An Unbelievable Panama WeddingWords by Courtney Kellar
Photos courtesy of JMGutierrez Fotografía
Monica and Alex originally didn’t think they wanted to have a wedding at all, but after realizing many people often get together only on sad occasions, they decided to throw the party of a lifetime for their family and friends. These adventurous newlyweds have been to a combined 60 countries worldwide, so when it came time to pick their destination wedding location, they wanted somewhere neither of them had ever been before.
“We’re pretty adventurous and I love planning trips to foreign countries – the more exotic, the better,” says the bride. “We wanted another adventure, and this time, to take our loved ones with us. Also, I knew I was never going to be a traditional ballroom bride, so a destination wedding allowed us to break free from the standard wedding format and offered us a chance to be creative, unique and even a little playful.”
So, how did the couple decide on saying “I do” in Panama? Monica and Alex came up with four important criteria for their chosen location and quickly narrowed down the pool of suspects. “First, for health considerations for older folks, we wanted a convenient place most people could fly to in five, six hours or less,” recalls the bride. “Secondly, the venue couldn’t be too far of a drive from an airport. [This way] guests coming from the East Coast could make the wedding in one long weekend if that’s all the time they had.
“Third, [a good] value…money [wise]. We wanted the wedding to feel luxurious and relaxing, but still be relatively affordable for everyone at the same time. Finally, we were hoping for an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind event in a place most people had never been to or would not have gotten the excuse to go to if not for the wedding.”
Once Monica and Alex decided on rainforest nuptials in Panama City, Panama, there was some anxiety on the part of their guests. Not surprisingly, the couple handled the hesitation with ease. “There will always be a certain amount of trepidation when people are going to a place unknown to them – and especially a rainforest! People had various questions and some fears.
“We made a very extensive website to give [guests] an idea of what to expect (all based on lots of research – given that we hadn’t been there ourselves!). They had to take a leap of faith and trust us…and we had to have faith in ourselves that all would turn out as we had envisioned.”
So, after months of planning from afar with the help of a local wedding coordinator, Monica and Alex arrived in steamy Panama with 80 of their closest friends and family. “Panama was an amazing choice,” recalls the couple. “There is a happening, vibrant urban area and a tranquil, scenic rainforest all within city limits! [Also,] it still felt fairly under the radar – out of our 80 guests, only one person had ever been there before. It’s like we, along with our entire wedding party, got to discover this ‘hidden gem’ together!”
The couple was nontraditional in the wedding weekend plans; opting to host the ceremony and a celebratory dinner one day and a full-blown reception the next night. Alex and Monica were very calculated in every decision they made and what resulted was a unique, destination-specific event that was truly one-of-a-kind. “We value authenticity and diversity so we tried to really showcase the food, atmosphere and sights of Panama.”
For the ceremony, the couple exchanged vows in the Casco Viejo, or “old city,” amidst 300 year-old ruins. As guests arrived, they were offered Panamanian snow cones from a local "raspao" vendor. As guests took their seats, they were treated to a custom magazine Monica had created titled ‘The New Yorker-s.’ “The magazine not only served as a wedding program and a local area guide, but we also did a ‘who’s-who’ section with pictures of each family/guest with a paragraph we personally wrote about each of them. It was a huge hit.”
Instead of a formal bouquet, Monica walked down the aisle collecting individual roses from all the children. Post nuptials, the couple and their guests celebrated around the historic city in a wedding parade led by a mariachi band. The entire wedding party later celebrated the nuptials with a sit-down dinner overlooking the Panama Canal. To cap-off the day, everyone hit the town on brightly colored "chiva parrandera" buses – a traditional Panamanian way of partying.
The next day, guests spent their time exploring the destination and doing various eco-excursions. Once the sun set, the party really started as the couple invited their guests to a big wedding reception. The entertainment included traditional folklore dances, stilt-walkers and multiple bands. “At midnight, when another Latin brass band started playing, the empanadas came out of the kitchen and guests left with bags of Filipino and Russian snacks – a nod to the backgrounds of my husband and I,” says Monica.
In the end, the couple got the non-traditional event of a lifetime they had envisioned from the start, but it wasn’t without some effort and a lot of determination. “Most of us will never plan big scale projects like this until we get married, but the same thing holds true as in most big decisions – do you know yourself?” advises the bride. “If planning something thousands of miles away would drive you crazy, then don’t have a destination wedding you won’t really be happy about.
“[Also,] it’s easy to second-guess yourself – we all fear not pleasing everyone and worry what they’ll think of our aesthetic choices. In the end, you will know what feels right and makes you smile. At some point you just have to trust in your choices and what inspires you.”
In some final, wise words of advice, Monica shares what she learned from planning her own destination wedding. “Love is rare, life is strange and every day is special, so make the most of it. Things can only make you feel bad if you let them and it’s not the end of the world. I do believe everyone’s wedding is perfect in its own way. You can try to plan every detail, but the day will flow and unwind just as it should.”
Vendors: Photographer: JMGutierrez Fotografía, Wedding Coordinator: Monica Cecilia Mendoza, Ceremony Site: Galería Juan Manuel Cedeño, Post-Ceremony Dinner: Miraflores Locks Restaurant, Reception Site: Gamboa Rainforest Resort, Invitations: Minted, Gown Designer: Bride via Dress My Way, Groom’s Clothing Designer: Hugo Boss/Ben Sherman, Videographer: Enrique Toscano, Band: Grupo Cocktail, Entertainment: Cataplum
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