Costarican Culture

A Planner’s Real Costa Rica Wedding


January 18, 2020
Words by Lauren Ertl
Photos courtesy of Viviana Vieto

As a destination wedding planner since 2008, today’s bride, Susan, had done numerous weddings with different celebrations, styles, color palettes. She knew that when her time came, she wanted to do something very different. In Costa Rican culture the focus is on good food, good drinks, lots of dancing and music. And, of course, laughs and hugs are always present while families are friends get together. That’s why Susan and Adam decided to skip the formal-plated, sit down dinner, table assignments and other formalities to throw an amazing big Costarican party! We think it’s safe to say that today’s couple’s dish is a must-read since all of the info is from Susan herself!

Q: Why did you choose to do a destination wedding?

A: Our love started in Costa Rica. Adam and I both met in a small beach town a few hours where I grew up. It was important for us to show our friends and family the beautiful country where we met. I’ve also been a wedding planner in Costa Rica since 2008. We knew all the guests would have an amazing vacation and experience besides just the great special moments on our wedding day. Adam and I couldn’t think of a better week in paradise uniting all our friends and family. For us, a destination wedding was the perfect way to relax, create an experience surrounded by loved ones, and begin our new life in marriage.

Q: How did your family and friends respond to the decision? If any of them had a negative reaction, how did you resolve it?
A: We gave everyone plenty of time – the invitations were sent about a year out. Since everyone had time to plan, they were able to make all the necessary arrangements to say yes. I couldn’t describe the excitement we go as soon as our guests received the invitations. Soon after, flights were being booked and people were asking questions about what to do and see. I made a wedding website with all the details of lodging, airport transfers, tours, activities, and a full suggested itinerary that Adam and I were leading each day. We understood traveling to a new country can be pretty intimidating and wanted to provide everyone with the information to feel safe and comfortable with traveling to a new country. Our goal was to make it special for them and ensure they had all the information to plan an epic trip. 

Q: How/why did you choose the location/destination? Did you run into any issues specific to this destination and how did you resolve them?
A: I had planned a wedding at this location with a past client and I saw how perfect it would be for Adam and I. Two days after Adam proposed on the same beach I grew up on in Costa Rica, we emailed them right away. The Palms is the perfect setting for a vacation and for the type of celebration we wanted. It’s a beautiful complex of 30 villas that are privately own but available for rent located on the ocean at the end of one of the most beautiful beaches in Guanacaste, Flamingo Beach. They also have a large lawn just one step above the sand level, where you could host a party overlooking the ocean and with the salty smell and sounds of the waves crashing in the background. We did not look anywhere else.

They haven’t had a wedding of our size at The Palms and was the biggest they hosted. The only issue we noticed was a problem with the power that fed our lighting. Even though the venue had a power generator for some reason a couple of the light lines were off. Luckily, our day of wedding coordinator was able to fix it during cocktail hour and we had nothing to worry about.

Q: How would you describe your overall experience of planning a destination wedding?
A: It was fun! Ok… maybe a little nerve-wracking at times. The excitement and joy of going away with your favorite people and getting married while enjoying this vacation has no price. It was a memorable experience we will never forget. We are close to one year of being married and we are seeing our friends post and tell us “Take us Back!” Every time we see or talk to our friends they still have stories to tell us and they keep saying how awesome every single part of the trip was. From stepping off the plane right into the vans waiting with an ice-cold local drink, to the welcome gifts, ATV and Zip Line tour, the animal sanctuary tour, the Catamaran Cruise, restaurants and bars in town, the pool and beach, the local food and drinks, the wedding day celebration, the band and “carnival” on our wedding, the list goes on a on. Having a destination wedding goes beyond the five hours of the wedding celebration, you and your guests come back home with a lifetime of great memories.

Q: Did you use any resources when planning your destination wedding that you feel would be helpful to other couples? i.e. books, a wedding planner, referrals?
A: Having a wedding planner is our biggest advice! Whether it’s a planner to help you beginning to end or you hire someone for the day of, you need to have that support so you and your fiancé, as well as your family and friends, will not stress out about and enjoy the wedding day. It was easy for us to make that decision because of my experience as a wedding planner. Even though I am a wedding planner, I knew I needed a professional to help the day-of for execution. We cannot imagine how a couple could plan a destination wedding without the expertise of a wedding planner.

Q: Did you include any do-it-yourself projects in your wedding/reception? If so, please describe them.
A: We did a lot of work and personal touches throughout the process. We did the wedding invitations ourselves, but we paid for a nice hand made calligraphy. It was a fun process to play with different papers and textures while deciding on the final look. We bought white, thick cotton paper and we made the rough edges to bring a natural texture and look for our invites but the wax seal, calligraphy and the rose gold touches on the twine added a little glam to it.

Q: What were the travel logistics like for your guests? Did you run into any issues and how did you resolve them?
A: Most of our guests were coming from all parts of the United States and a few from other countries. My family and friends were coming from the south of the country, about seven hours driving to the wedding venue. For both sides of our guests, the traveling was not short, it all went smoothly on the front end. However, a large group of our guests was delayed over 24 hours flying home because of bad weather in the United States. They all had to drive five hours to the other airport in Costa Rica on the other side of the country. These things happen when traveling!

We also had our own challenge. One of Adam’s bags did not make it to Costa Rica with him and it took us two days to get it. The bag has part of his outfit so we were very nervous. We eventually got it back after multiple visits to the airport and lots of phone calls and coordination. We were lucky that we decided to travel a week in advance before the wedding and not just a few days prior.

Q: How were you able to coordinate with vendors from afar? Did you run into any issues and how did you resolve them?
A: Because of my experience running weddings in Costa Rica, I was able to use my entire team for the wedding day. The funny and not so funny issue we had were unpredicted circumstances like a police officer stopping our driver after we just got married and headed to the beach for our photo session. He ended up taking his license plates and Adam and I were stuck on the side of a dirt road for over 30 minutes. This was happening as the sun was setting and we didn’t want to miss those critical photo opportunities. Our driver apparently had an expired commercial driving license and they ended up removing his license plates but luckily let him drive us to the reception.

Q: Do you feel you spent more or less money by choosing to do a destination wedding?
A: We spent about the same, however, we were able to get more of a multi-day experience for the same amount of money.

Q: How do you think your wedding would have been different had you not held it away from home?
A: We can’t even imagine it. Nothing would’ve compared to this experience we had. Spending a week-long vacation with our loved ones was truly an unforgettable experience. Both sides of our families and friends had a great opportunity to meet and create their own memories together.

Q: Overall, do you have any special advice you would like to share with our readers to help prepare them for their day?
A: Yes! Our biggest pieces of advice are:

  • Definitely give yourself enough time to enjoy being engaged and plan your wedding. Enjoy this time together.
  • Hire a professional to help you plan and execute your big day. It is not worth your time and happiness to cut in that area. A good planner will reduce stress, manage your time, and help you save money in the long run.
  • Do not be afraid of mixing up traditional and non-traditional wedding styles. We did not do a sit down formal dinner. Instead throughout the party we had passed food and drinks all night and of course dancing from beginning to end. We still kept the traditional dances and speeches.

Vendors: Photographer: Viviana Vieto; Wedding Planner: Susan La Reau Events; Ceremony/Reception Site: The Chapel at Hacienda Pinilla; Florist: Costa Brava Weddings; Cake: Victoria Zoch; Hair & Makeup: Jonathan Sanchez; Gown Designer: Hayley Paige; Groom’s Clothing Designer: Indocchino & Brooks Brothers; Bridesmaids/Groomsmen’s Clothing Designer: Showpo, David’s BridalThe Black Tux; Rentals: Costa Mesa Event Rentals; Band: Hinestra Producciones; DJ: A Class Productions; Duo: Veroliz; Video: Jonathan Yonkers : Day of Coordination: Four Nineteen Weddings; Dance floor: Eventos Artesanos; Table runners: Green House Waxseals; Jewelry: Treasures by Agnes; Hair Piece: Magic Bluebell Designs

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