How to Wed in CartagenaWords by Aviva Samuels
Photos courtesy of Creative Commons
Cartagena is a magical place. Just ask anyone who has been there. Located along the Caribbean coastline, it also offers Old World charm and romantic appeal. It’s a very special destination that offers something for everyone. Palm trees, the bright blue Caribbean sea, sandy beaches, fresh seafood and fruit juices, just minutes from a bustling city that is known for its colorful streets, flower-drenched balconies, cobblestone pathways, roving artists and peddlers, renowned restaurants and luxurious boutique hotels. Not only will this be the wedding of a lifetime, but it will also be the trip of a lifetime. Here’s how to plan the perfect Cartagena wedding for you and your guests.
Determine your overall budget.
There are so many great reasons to choose Cartagena for your destination wedding, but one of the best perks is that Cartagena is truly affordable. In Cartagena, you can have an amazing destination wedding without worrying if it is going to come at an extreme cost. The U.S. dollar is strong, the overall quality of the wedding elements is fantastic and a variety of options for almost any budget are available. Determining exactly how much you have to spend will determine the specific choices that you make. It’s an important step that you can’t afford to skip.
Let your guests know that Cartagena is safe.
You might run into a few naysayers, so be prepared with the facts to quench their concerns. They may have a misconception that Cartagena is not safe, however, nothing could be further from the truth. While you must exercise caution in any country that you visit being that any destination can have its potential dangers, Cartagena is considered on the safe list and the bulk of tourists who visit Cartagena have had a trouble-free time.
Always a vacation paradise for Colombians from other cities, it has now gotten the worldwide attention that it deserves and is known as a top-notch locale for international tourism and first-class weddings.
Inform your guests as to the ease of travel.
From most U.S. cities there are affordable direct flights to and from Cartagena or flights with just one connecting flight. A short 3-hour direct flight from Miami or Fort Lauderdale or a 5-hour direct flight from NYC and you’ve arrived. From many other cities, you’d be looking at just one connecting flight. Once you arrive, it is only about a 10-minute drive from the airport. Transportation apps are available and taxis are everywhere you turn. Once you’re in the city you can rent bikes, catch a cab or take a ferry to one of the surrounding islands. Providing this information to your guests will make it far easier for them during the decision-making process if they are hesitant about coming and during the booking process.
Determine the best timeframe for travel.
It is always warm in Cartagena, so no matter when you’re planning your wedding you can expect it to be at least 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re looking for the least humid time of the year, the best time to travel is between December and April. The rainy season typically falls between May and November, however, its geographical positioning means that part of Colombia sits firmly outside of the hurricane belt and for the most part, the rest of Colombia remains unbothered by hurricanes. There are also numerous national holidays in Colombia to be aware of, so be sure to check your desired dates to be sure that hotel rates are not at a premium as a result.
Determine the vibe for each of the different wedding events.
If you are searching for a unique location that combines old-world culture and modern amenities, look no further. Cartagena offers the best of both worlds. You can party like a rock star after dark in Cartagena or take in the history on a walking tour of the old city by day.
With so much to choose from, you need to consider what you are looking for each wedding-related event. Whether you’re feeling a big hotel and beachfront vibe, a cultural experience within the Old City walls, or the exclusivity of one of the nearby small Caribbean islands, you’ll need to choose where you want to be. Can’t choose just one? Consider combining all of them with a boat ride to the islands for your welcome activity, a rehearsal dinner on the rooftop of an Old City boutique hotel, a wedding ceremony at an ancient cathedral and a wedding reception at a swanky beachfront hotel.
Taste the local fare.
Lemonade de Coco (a refreshing frozen drink made with limes and coconut) and fresh ceviche (seafood dish typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, and spiced with ají, chili peppers, chopped onions, salt, and cilantro) are some of the local favorites to consider serving at the festivities. Choose your favorite from one of Colombia’s most popular dishes. Try arepas (a type of cornbread and comes in various forms and sizes), a local staple. Other dishes include Ajiaco (a type of chicken, corn and potato soup) or Mondongo (a type of tripe soup with lots of vegetables and coriander) Most everything comes with a plate of rice, avocado, arepa, a dish of cream and plantain or banana. Be willing to experiment and expose your guests to the flavors of the destination, even if it’s not what you would traditionally serve at an American wedding or what you are used to eating. Sure, it’s a good idea to incorporate some American fare, but don’t eliminate the unique dishes that many of your guests will be happy to try.
Brush up on your Spanish.
While most of the hotels do have bilingual or trilingual staff, it is possible that you will run into some that are not. In order to prevent any frustration, be prepared with Google translate, a list of common words or phrases, or other sources of Spanish communication.
Wow them with Colombian-themed hotel welcome bags.
If you are partying Colombian style, you’ll be celebrating until the wee hours of the morning. Chances are you’re going to need some hangover supplies to combat those last 3 shots of Aguardiente (also known as Firewater to you Gringos). Give you guests a way to shade the hot sun with a Caribbean hat. The sombrero vueltiao is a traditional hat that is made out of Gynerium sagittatum, known locally as caña flecha, a type of cane that grows in the region. Or, a Guanabana, a wide-brimmed straw Panama hat. Other great treats include Colombia coffee and candies.
Appreciate the locale and celebrate!
If things don’t seem like they do back home, then it’s probably because they are not. Don’t expect things to mimic your own culture. You chose an exotic location for a reason so embrace it and all that it entails. For the most part, you will deal with warm and friendly people and experience nothing but quality. When planning a destination wedding, it’s important to go with the flow and know that things can sometimes get lost in translation and that cultural differences will often prevail. With realistic expectations, you’ll have a wedding to remember and beautiful memories to cherish forever.
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