While many of us dream of upping sticks and moving overseas with our families, few take the leap towards this ultimate family adventure. Molly Berry, the textile designer behind Guatemala-made Luna*Zorro, is the inspiring exception, having left San Francisco to move to Panama City where her son Joaquin was born, and then on to Antigua, Guatemala, where daughter Hazel arrived in 2014. Here, she dishes on the reality of "being on permanent vacation in the tropics," what she misses about SF and the places to see in her new hometown.
"It seems to me that a lot of people would love the adventure of living abroad. Once they’re past the moving to another country part and on to the living part. Like when you go on a vacation, after you've completed all those hours of packing, flying and traversing time changes, and you’re actually in that hammock to the sound of breaking waves and it's all worth the effort. Right? Making the leap to living abroad is very much like that.
I often catch a glint of wonder and excitement in the eyes of those who ask me what it’s like to “be on vacation in the tropics” in Antigua, Guatemala. Although it’s definitely not always a vacation around here it does still feel like we are living in a unique and exquisite place here in Antigua. The place we now call home is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a colonial little town of cobble stone and crumbling, colorful walls. Tourists and locals alike are constantly surrounded by the richness of the Guatemalan culture, its vibrant hues and deep-rooted traditions. If I let my stream of consciousness run, I would describe Antigua like this: sun, breeze, volcanoes, ruins, foliage, fruit, textiles, children, hospitality, sincerity, and history. It offers mountains and oceans, rivers and valleys. You can camp your way across it riding an off-road bike or you can experience some of the highest levels of cordiality and authentic service that you can imagine. It is child-friendly and safe, totally affordable, progressive and yet traditional in a historically rich and cultural sense. It is a gem of a travel destination.
When I fly home to San Francisco, I still feel a sense of pride when I see the Golden Gate Bridge or feel the chill of fog on a walk at Chrissy Field, accompanied by the low, comforting sound of fog horns. There’s nothing like a bike ride to a Berkeley farmer’s market or a summer evening meal outdoors, with an orchestra of crickets, in Napa. I will always be rooted to the San Francisco, Bay Area because it’s where I was raised and it is where I plan to end up one day. But living so far from that home not only makes me appreciate it more, it also allows me to see the interesting, the peculiar, the spectacular, the typical, and the realities of living in a new country and neighborhood.
I may not be that far, geographically, from SF, but I am so incredibly grateful for the utterly unique world and life I am experiencing while living abroad with my husband and two young children. I wouldn't change this experience for anything and I would wholeheartedly encourage any family considering a change, be it for a summer or indefinitely, to take the plunge. You don't have to be independently wealthy or crazy, just free-spirited and determined enough to believe that you can make your life and take your family anywhere you choose."
Images courtesy Molly Berry
Molly’s Family Favorites in Antigua
El Tenedor del Cerro A Santo Domingo-owned restaurant on a hill above Antigua. Indoor/outdoor restaurant with great food, gorgeous gardens, a large art gallery, zip-lining and a cool children's park.
Earth Lodge An incredible avocado farm and backpacker's paradise. Super family (and dog!) friendly spot for a delicious lunch and a few beers, with a large park for kids, corn hole and hammocks, tree climbing, tree houses, camping, and live music on Sundays. It has views of the entire valley of Antigua and requires a shuttle bus up from town (which Earth Lodge with provide for next to nothing) and a mini hike to get in and out, but nothing a family can't handle.
Parque Central The central plaza of Antigua isn't anything over-the-top, but it is a lovely spot to take a rest on a bench, have some ice-cream, play by the large fountain, hear live music and just simply do some people watching.
Mico A tiny but super cute little toy store with lots of handmade toys, dolls and more.
El Choco Museo Awesome day visit to a cool chocolate museum in the heart of Antigua. Learn the history of chocolate and then go through an interactive step-by-step process of how chocolate is made from bean to bar. Leave having made your very own chocolate to give to friends or eat all to yourself.
Sobremesa Helados Exóticos Fourth Avenida Norte No. 5A Just off of Parque Central, this is a cool little ice cream shop with some amazing flavors that you can take over to the park.
Hotel Antigua Great for lunch outdoors. There is a fantastic pool and an awesome little playground so it's really kid-friendly. Weekends are especially fun as they often have live marimba players and kids can run around while parents eat. They have lots of Guacamaya birds loose on their perches too which kids always love.
Hotel Santo Domingo Great place to stay or go for brunch or lunch. Like Hotel Antigua, it has an awesome pool great for kids, and lots to see and do on the grounds.
Finca El Pilar Just on the outskirts of Antigua, this is a more old-school stop but off the beaten path and fun. It has fresh spring water swimming pools (freezing but gorgeous), a great hike and even a little playground for kids. Just a small entrance fee.
Finca El Zapote This is about a 45-minute drive from Antigua (I'd recommend hiring a driver which is totally reasonable - we've done a lot of times and you can also get a small bus/large van to accommodate more people). Fince El Zapote is a privately owned estate and is honestly one of the most beautiful spots ever. For about $15 a person (kids aged two and under don't pay) you can bring a picnic and spend the day swimming in a fresh natural spring pool with a diving board, rope swing and paddle boards, go canoeing in the lake with ducks and swans, run around the property and explore. It's a kid and adult wonderland. There are simple but pretty bathrooms, but otherwise you're on your own for food, water, towels which should be brought along.