A guide to Guatemala from a shoe designer who’s giving back

Meet Francesca Kennedy, the designer and owner of IX Style, a shoe brand that is dedicated to providing clean water to children all over, with an emphasis in Guatemala. 

Back in 2011, Francesca went back to visit her grandfather at Lake Atitlán, only to find it completely polluted and taken over by algae. She saw little girls collecting water from the lake to drink, cook with, and clean with. As Francesca mentions in this video she shot with GAP, diseases from drinking and using unclean and unsafe water kills more people every year than any form of violence.

After seeing the women of Guatemala using the water from Lake Alitlán, Francesca was inspired to start her company, IX Style. The name IX comes from the Mayan word, ix, which means, “water.” She felt a duty to change what she was seeing happen with the water situation in the country where her family is from.

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She wanted to take the traditional style of the South American huarache sandals and create them with a more modern, style-forward twist. She works with local female artisans around Lake Atitlán to create her label, employing women who have dedicated their lives to creating these traditional sandals.

Francesca’s brand, IX Style, is now partnered with Eco Filtro in order to donate a portion of the proceeds from each sale of sandals to provide water filters and water wells for people who don’t have access to clean water, starting in Guatemala.

She’s now selling jewelry and handbags along with the modern huarache sandals. IX Style employs several hundred female artisans from Guatemala, and she has proudly given clean water to many communities already, even as a company that’s just on the come up.

Top and Skirt: Maria Martinez, Accessories: Mad Arts, Shoes: IX Style

You can help Francesca in the fight for clean water everywhere by checking out IX Style and grabbing a pair of her huarache sandals to rock on your next vacation. Maybe even planning your next vacation for sunny Guatemala.

If you decide to jet to Guatemala, Francesca has you covered when it comes to activities. Below is her guide to her favorite areas in Guatemala, including food, views, hotels, and more.

Day 1: Antigua

Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of restored colonial architecture from the 16th century. The brightly hued buildings in the town are required to be painted in one of the ten pre-approved colors.

3:00pm: Check into Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, a beautiful old monastery that has been converted into an incredible boutique hotel. Wander the grounds, typically filled with blooming orchids and squawking parrots, and peek into the onsite museum and secret catacombs.

5:00pm: Take the hotel shuttle up to Tenedor de Cruz for the best views of Antigua. Enjoy the sunset over a refreshing green cocktail at the bar. You could also run up to the hill’s stairs in the morning (but be warned, it’s about an eight kilometer trek).

8:45pm: Have a taxi or tuk tuk take you to Panza Verde. It’s the most romantic restaurant in Antigua. Make sure you walk up the small staircase outside and take in the view of the stars above. There’s live music Wednesday through Saturday. Insider tip: go on a Thursday when one of the original members of the Buena Vista Social Club plays Cuban music when he’s not on tour.

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Day 2: Antigua

8:00am: Go back to Panza Verde for a yoga class in their art gallery.

9:30am: Grab a green juice, gluten free pancakes, avocado toast, or even a bagel at Samsara, a cute vegetarian restaurant and art space.

11:00am: Walk around on your own or ask the hotel to organize a guide for you. Start at the town square, a small central park with a cathedral. Then, make your way to Arco de Santa Catalina. Buy handcrafted Mayan souvenirs at the local market called Mercado de Artesanos. The entrance is a bit hidden, so don’t be afraid to ask for directions (it’s to the left of the El Carmen ruins). Bring cash and negotiate.

2:00pm: For lunch, grab amazing tacos at the casual, local spot Cactus. Or, if you’re in the mood for a typical Guatemalan meal at an adorable place with an outdoor courtyard, try Tres Tiempos. Vivero y Café de la Escalonia is another great option. It’s a nursery with beautiful gardens to walk through and a limited but tasty and healthy menu.

4:00pm: Stop by Doña María Gordillo Candy Story. You’ll want to try everything and you should. My dad has had me hooked on this candy shop since I was a little girl. Our favorites are Colochos de Guayaba, Espumillas, and Canillitas de Leche.

6:30pm: Go to Sky Bar to have a sunset drink on the roof while mingling with expats, students, locals, and tourists alike.

8:30pm: Head to dinner at Izakaya. Sure, a sushi restaurant in the middle of a land locked third-world city may not sound ideal, but this tiny spot delivers. It was started by ex-Nobu and Zuma chefs.

10:00pm: No matter how tired you are, you must go to Café No Se. Walk in, open a small 1950s fridge to your left, duck your head and emerge into this quirky speakeasy. Ask for John, the owner, and tell him I sent you. Make sure he recounts the amazing story of his brand Ilegal Mezcal while enjoying a glass of the good stuff.

Something extra: Must try the upscale restaurant at El Convento in Antigua for a special treat! Caoba Farms is another great lunch spot on the outskirts of Antigua City. It’s quite literally a farm to table restaurant. Angie Angie is also a casual place with live music in case you want a more lowkey dinner with some great music. Adra Hostel is great for a sunset drink around the fire pit, and it’s a cool, new hostel if you’re on a budget. If you want a sustainable hotel, check out the Good Hotel. 100% of it’s profit go towards different charity projects in Guatemala. Also, if you’re into rum, check out Botran for rum tasting.

Day 3: Lake Alitlán

8:00am: After breakfast at your hotel, start making your way to the lake. The hotel can help arrange a shuttle.

12:00pm: Stay at the beautiful Hotel Alitlán, with breathtaking views and scenery.

2:00pm: Head into the village of Panajachel or “Pana,” as the locals call it. Go to Café Loco to recharge with a cup of coffee. Then, head to Calle Santader and check out the Mayan market. This is where I bought my first huarache sandals when I was a little girl!

7:00pm: Tired? Get a massage and eat dinner at the hotel and call it a night. But, if you’re up for an adventure, have the hotel drop you off back in Pana for dinner. I like Circus Bar, a local institution known for its’ wood-fired pizza and live music.

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Day 4: Lake Tour

9:00am: Hire a boat to visit a few of the villages along the lake. Each has its own specialty from ceramics to textiles to woodworking. Make sure to at least see Santiago Alitlán, San Marcos, and San Pedro la Laguna.

When you’re at San Pedro la Laguna, have a healthy lunch at Fifth Dimension. Later, if you’ve worn a bathing suit under your clothes and brought a towel, you should have your boat stop at the diving spot near San Marcos. You can jump off the platform and take a swim.

Day 5: Guatemala City

Go to Zona 4 and eat at La Esquina. Take photos with the cool graffiti walls. It’s our version of Williamsburg.

Stop by Star Vie in Zona 14 for your one stop shop for all of my favorite Guatemalan designers. My favorite is Maria Martinez for dresses and Mad Arts for one-of-a-kind pieces for your home and awesome Mayan accessories!

Day 6: Volunteer

For your last day, volunteer with Starfish, an organization that works with young women from nearby communities. Spend a few hours at their local school, helping to educate and empower these amazing women!


Photos by Prince and Jacob

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