“Enjoying a holiday trip is universal,” says tourism scholar Jeroen Nawijn, “This is not surprising as holidaymaking is a voluntary activity, for adults anyway.”

But while happiness may be the norm, it is not equally distributed, and smiley vacation snaps aren’t guaranteed. In our new facial analysis study of Instagram vacation photos, Casago discovered that while around 43% of people smile on average across the most smile-inducing tourist spots in every country, some locations guarantee that upwards of two out of three photographed faces will be smiling.

The smile factor may partly depend on when, during a vacation, a photo is taken. Nawjin claims there is a common “holiday happiness curve” with happiness leaping on arrival, sustaining over most of the vacation, then dipping briefly towards the end before flourishing in a final blaze of warm feelings and smiley selfies.

And, of course, as our study set out to show, it depends on which tourist spots you happen to visit on your vacation. Casago analyzed vacation photos from 1,000 global tourist attractions to see which ones trigger the most smiles among visitors.

What We Did

Casago listed the top 10 most popular tourist attractions in 100 different countries on TripAdvisor. Then, we used facial recognition technology to analyze Instagram photos taken at these attractions, producing a “happiness” score from 0 to 100 for the faces in each photo. Finally, we ranked the attractions based on the percentage of happy faces present in their photos.

Key Findings

  • Manawakie Eco Nature Park in Honduras is the world’s happiest tourist attraction, with 76% of Instagram photos taken there portraying happiness.
  • The Empire State Building is the U.S. spot that gets the most smiles, with a 57.5% happiness rating.
  • The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland are the European attraction that makes tourists the happiest (61.8%).
  • The UK’s chirpiest tourist destination is Edinburgh Castle in Scotland (41.6%).
  • 14 of the 20 happiest places in the world are in Latin America.

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Latin American Destinations Make Us The Happiest Overall

While those who vacation often will tell you that they’re living their best life, there’s now some research to prove it. According to the Institute for Applied Positive Research, 97% of people report that having a trip planned makes them happier. And a recent study published in the journal Tourism Analysis has found that frequent travelers tend to feel more satisfied with their lives. But which tourist spots make us the happiest of all?

We analyzed almost 63,000 Instagram photos taken at the world’s best-known attractions, using a facial recognition AI tool to calculate the proportion of images with happy faces in them and reveal the happiest destinations.

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Manawakie Eco Nature Park in Honduras is officially the world’s happiest tourist destination, with smiles featuring in 76% of selfies there. However, Latin American destinations provide the most joy collectively, accounting for 14 of the 20 happiest tourist spots – including Rio de Janeiro’s Botanical Garden (66.7%), and Sugarloaf Mountain (58.0%).

Ireland is the only country in Europe to feature in the top 20. The Cliffs of Moher have been featured in a number of movies including Harry Potter, Leap Year and The Princess Bride. It’s also a popular hotspot for a wide range of flora and fauna with as many as 20 different species of birds to be seen. From movie buffs to bird watchers, 61.8% of selfies taken here featured happy faces.

North America: Honduran Eco Park is World’s Smiliest Attraction

North America is home to the tourist attraction that provokes the most smiles in the world — but it’s not in the United States. Some 76.0% of the faces snapped in Manawakie Eco Nature Park on the Honduran island of Roatán are beaming. Of course, it’s possible that the facial analysis software we used picked up the smiles of the ubiquitous sloths… But seriously, with unique rainforest herbs and flora, macaws and monkeys, Mayan artifacts and panoramic views of the Man ‘O War Bay, the only reason to stop smiling is to do your “fascinated” face.

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America’s happiest tourist spot — and, by some counts, most-photographed landmark — is the Empire State Building in New York City. Despite its monolithic appearance, the building goes out of its way to create cheer along with all that awe. It is also one of NYC’s ‘must selfie’ spots, and visitors have plenty of time on the way up to perfect that selfie grin on the way up to the 102nd-floor observatory.

South America: Botanical Gardens and Incan Trails

Brazil’s Jardim Botânico de Curitiba is the number one destination for happy-seeking tourists in South America. Fully two-thirds (66.7%) of the faces snapped here are beaming. The botanical garden is home to 300 species of butterflies, who are joined by armadillos, frogs, owls and other grin-prompting creatures. If architecture is what tickles you, the iconic art nouveau-style greenhouse is a photographer’s favorite.

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Parks and gardens are big hitters across the continent, but Curitiba’s botanical garden shares the top spot with something more unique: Peru’s 26-mile Inca Trail to the “Lost City of the Incas.” What is it about this epic historical site that brings the smiles? It could be a humbling and spiritual sense of connection, as one travel blogger experiences it: “It was sobering, and even cleansing, to reconnect to this larger picture of our culture and collective humanity.”

Europe: Irish Cliffs and a Scottish Castle

As the sea spray fills the air with the invigorating freshness of the Wild Atlantic Way, it’s hard not to feel as though you’re braving the ocean from the prow of a magnificent ship.” If that’s the sort of thing that makes you a Jolly Roger, you’ll be sure to smile 204 meters up from the sea at the Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland — Europe’s happiest tourist spot.

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Elsewhere in the British Isles — in Scotland, UK, to be precise — Edinburgh Castle is the jolliest place you’ll find. With a 41.6% smile factor, it is less jolly than the global average (the average smile factor of the happiest tourist spot in every country is 42.8%.) But perhaps a castle feels kind of staid on a continent that offers a UFO Observation Deck (Slovakia), ABBA Museum (Sweden) and, of course, the Eiffel Tower (France) among its most smile-inducing spots — especially since the birth of baby Eiffela.

Asia & Oceania: Some Rocks are Happier Than Others

Two out of three faces snapped at Pidurangala Rock in Sri Lanka are smiley ones, making it the happiest tourist attraction in all of Asia and Oceania. It’s a tough climb that can really get those endorphins flowing — whether your smile at the top is from the exertion, relief or in response to the views of iconic Sigiriya rock and the neighboring jungles and villages, the point is that you’re smiling. This is why, for those who are up for the climb, Pidurangala is recommended as a cheaper and more satisfying trip than a climb up Sigiriya itself.

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Australia’s happiest tourist spot, Royal Botanic Garden Sydney (55.3%), is narrowly out-smiled by New Zealand’s chirpiest attraction — the fjord of Milford Sound on the South Island (56.6%). They make for contrasting takes on the region’s natural wonders. The Sydney Botanic Garden offers landscaped flora and scientific insights into the flowers, fruits and zombie fungi. Milford Sounds does boast a more formal Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory, but let’s face it, it’s the wild dolphins, seals and penguins that earn that extra 1.3% smile factor.

Africa: The Tourist Attraction That Even Made Lady Di Smile

Africa’s smiliest tourist spots are dominated by extraordinary natural landscapes, with the occasional pyramid thrown in. The number one on the continent is Miradouro da Lua, or Viewpoint of the Moon, in Belas, Angola. Despite some listings sites (wrongly) labeling it an observatory, the name does not refer to the actual moon but to the mottled rock (karst) landscape presenting its otherworldly faces to visitors, which looks particularly alien at first and last daylight.

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And those pyramids? The “bucket list achievement unlocked” feeling on arriving at the Great Pyramid of Giza is enough to raise a smile among 45.5% of Instagrammers (let’s assume the others have gone with “humbled awe”). The Egyptian pyramids met perhaps their most obstinate visitor in the form of the notoriously coy Princess Diana, who told her photographer: “When people ask me to stand in front of places like the Pyramids, I feel awkward, especially when I’m on my own. I don’t like posing. But I will do it really quickly — and once — and you can grab the picture.” Reader, she smiled.

To Tourist Spot or Not to Tourist Spot

You can find the places that get the most of these smiles in our full data below.

But it’s worth pointing out that while any pleasant vacation may be good for you, ticking off bucket-list selfie landmarks is not necessarily the best way to come back rested and recharged. One study at a Vienna university found that “free time for one’s self, warmer (and sunnier) vacation locations, exercise during vacation, good sleep, and making new acquaintances” can be a more sure-fire path to recuperation.

After all, real happiness isn’t found in the smiles you force for the camera but in the relationships you strengthen with those around you and the warmth you generate in your heart.


To find out which tourist spots make us happiest, we analyzed Instagram photos taken at 1,000 of the world’s most famous tourist attractions to discover where people appear the happiest.

We began by obtaining the top 10 most popular tourist attractions via Tripadvisor for 100 different

countries. We visited the Instagram page associated with each of those attractions and retrieved a

sample of pictures geotagged at that location.

Then, we used Amazon Rekognition API to analyze each picture, extracting the faces present in them

and getting a score from 0 to 100 representing how likely each face showed happiness. We considered a face to be happy if its score was equal to or higher than 66.

Finally, we grouped these happiness scores by the tourist attraction, obtaining the percentage of faces that were showing happiness in each place. Our final sample only considered tourist attractions with more than 40 pictures in the sample and with more than 50 detectable faces present to analyze people’s emotions.

For each country in our analysis we isolated the happiest tourist spot in the dataset for the purpose of our ranking.


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