stops was the Mii amo Spa at Enchantment Resort, where you can indulge in one of the many innovative spa treatments offered daily. Take a cue from Cleopatra herself and try the spa’s milk-and-honey bath inspired by her beauty regimen!" -- Vanessa, Photo Editor 960 1280
Las Olas Surf Safari (Puerto Rico)"Calling all adventurous ladies! Get away from it all in one of Las Olas's open-air villas, complete with ocean view terraces, plunge pools and enough hibiscus and bougainvillea to make you feel like you've escaped to a secluded treehouse. Enjoy a yoga session, a sea mud facial or a sea salt body scrub before heading out for your twice-daily surf lesson. When you get back from hitting the waves, learn some vital life skills with on-site margarita and guacamole-making lessons." -- Amanda, Producer 960 1280
Bishop, California“Go on a bouldering adventure in one of America’s best climbing spots. You may not think a physically demanding adventure is the best way to recharge, but not only do you escape the hectic urban chaos, you can take a few moments to relax and appreciate this stretch of California’s natural beauty, such as the view of the Buttermilks with its massive glacial boulders sitting on the foothills of the Sierras. Bishop offers a lifetime worth of climbing, so even if you can only go for a short time, be sure to grab a guidebook and escape to this bouldering mecca.” -- Arthur, Video Project Manager 960 1280
Big Timber, Montana“One of the best places to recharge is under the wide open skies of sunny Montana. June is the best time of year to visit this expanse of central Montana. Head to a working ranch like the Rocking M Bunkhouse, located near the Absaroka Mountains. Saddle up for an authentic western experience: Ride a horse, see nearby Yellowstone (and Old Faithful), and swing by a rodeo for more fast-paced action. At the end of a long day, enjoy a hearty home-cooked meal and do some stargazing from the private bunkhouse's wide porch. You might even meet a cowboy.” -- Lisa, Producer 960 1280
Red Fox Inn (Middleburg, VA)“Sometimes all it takes to recharge is a weekend getaway. Middleburg, VA, may be just an hour from Washington, DC, but it feels like a world away. When I’m feeling a little suffocated by city life, I make my escape to this quaint, historic town's acres of well-tended pastures surrounded tidy post-and-beam fences. Stay at the downtown Red Fox Inn, browse the antique shops, stock up on horse- and hunt-inspired gifts, and spend an afternoon just sipping coffee at the Market Salamander.” -- Allee, Producer 960 1280
East Canyon Hotel & Spa“Escape to California’s Coachella Valley and rejuvenate at the gay-friendly East Canyon Hotel and Spa in Palm Springs. This resort has a fully-staffed spa onsite, with a variety of massages, facials and treatments available to guests, including a heated-stone massage, an aloe vera full-body detoxifying wrap and a papaya enzyme peel. Also recommended, especially for the adventurous traveler, is a hike in the nearby San Jacinto Mountains.” -- Kwin, Managing Producer 960 1280
Tabacon Grand Spa"A few years ago my best friend and I planned a last-minute trip to Costa Rica. A highlight was recharging at this spa, which harnesses the energy of the area’s active Arenal Volcano. In private open-air bungalows, we received volcanic mud wraps and rinsed off in a thermal-mineral-spring Jacuzzi. Word to the wise: The spa is a top honeymoon destination, so only couples should book appointments together -- or you might see a lot more of your friend than you intended." -- Sara, Producer 960 1280
Where We Recharge 9 Photos