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Ditching the Mission for Mayan Paradise

A pair of adventure-seeking city dwellers buy into Belize.


Custom furniture by Samuel Amoia was inspired by the work of Belizean artisans and made from local wood.

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The Palmas’ two-bedroom vacation house perches above a lagoon in Placencia, Belize.

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The headboard in the master bedroom is woven from local grasses.

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A detail of the bedroom door, made from sawn grain wood in a washed-out paint finish.

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This painting on burlap by Alex Fidelli hangs in the kids’ bedroom.

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The Palmas’ living room incorporates local wood and artifacts from Belize. The family can watch the sun set behind the Maya Mountains from the couch each evening.

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Outer Mission residents Claudio and Rhanee Palma have always been unconventional travelers: Claudio, an anesthesiologist, spent his youth backpacking across Latin America; Rhanee, a Marriott sales executive, crisscrossed Asia. They originally planned to wed in Chile but ended up in Las Vegas—marrying at mile 2.2 of their run in the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon. “We like adventure,” explains Rhanee. “When we travel, we don’t want to be at the Ritz.”

So the pair cast a wide net for their honeymoon in 2010, hunting for a destination with a mix of history, culture, water sports, and nature. “After Rhanee had booked about 25 itineraries around the world,” Claudio recalls, “I convinced her to take a look at Belize.” They settled on San Ignacio, a small town in western Belize, and fell in love with the land and culture. “It’s the best place in the world,” declares Rhanee.

The couple returned six times in ensuing years, often with their four children in tow. When they heard about a new beach community, Itz’ana—40 one- to three-bedroom homes being developed by the Foundry Collective in the seaside village of Placencia—they immediately booked the eight-hour flight from San Francisco to Belize. The Palmas were among Itz’ana’s first buyers. They were so taken by the site’s unobstructed view of the sunset behind the Maya Mountains, says Claudio, that “we literally staked out our spot before they had drawn up any of their contracts.”

The Palmas’ 1,150-square-foot, two-bedroom abode is outfitted with a private deck and perches on stilts above a lagoon. The decor, designed by New Yorker Samuel Amoia, melds 1920s French deco accents with native Central American materials. A muted palette—washed-out hues of blue, lavender, and green—references the sea, less than a 10-minute walk away. Handcrafted geometric lamps illuminate side tables made from palo blanco wood; light shades and the couple’s bedframe are woven of natural grasses; and the richly grained dining table slab was hewn from local hardwood by Belizean and Guatemalan artisans.

Since purchasing in Placencia last spring, the family have returned five times to their new home, where they’ve been joined by a community of expats from Guatemala, England, Louisiana, and New York. They spend most of the day in nature—hiking, spelunking, scuba diving. At home, you’ll find the couple soaking in the newly completed plunge pool on their front deck, within splashing distance of the lagoon. “Now we can go fishing and swimming,” says Rhanee, “at the same time.”


Originally published in the April issue of San Francisco

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