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Should You Do Your Destination Wedding in Colombia?

Updated: Apr 11, 2023


women dressed in white dancing in the street of Cartagena
The caminata wedding parade in Cartagena

Destination weddings are becoming more popular as global access to tourism increases and American prices rise with it it. According to a report by the Destination Wedding Market Research, the global destination wedding market was valued at $9.6 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $16.7 billion by 2027. This growth is also driven by changing preferences for unique and personalized experiences, and one place that has been experiencing a resurgence in tourism over the past decade and is red hot on the destination wedding map right now is Colombia.


I went to Colombia in 2016 on a month-long trip that turned into 3 years. And just last month, I went back and had my wedding there. We did a 57-person, 4-city, 2-week wedding in Minca, Parque Tayrona, Cartagena, and Medellin, with the actual wedding being in Cartagena. I give the experience a 10/10, but there are some factors that played into our success. This blog goes over those factors, as you should consider them if you’re thinking about doing the same thing.


Here is the wedding website with all the info about the trip. If you're here for the cost breakdown see the This is How Much a Destination Wedding Costs in Cartagena, Colombia blog.


Table of Contents for Skimmers

Is a destination wedding a good idea?


Obviously, everyone is different and this question requires a lot of personalization in order to be answered. Given this, I made a list of good versus bad candidates for a destination wedding in a place like Colombia for you to use in your self-evaluation.


A destination wedding is a good idea for:

  1. People who want to omit certain friends & family from their wedding, and (important!) - those people can be grouped together as those who are not inclined to travel outside of the United States.

  2. Adventurous people.

  3. People who want their friends & family from both sides to really get to know each other. Single-night weddings have quick, surface-value, single-use interactions that don’t really forge any kind of meaningful relationships. This is not the case with destination weddings as guests will be traveling together, staying in the same hotel for extended periods, and having the time of their lives together. People that attend destination weddings together become more than just acquaintances.

  4. People who want to do something different and unforgettable!

A destination wedding is not a good idea for:

  1. People who want to be hands-off in the planning process or want a low-touch, easy experience.

  2. Anxious people.

  3. High-maintenance people. Traveling comes with its own set of rules and if you’re not a really flexible person you should not experiment with traveling on your wedding.

  4. American-centric people who don’t have an interest in cultures that are different from theirs.


Are you in the former camp? Read on.


2 main types of destination wedding


There are 2 main types of destination wedding: 1) the wedding package, and 2) the bespoke wedding adventure.


With the wedding package, you can stay at an all-inclusive resort or hire an event planner for the whole trip. Or both. I can’t speak to the all-inclusive because I really don’t like the cookie-cutter feel or the fact that you’re totally removed from the country you’re visiting.


If you’re doing a bespoke wedding experience this article is for you. This type of trip has endless possibilities, but I do recommend hiring a wedding planner for the day of the actual wedding. Originally, I was not going to do this but I was convinced otherwise and it was the best decision I've ever made. It would not have been the same experience if I was running around on my phone trying to coordinate everything during my wedding. I highly recommend that you have a point of contact and wedding planner for any destination wedding.


Is it difficult to do a destination wedding in Colombia?


If you’re choosing the bespoke experience (which I highly recommend for the able and willing), the first thing to consider after price is your ability to navigate and access proper logistics in the country. This will determine the success of your destination wedding.


Do you know people there? That will help. Even if you’ve just visited and you have the phone numbers of cab drivers and bartenders this is really helpful. Do you speak the language? Colombia is becoming more touristy every day but it’s still very raw. And this is a lot of the appeal. It’s an ultra-authentic experience. But it would have been difficult to pull off what I did if I didn’t know people and speak the language.


Pro tip: I’m not sure what the legal requirements are for getting married in Colombia, but why deal with that on your vacation? If you want to get legally married do it in the United States on a Tuesday when you’re not on vacation with 60 of your friends or better yet, get another party out of it.


What’s the best place is best for a Colombia destination wedding?


The typical location for a destination wedding in Colombia is Cartagena and I do highly recommend it. It's inexpensive, beautiful, and the entire city is set up for tourism.


If you’re adventurous and know people (or have the cash to hire a good company) you could get more creative and look toward San Andres and Providencia (I don't love these islands but they are indisputably gorgeous). You could look to the coffee regions in the mountains for a more whimsical event, or toward Medellin for a city vibe. I haven't been to Cali but if you’re into dancing you might want to check it out (it’s the salsa capital of the world). Originally we were going to do our ceremony in Tayrona and go to Cartagena for the after-party but the only option for Taryona is to use a spiritual resort like Gitana del Mar, which looks absolutely amazing. Tayrona is run by the indigenous Kogu tribe and Gitana del Mar does spiritual wedding ceremonies with the Kogi shaman. I think this is an incredible option to have and I almost did it myself. The only reason we didnt do it is because our vibe was party and we knew people would be drinking and we didn't want to be disrespectful to the Kogi, the Gitana, or the ceremony.


How does a destination wedding work? Who pays for what?


The way our wedding worked is that we paid for everything the day of the wedding, and everyone else paid for the rest of their trip as they would with any other occasion. Originally we felt like we needed to pay for the Airbnb or the dinner the night before the wedding but in the end we didn't do that and it felt normal.


That being said, our wedding cost $15k - if you’re budgeting for more like $50k like a lot of American weddings cost, you could basically pay for an entire trip for everyone. We put all of the hotels, some dinners, alcohol for 3 days, and a yacht trip on our credit cards, and the total for 2 weeks was $42k. I’ll write a blog with the exact breakdown of the costs.


Floating the money and doing all the bookkeeping for the hotels and many of the dinners is a necessity in places where they’re not set up to block hotel rooms or have large dinner parties with separate tabs, like Colombia. I have a large spreadsheet system that I used, which I can share, as well.


Pro tip: stay out of the plane ticket situation, this can get really messy and cause a lot of responsibility and risk for you. We had to deal with this because we bought plane tickets for 10 people on our miles and it was really terrible. Everyone should deal with their own plane ticket no matter what.


Planning your wedding in Colombia


There are definitely some things to be aware of if you’re thinking about getting married in Colombia:


Things will go wrong and deviate from your original plan


That’s just the way it is, and if you embrace it, it can be a good thing. For example, the Tayrona hotel didn't hold our reservations for the first night we were there and we found out 3 weeks before the trip started. We could have freaked out but instead we embraced it and found a hotel in Minca, which is a beautiful jungle mountain city between the airport and Tayrona, so we got an extra mini-vacay out of it.


Sending money to Colombia can be difficult


Colombian restaurants don’t accept money from American cash-transfer apps like Vemno and PayPal because of the high fees, and they don’t hold reservations without 50% down. So unless you have Colombian friends or a Colombian bank account you will need an event planner to manage this for you. Another option is to use Remitly, which is for sending remittances and has a smaller fee but I can’t speak to it because my Colombian friends helped me with all the money stuff using their Bancolombia accounts.


Colombia might not be your spot if you're in the market for a beach wedding


If you’re looking for a beach wedding in Colombia, you might not find it as easily as it seems like you would. Cartagena (arguably the best wedding city) is technically on the beach, but the only real beach area is not the good part of the city. The beautiful, colorful, colonial-style walled city that you see on Instagram is across the street from a really rocky, ugly beach. The habitable beach area is in Boca Grande, which has a totally different vibe, like a cruise ship port and I do not recommend even going over there at all, let alone having your wedding there.


The bookkeeping will be messy


Make sure you keep very clean records of the financial movement throughout the process. We were double charged for about 20% of the things we bought. All the money was reimbursed but that’s only because I was so diligent about it. You’ll lose a lot of money if you’re a sloppy bookkeeper.


Make sure you do a recon trip


Not only is the recon trip super fun (you basically go to the city you're going to get married in and try all the best bars, restaurants, and hotels) - but you can also meet with all the vendors. In Colombia this face-to-face interaction is super important to make sure that the Colombians follow through with their promises.


Pro Tip: Get a phone number of contact of everyone you come across. Taxi drivers bartenders, waiters, random friends you make at the bar... I do this as standard practice and it came in really handy for wedding planning, when I couldn't get certain information that I needed from the wedding planner or hotel but the taxi driver knew someone who knew someone... Trust me, this is important if you're doing a destination wedding and to be honest you should be doing this anytime you travel.


Why Colombia is a great destination wedding spot

All the negatives and warning being said, Colombia is a great spot if you're in the market for any of the following:


A good value destination


Yes, Colombia is very cheap. Unfortunately for Colombians, the USD is eating the peso. But in the flip side, it makes the Colombian destination wedding a great option for foreigners. For example, in Tayrona we got the beautiful and adjoining Senda Watapuy and Senda Koguiwa hotels for about $80 per room per night, and our stunning Cartagena boutique hotel, Casona del Colegio was $9k for 13 rooms for 3 nights. Most dishes at a really great restaurant are around $12 for seafood or steak.

Something off the beaten path


This is not Cancun. Colombia is very authentic, which means there’s not a ton of English, and you’ll find some things won’t go as planned, but it’s the most beautiful country I’ve been to (after Greece) and it will be an unforgettable experience.


A warm weather, tropical climate destination


The climate in the Caribbean, as well as Medellín, is tropical. This means there are distinct wet and dry seasons - the wet during which I do not recommend you plan your wedding. December through April is mid-80 degrees and dry, so this is when weddings take place. I like visiting in the wet season but please do not try to plan a wedding during this time.


Even in the dry season, it is warm, so you and your guests will want to dress in cool fabrics such as linen. If you’re doing a recon trip (recommended) you can actually get a lot of your clothes in the country. If you’re looking at a Cartagena wedding you can get the traditional Cartageñero suit, the "Traje de la Tumba Francesa" or simply "Tumba Francesa." It is a white suit that features a long jacket, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat. It's a whole vibe.


Bride and groom in white traditional Colombian traditional Cartageñero suit, the "Traje de la Tumba Francesa" and the woman in white pants and a white bra top
The traditional Cartageñero men's suit, the "Traje de la Tumba Francesa" for weddings

Rich culture and beautiful scenery to incorporate into your wedding


Colombian wedding traditions and customs are strong and, in my opinion, much richer than American ones. The 2 main ones that I recommend embracing if you have your wedding in Colombia, and especially Cartagena are the caminata and the Hora Loca.


Caminata


The Caminata parade tradition is a popular part of Colombian weddings, especially in the city of Cartagena. During this parade, the wedding party, guests, and often the entire community take to the streets to celebrate the union, and typically takes place after the wedding ceremony and before the reception. The parade includes live music, dancing, and sometimes street performers, creating a lively and festive atmosphere. The parade usually stops at various points to dance, sing, and celebrate.


Bride and groom dressed in white dancing at the Traditional caminata wedding parade in Cartagena, Colombia
Traditional caminata wedding parade in Cartagena, Colombia

The Caminata has its roots in the city's Afro-Caribbean culture and centers around “mulatas” and “tamboreros.” The tamboreros are men with drums and the mulatas are really beautiful black female dancers. They’re all dressed in white, and you do a 45-minute parade through the city to your destination. The caminata is super fun, people in the street stop and take pictures, and if you don’t tell your guests that it’s happening it’s a really cool surprise.



bride and groom dancing in the Traditional caminata wedding parade in Cartagena, Colombia
The mulatas dancing with the bride and groom in the traditional caminata wedding parade in Cartagena, Colombia

La Hora Loca


La Hora Loca ("the crazy hour") is a late-night tradition at Colombian weddings, typically occurring towards the end of the reception. During La Hora Loca, the atmosphere is transformed into a high-energy party with lively music, colorful costumes, and plenty of dancing. Everyone at the party puts on crazy costumes and accessories such as masks, hats, and boas - kind of resembling Mardi Gras. The more outrageous, the better.


People dressed up in Colombian Hora Loca costumes dancing at a wedding
La Hora Loca - a Colombian wedding tradition

If you’ve cash to spend, La Hora Loca can include performers such as dancers, acrobats, and fire-eaters, adding to the lively atmosphere. Some couples even hire professional entertainment companies. It wakes up the party after they start to get tired or drunk - livens up the atmosphere and rallies everyone.


People dancing and having fun at Colombian wedding tradition, La Hora Loca
People being reinvigorated at Colombian wedding tradition, La Hora Loca

 

Colombia is a great place to have a destination wedding, It's cheap, has rich wedding culture and traditions, is beautiful and diverse, and is a truly unique experience. If you do your research and make sure you've accounted for all of the challenges laid out in this blog, Colombia could be the perfect spot for your bespoke wedding adventure.


Here is a list of Cartagena' most beautiful restaurants to give you an idea of the vibe there, and a list of the 21 best things to do in Medellin in case you want to plan an adventure honeymoon.


And if you have any questions or want specific recommendations leave them in the comments and I’ll respond.


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