Trying to decide where to take your next vacation? How about the happiest place on earth? No, it’s not Disneyland. The people at Gallop surveyed 1000 people in each of 138 countries to find out where the happiest people live. Would you believe that the happiest people live in Paraguay, a land-locked country in central South America, which has the second poorest citizens in Latin America? Not known for its tourism, Paraguay may not be on the top of anyone’s trip wish list. But what about the other countries that top out the top ten? Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Columbia, Denmark, Honduras, Venezuela, and El Salvador. All but one are in South America, and a number of them may just merit a visit. Here is a brief description of what you may see if you visit a few of these countries. While taking in the sites, find places where locals spend time. Maybe you can figure out why these people are so happy. Panama, home to the second happiest people in the world, may appeal to you. No visit to Panama would be complete without visiting the Panama Canal either. To get a feeling of what Panama was, visit Casco Viejo, a UNESCO world heritage site. Not only will you see aspects of Panama’s Spanish Colonial and its Canal-Era history, you can rub elbows with Panamanians enjoying the city’s nightlife. The archipelago of Bucas del Toro offers scuba diving, surfing and fishing that rival anything else in South America. Men’s Journal named Panama one of the best inexpensive countries to visit. History, great food, fabulous beaches and rainforests? I can understand why these people are happy in this country that has the fastest growing economy in Latin America. Columbia isn’t the land of drug lords like you saw in Romancing the Stone. Visit the capital of Bogota and take in the historic Candelaria district to mix with the locals and visit the Museo Botero, dedicated to the artist Fernando Botero. Spend time downtown enjoying the nightlife and shopping. Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast, has some of the regions most historical structures. You can wander the cobblestone streets in the “Walled City” and see wonderful examples of Spanish colonial architecture. Take a ride on a chiva, a colorful wooden bus and then relax in Old Town and people watch. Cali, known as being the salsa capital of the world, would be a stop if you’re trying to find people. Music and dance are part of everyday culture there. If you go to a salsa club, be prepared. Most clubs aren’t hopping until about 2 am, and close at 6. Ecuador is on many people’s bucket lists of places they want to see. From the rainforests of Amazon to the animals on the Galapagos Islands to the soaring heights of Cotopaxi, Ecuador certainly makes its tourists happy. I traveled through much of the country about five years ago, and I certainly saw a number of happy looking individuals. We were stuck on the highway for a number of hours because of a rockslide. Everyone waiting certainly took it in stride. An industrious woman, sitting on the flatbed of the truck stopped in front of us spent a lot of time wringing the necks of the guinea pigs that were surrounding her. While it was disturbing for me, all she was doing was preparing, cuy, traditional South American dish. I’m not sure if beautiful scenery, beaches, historic sites, and great shopping and nightlife if enough to make everyone happy, But I could visit these happy countries to see if it works for me.
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