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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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
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
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