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Destination Weddings in Puerto Vallarta

Published May 28, 2008 - (Updated Dec 5, 2012)

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Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Spring/Summer 2008 issue.

Imagine getting married in the balmy breeze at sunset on the Mexican Pacific. The invited guests are hand chosen, numbers are limited and everyone looks bronzed and happy. In fact, you are the entire focus of the weeklong event. Can you picture a more romantic way to get married?

In recent years, destination weddings have moved to the forefront from what was previously a fledgling industry existing only for those with connections. What makes a destination wedding different from just getting married in some exotic locale? Invited guests invariably say, as Christine recently enthused, “This is the best experience I’ve ever had. I wish I had known about it when my husband and I got married. It’s unique and something that can only happen when the entire trip is focused on the wedding. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

Superlatives aside, a destination wedding is created within the framework of the destination. In our case, Puerto Vallarta offers specific elements that factor into its appeal in a major way.

Numerous activities are available for the entire family or wedding party.

Romance is an intrinsic aspect of Vallarta. Even before Liz and Dick romped in the waves along Playa Los Muertos or the midnight swim was immortalized on the screen by Ava Gardner, Puerto Vallarta was the scene of many a love story, just as it continues to be today.

The climate is embracing. While humidity may not be so great for the hair, it certainly does wonders for the face. (Remember to use sunblock since the UV rays are quite potent.)

The service is top-notch. While real estate may focus on location, destination weddings are all about the people. Laura Cárdenas of I Do Vallarta says, “People are just amazed at the incredible service we offer here. My wait staff has been with me forever, and they anticipate every need. They are friendly and they know how to smile!” Vallarta’s gift to the world is its people.

Everybody likes to eat. Vallarta offers not only some of the best restaurants in the country but also surpasses most areas in catering options for villas, beach ceremonies and any other locale you can imagine. Let your taste and your wedding coordinator be your guides as you taste test your way through town.

Can’t beat the nightlife. Remember to bring your dancing shoes with you. Starting late, most clubs pump the music ‘til dawn.

Rest and relaxation. Spas are essential therapy for the health-conscious public.

Mexico is recognized worldwide for its flavor and color. Puerto Vallarta, despite recent growth, retains its distinct small-town pueblo feel with cobblestone streets, friendly faces and its bustling Malecón (ocean walk), which continues to be a center of social activity for the locals.

Looking Back

Wedding coordinator Laura Cárdenas got her start in the business back in 1982 when “friends with villas in Conchas Chinas asked for help when they had guests who wanted to get married.” In those days, the process was bureaucratic, involving blood tests, establishment of legal identity, a waiting process and marriage counseling in the Spanish language.

While the legal procedure still exists, it’s not one that Cárdenas suggests, unless the legalities are required. Mexico recognizes strict separation of church and state, meaning church weddings are symbolic rather than legal. Therefore, it’s a common practice to have a public civil or religious ceremony witnessed by family and friends, plus a private legal one.

Sounds of Music

Even though traditional mariachi music is often an intrinsic element of a wedding in Vallarta, be it on a beach, in a chapel, on the terrace of a villa or on the edge of the sea, it’s not usually the only music at a wedding. In fact, classical duos with guitar and violin or cello are popular, as is the romantic choice of a harp. Finally, there are DJs who specialize in weddings, offering pretty much any song or era you want to include, as long as you let them know in advance. Events have included classical music squeezed to a hiphop rhythm, traditional Jewish music interpreted in rock ‘n’ roll and nearly every era since the ‘50s. Plan on including your favorite melody or your theme song by sending the score to the musician in time to learn it if they don’t already have it in their repertoire.

Where to Stay

There are numerous possibilities for a fabulous stay in Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding area. Some considerations for each are listed below.

Villa

At your service is the villa staff , offering the most personal level of service available, including adjusted meal times, last-minute menus and even taking care of those difficult-to-press items. Location varies from hillside with view to beachfront with easy access.

Boutique Hotel

Vallarta claims some of the best boutique hotels in the country, including a magnificent antique-filled hacienda, an eco-resort with no television or telephones, a discreet spa that is only accessible by boat, a glamorous European-style hotel on a golf course with its own beach club, and an eclectic hideaway on a nearly private beach. But it doesn’t end there. A boutique hotel is small and personal, with all the benefits to which you’re accustomed and then some. Gourmet dining can be in the privacy of your suite, on candlelit terraces or on the beach, depending on the location. Spa services in your room allow you to truly take advantage of luxury at your fingertips. And the possibilities for remarkable, unforgettable photographs can be more than just imagined. Visit www.mexicoboutiquehotels.com for the finest local options.

Five-star Resort Hotel

A resort favors larger mixed groups, where guests don’t necessarily want to spend all their time together. Everyone can go their own way and only meet at specific events in very accessible banquet rooms. It goes without saying that you can expect not only flawless service but a complete staff for all your needs.

Other Options

Smaller family-style hotels offer special wedding rates, based on the number of rooms and other services requested. While you might rub elbows with other guests, it may not be as anonymous as a large resort complex. Most of the smaller hotels, while not having everything at hand, can provide nearly all you need with convenient concierge service and much more personalized attention. For those who prefer, there are hotels that only accept adults.

A Piece of Cake

Think you can’t have your cake and eat it, too? Ask Barbara Bancsik of Eventful Moments. “The cake should be more than just good looking. When we order cakes from Memo (Guillermo Garcia de Alba of Charmé), there is never anything left. People ask for seconds.” Barbara, head coordinator for Zac Campbell of Eventful Moments, recently coordinated her own wedding. “Believe me, I would have done anything to hand the details over to someone so that they could just take care of it for me. Most of us are just too busy to do that for ourselves.” Needless to say, with Zac and his truly professional staff, the wedding went off without a hitch. “I’ll never forget it,” says not only Barbara but her guests as well. You guessed it, there was not a crumb left of the cake! In Bucerías and Centro South, Susan Drexler of Pie in the Sky will also deliver her enchanting creations to your location, anywhere in the bay area.

Image That

So, do you take your own pictures, hire a photographer or go the route of video? Images are important. Someday, they may be all you have to remember your special day. While your brother-in-law or a friend may have a fabulous camera, trust a professional who knows how to shoot weddings and is acquainted with Banderas Bay’s climate, where salty mist and humidity can play havoc with delicate equipment. Trust a local expert! Consider yours truly Josef Kandol (www.josefkandollw.com), Leticia Alarcon (www.leticiaalarconphotography.com) or Alfonso Lepe (www.photovallarta.com), each with a distinctive style.

Commitment Ceremonies

While gay marriages may or may not be legal in other areas of the world, a commitment ceremony is a growing phenomenon in response to the need for a public testimonial, whether religious or secular. Other nonconforming unions also create the need for some kind of commitment ceremony. Where better than on a beach with the sea as grand witness, while breezes cool the brow and whisk away the worries of social pressure? Your coordinator will connect you with providers who are sensitive to your special needs.

Children

It’s not that children are not allowed, but most of the activities included in destination weddings are for adults. So find an alternative for the kids, rather than asking them to be long suffering, not a common trait among the younger set. At some weddings, the children have been asked to stay inside the suite or hotel room during the entire proceedings. Even with games on a laptop or rented movies, it’s not usually a happy scene.

Some Words of Advice

Consider the weather during the season of the actual ceremony, not what you’ve experienced during other visits. Ask for the average temperature, chance of rain, time of sunset, etc. While there is no guarantee of the weather at any time of the year, it will help you choose your attire. Dress according to the setting you choose. For the beach, you can go barefoot, dress in white cotton or other fl owing fabrics in light colors. Advise your guests, as well. Heels are not appropriate or comfortable in the sand. Not only are tents lovely, they also will protect you from direct sun and possible rain. The guests will appreciate not being required to sit in the hot sun waiting for you to arrive. Ask about flowers that are native to the area or are easy and inexpensive to acquire in the season of your ceremony. Costs can escalate out of proportion if you aren’t adaptable to sudden price changes or fluctuations.

For the Active and Hyper-Active

Few destinations can provide such a wide range of activities for the active set: from things that get you wet to things that dry you off; from things that clear your head to things that speak to your heart; from things that offer a birds-eye view to a fish-bowl view. Each of these activities has its fanatics, so take your choice. If it’s something you’ve already done, try it again or check out another operator or a different route.

Ask your coordinator about group rates and transportation. It will relieve any worries about recreation and give your guests something to do as they get to know one another.

Get Married in the Mountains

For a picturesque and unique alternative to a beach wedding, consider the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, a 20-acre tropical mountain paradise just south of town. This magical setting offers the diverse options of being married in the Orchid Collection Conservatory, the hacienda or outside in the gardens. Groups up to 200 can be accommodated for a sit-down dinner, reception and dancing. The impeccably trained staff will provide attentive yet unobtrusive service to make this special day everything you have envisioned.

Before and after the ceremony, you and your guests are free to roam the lush gardens that feature tropical plants native to Mexico and other countries with similar climates. To add a colorful cultural component to your day, a local youth group of folkloric dancers clad in traditional costumes can be hired to perform for a nominal fee. To view photos and start planning your fantasy wedding in this gorgeous mountain oasis, visit www.vallartabotanicalgardensac.org.

Rehearsal Dinner

While the rehearsal dinner is not an integral part of the wedding weekend, it’s frequently a great time to get to know one another. Both sides of the family can relax without the stress of the actual wedding day, usually in a more casual mode as well. Puerto Vallarta opens the doors of its best restaurants to groups from as small as six to as large as 60 or more. Your wedding coordinator will help you organize this mixer, too. You can be as formal or as casual as you like.

The following list is by no means inclusive. Rather, it’s a selection of popular choices for dining, with a cross-section of prices, styles and menus. Many of the establishments provide private catering services. Remember to make this your own event. If you have a favorite not listed here, ask your coordinator or contact the restaurant directly for availability and group rates.

  • Café des Artistes - Interior garden - Chic Avant-Garde
  • Café des Artistes del Mar - Beachfront - Casual-chic Gourmet
  • De Santos - Nightclub - Hip International
  • El Dorado - Beachfront - Casual Mexican
  • La Palapa - Beachfront - Sophisticated Avant-Garde
  • Le Kliff - Cliff side - Casual, romantic International
  • Trio - Interior - Trendy Mediterranean
  • Vista Grill - View - Classy Avant-Garde

One of your best options is to ask your coordinator to cater the dinner at your private villa. That way, you’re in your own space and don’t have to worry about others passing through, parking, transportation, availability or any of that. Keep it small and personal. The speeches will be saltier, the memories more hilarious. And when you’re ready to retire, just head upstairs without waiting for the valet.

How to Relax in Vallarta

When you’re in the middle of your frantic preparations, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Vallarta offers the gamut of worldclass spas, from Ayurveda, Aromatherapy and Temazcal to Watsu. And that doesn’t even touch on massage and other therapies. When it comes to finding what you need, ask for the nearest spa or health center and run, don’t walk. You need a treatment now!

  • Contacto Natural in El Nogalito (Ionization, mud wraps, medicinal vapors, temazcal) Located at river’s edge with overnight options. www.contactonatural.com
  • Hacienda del Paraiso Spa in El Tigre (Marine body scrub, Mayan wrap, reflexology, lymphatic drainage and more) www.eltigregolf.com
  • Mind & Soul Spa at Villa Premiere (Oxygen bar, Mayan milk wrap, tequila hydrotherapy, Shirodara couple massage and more) Deluxe hotel stay option. www.premiereonline.com.mx
  • Piedra Viva Spa at Hacienda Hotel & Spa (Hot rocks, mud with wild herb energy, temazcal and more) Comfortable hotel stay option. www.haciendaonline.com.mx
  • Terra Noble (Acupressure, hydrating facial, Swedish, temazcal and more) www.terranoble.com
  • Verana in Yelapa (Jungle spa with deluxe treatments such as green phyto mask, cranial sacral, special baths including Watsu, couples welcome) Hotel stays only. www.mexicoboutiquehotels.com
  • Villa Ananda (Ayurveda, pancha karma, detoxifi cation, aromatherapy and more) Deluxe beachfront, private, with extended stays available. www.villaananda.com

Once again, ask about group rates. Your coordinator or concierge can confirm appointment times, as well as coordinate transportation where necessary.


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