Costa Rica Is Top Of The Happy Planet Index: Here's Why

If you’ve never heard of it, The Happy Planet Index measures what matters: sustainable well being for all. By scoring countries on a number of different elements, The Happy Planet Index tells us how well nations are doing at achieving long, happy, lives while maintaining as small an ecological footprint as possible. 

And for the second year in a row, Costa Rica has been crowned top of The Happy Planet Index — officially becoming the happiest, greenest country in the world. But what is it that makes this small but mighty Central American country so amazing?

In this post, we’ll be looking at exactly how and why Costa Rica is top of The Happy Planet Index. Read on to find out more about the most sustainable happy country in the world.

Ecological footprint

Costa Rica is truly a world-leading nation when it comes to green energy use and sustainable practices, with an impressive ecological footprint. This tiny Central American country has been able to do what many larger, Western countries can’t — run almost entirely off renewable energy. In fact, 99% of Costa Rica’s energy is produced from renewable sources such as hydroelectricity, solar power, wind power, geothermal energy, and biomass.

Costa Rica is consistently making headlines by running fossil fuel-free for 100, 200 or 300 days at a time, and this is only going to continue as the Costa Rican government continues to invest in renewable energy generation — with the ultimate goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021.

Dedicated ecotourism & sustainable travel industry

It’s not just renewable energy where Costa Rica is shining; the Latin American country is also a true trailblazer when it comes to dedicated ecotourism and sustainable travel. Costa Rica has worked hard over the years to make its tourism industry as eco-friendly and sustainable as possible with minimal impact on the environment. This is great for tourists who want to have an authentic, fun experience in an amazing new country while limiting the negative impact their holiday has on the planet. 

Costa Rica is famous for its eco-friendly activities and excursions on offer for visitors (find out more on this post by Pit Stops for Kids). From guided rainforest hikes and volcano tours, to white-water rafting in rivers and scuba-diving in the azure seas that surround the country — Costa Rica’s ecotourism offerings are impressive. These activities put money back into the local community and nature preservation programs, helping the country to continue its good work.

The wide range of eco-lodges, hostels and Costa Rican family hotels like those found on Anywhere also tend to be eco-conscious and sustainably run. In fact, the Institute of Costa Rican Tourism encourages green business practices and actively rewards hotels and lodges that use green business practices.

Pura vida: a happy, laidback lifestyle

If you know anything about Costa Rica, you’ll know that this Latin American country is famous for its amazingly laidback lifestyle and happy, friendly people. This way of living is perfectly encapsulated by the phrase pura vida, which literally translates to “pure life” or “simple life.” It’s more than just a phrase, too, according to International Living — it’s a national motto used in almost every situation from greeting people to farewells; to say “you’re welcome” or “no worries,” as a commiseration (“that’s life!”) or just as a general exclamation.
This beautifully simple saying exemplifies the happy, relaxed lifestyle at the heart of Costa Rican culture; there really is no need to worry when you’re in paradise.

It’s not difficult to see why Costa Ricans hold this mentality and have such high happiness levels when you look around at the landscape. Strikingly picturesque beaches fringed by luscious tropical rainforests; the azure ocean and coral reefs full of life, waves lapping against golden shores… Visit this incredible country and you’ll soon experience pura vida for yourself. 

High quality of life and wellbeing

It’s not just the “good vibes” of pura vida that makes Costa Rica rank highly for happiness levels; there’s plenty that the Costa Rican government has done to ensure a high standard of living for its people.

One great example of this is Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949; as a peaceful country with no need for an army, Costa Rica reallocated the funds to go towards education, health, and pensions. The government provides free education for citizens through the 11th grade (with a 96% literacy rate), as well as healthcare (with a high average life expectancy of 79 years). 

The strong sense of community also plays a part in wellbeing and quality of life; The Happy Planet Index puts Costa Ricans’ high wellbeing levels down to a culture of forming solid social networks of friends, families, and neighborhoods.

Environmental protection for the wildlife

Another big reason that Costa Rica tops The Happy Planet Index is the huge effort that goes into wildlife conservation, as well as the preservation and protection of natural habitats. The biodiversity of this tropical Central American country is quite extraordinary; the varied landscape is home to the greatest density of species in the world, and some astounding flora and fauna.

However, back in the 1950s, Costa Rica had one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world — with acres of rainforest being chopped down to create space for cattle farms. Up to 60% of forest was lost.
Since then, Costa Rica has worked hard to undo this damage and preserve natural habitats like the rainforest; over a quarter of the land area is protected as national parks, wildlife refuges, biological reserves, conservation regions, and protected zones. These spaces provide habitats for all sorts of incredible wildlife — from monkeys to tree frogs, sloths to scarlet macaws, rare ocelots, and tapirs —  that tourists can experience is an eco-friendly way on canopy tours or rainforest hikes.

When you look at everything that Costa Rica does in terms of sustainability and quality of life, it’s easy to see why this amazing Central American country is top of The Happy Planet Index.

It’s also easy to understand why Costa Rica is at the top of many people’s bucket list; officially the happiest, greenest country in the world, it’s a paradise for nature lovers seeking a beautiful holiday destination and the laidback pura vida lifestyle.


This is a guest post from: Laura May. She is Digital Editor at Just Another Magazine. We write about beauty, fashion, lifestyle, relationships, travel, trends and anything else that matters to you. Name throwing you off? Don’t take it too seriously – we intend to stand out from the crowd.

This article was last updated on January 16, 2020.