complete guide to destination weddings
Destination Wedding Information

Complete Guide to Destination Weddings

Hola and welcome to our complete guide to Destination Weddings! This guide aims to cover everything you need to know in order to properly plan a destination wedding in an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or the Caribbean.

Jump ahead to any section you want by clicking on the portion of the guide you are looking for in our table of contents. If you want more information about a particular subject, you can follow the links provided for related blog posts.

We built this guide with YOU, the wedding couple, in mind and hope you find it useful. Contact us directly if you would like more information or would like to book a date! We love what we do and will be happy to help.

Table of contents

What is a Destination Wedding?
Why have a destination wedding?
How to plan a destination wedding
When should I start planning my wedding?
What season should I have my wedding?
How to pick a wedding venue
How to pick a resort
How to pick a wedding package
How to pick a location for a destination wedding
How much does a destination wedding cost
Is a destination wedding less expensive?
Who pays for the wedding?
What types of wedding ceremonies are available?
Will my marriage be legal back home?
What are the legal requirements for a destination wedding?
How long before the wedding will we have to arrive?
Where can I have a same-sex wedding?
What’s the difference between semi-private and private reception?
Can kids attend a destination wedding?
Can my friend/uncle/loved one officiate the wedding?
What kind of wedding dress should I wear?
What should my guests wear? What is the best hairdo for a destination wedding?
How do I choose a photographer?
Can I bring vendors from home?
Can I make or bring my own decorations?

THE BASICS: WHAT, WHY, WHEN AND HOW?

What is a Destination Wedding?

By definition, a destination wedding is a ceremony that is celebrated outside the wedding couple’s hometown and which requires their guests to travel. For this guide, we will stick to weddings hosted in all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean.

garden wedding pergola with ocean view at secrets capri

Why have a Destination Wedding?

The main reason is that you want to! This is YOUR big day after all. Of course, as with everything, there will be some pros and cons.

For example, don’t expect everyone to be able to attend. Not everyone will have the budget to buy a trip or be willing to travel. However, let’s be honest, this can also be a positive for certain family members 😉

Also, if you are a control freak it can be hard to plan every little detail from a distance. With great partners and a team helping you, it can be a lot of fun!

Related: 7 key questions to ask yourself when planning a destination wedding

On the flip side, it gives you a chance to make it an event to remember and spend more time with your family and friends.

Having a spectacular and exotic backdrop also makes for memorable souvenirs and awesome photos.

Plus, no one has to drive home at the end of the night!

We like to think that the good outweighs the bad (kinda like marriage in general!).

Related: Top 10 reasons to have a destination wedding

it was always you sign

How to plan a Destination Wedding?

CONGRATULATIONS You are now engaged and have decided on a beautiful destination wedding! But where do you start?

Start with these 3 important aspects as they are essential in your wedding planning process:

  • What is your budget?
  • What are your preferred venues?
  • When is your desired Wedding Date?

This will help the rest to fall into place.

The date will affect the cost of the travel portion, the temperature possibilities, and the availability of the venue.

The venues are important because not every resort offers the same possibilities. Want to have sandy toes? A gazebo overlooking the ocean so you can wear heels? A very private sky terrace?

There are quite a few different choices. Picking one or reducing the options will help narrow down from hundreds of hotel options to the most relevant to your vision and budget.

sky deck destination wedding venue the fives beach hotel

What is your destination wedding budget?

Yeah, no one likes this question, but there is really no way around it unless it is unlimited! And, this wouldn’t be the complete guide to destination weddings if we didn’t talk money so your budget will come up quite a bit in this guide…

Establishing the maximum you are willing to spend really helps in finding the perfect spot and establishing priorities. All budgets are workable and at least with a number (even if approximate) it allows you to find out what you can get for that amount of money.

There are two main costs considerations:

  • The cost of the wedding event itself
  • The cost of the travel portion for you and your guests.

Fixing a general guideline will help immensely to not look at properties that are out of reach for you or your guests.

Get help. A good travel agent can help you narrow down your choices and help guide you in the right direction.

Related: Should you use a Destination Wedding Travel Agent?

beach wedding ceremony under the trees at dreams las mareas in costa rica

When should I start planning a destination wedding?

The best time to start planning is between 12-18 months prior to the scheduled date.

It gives your guests enough time to get budgeted and organised.

It also gives you the best opportunity to get the time and date you want at the resort of your choice. Some of the dates do go fast!

That being said, we have organised weddings within a much shorter time frame. Depending on the season and group size anything is possible.

cenote destination wedding ceremony with simple white set up

What season should I choose for my destination wedding?

The most popular months for weddings are April, May, and November to early December. The reason for this is that the combination of room rates and good weather is ultimate. Resorts often offer better group pricing during those months, than the peak times such as Christmas, February, March, and Easter break.

Also, the weather is normally nice with the chances of rain being lower. However, no one can predict the weather so this is more playing on the averages.

ocean view wedding ceremony on a rooftop at dreams tulum

CHOOSING YOUR RESORT, VENUE, WEDDING PACKAGE & LOCATION

How to pick a wedding venue?

Depending on the type of wedding event you want to have, there could be different venues involved.

For most weddings, there will be three. One for the ceremony, one for the cocktail hour and one for the reception.

The most common options are:

  • The Beach
  • Solid platform overlooking the ocean such as a gazebo or pier. (Heels anyone?)
  • Garden/Jungle
  • Sky Terrace
  • Catholic Ceremony Venue

Here are some of the factors you will want to take into consideration to evaluate and pick a venue:

Privacy. How private do you want the location to be? The beach is great but not always the most private. However, some of the garden locations and sky terrace are superb and partially or completely hidden.

Capacity. How many people can it hold? Will it be big enough for my group or to the contrary will it feel too vast?

Extra Cost. Some resorts consider certain venues to be premium and charge a fee on top of the wedding package to use it.

interior of small wedding chapel with wooden pews

How to pick a resort for a destination wedding?

Picking the ‘best’ resort can be a little overwhelming. There are so many options available that at one point they tend to all look the same and all blend together.

Here are our top tips to help you narrow down the resort:

Type: Adults-only or Family oriented. Are you planning on inviting children or not?

Size: Large resort with a ton of restaurant and activity or a smaller more intimate location with a more limited offer. Does it have elevators and/or a shuttle service across the resort.

Cost: I know cost comes back a lot! However, it is important to know which resort will fit your guest’s budget. Setting an average or maximum price (per person/per night) will help narrow down the list.

Distance from the airport: How long will it take to get to and from the resort.

Wedding venue: Does it have the type of venues you have imagined for your wedding?

The number of ceremonies. How many weddings per day are performed at the resort? Does this even matter to you?

Backup location. No one ever wants to think about that! However, if it comes down to 2 resorts, it could be the tie-breaker.

render of the ballroom majestic elegance playa mujeres

How to pick a wedding package

Here are a few criteria and tricks to help separate them and narrow down the list:

For the wedding package:

Inclusions: How many guests are included in the base package? Does it include a private or semi-private reception? A cocktail hour? Rehearsal dinner? DJ or Band?

Extra guests: What is the cost for extra guests above what is included in the package?

Outside vendor fees: How much does the resort charge if you want to use vendors that are outside their preferred vendor list?

Budget: Always a deciding factor…. Once you add in your extra guests and the ‘must-haves’ on your list, does it meet the price point you wanted to pay?

wedding reception table at sunset secrets costa rica

How to pick a location for a Destination Wedding?

There are a few factors that come into play when deciding on where to have your wedding.

The main ones are:

  • accessibility for you and your guests
  • wedding requirements for a legal ceremony
  • Catholic ceremony or same-sex ceremony
  • Cost (again!)

How easy it is for you and the guests to get to the chosen destination?

You want to try and make it easy for your guests to travel to the destination.

Frequent and affordable flights will help to make sure that the people you want with you are present.

What type of wedding ceremony do you want?

You also want to consider what type of ceremony you want. Most destinations will offer symbolic ceremonies.

However, different destinations have different requirements and/or procedures for the marriage to be legal and recognized in your home country.

Also, not all destinations will offer same-sex weddings.

What is the cost to get to your chosen destination?

You also will want to evaluate the costs of getting to the destination and local currency.

Larger destinations such as Cancun/Riviera Maya, Punta Cana, and Puerto Vallarta will have a greater range of possibilities when it comes to the range of resorts offered.

Smaller islands such as Saint Lucia or Aruba have less frequent flights and normally higher resort pricing.

Related: 10 Steps to Destination Wedding Planning

beach wedding pergola with palm trees on white sandy beach

THE MAGIC QUESTIONS: COST & BUDGET

How much does a Destination Wedding cost?

There are a ton of components that come into pricing a Destination Wedding!

The main two will be:

1. The wedding package

2. The travel portion (flights + hotel).

Of course, these will vary immensely based on the type of resort you choose.

An all-inclusive resort can cost anywhere from $100 per person per night up to $500++ per person per night.

The majority of resorts will fall between $150 per person per night to $250 per person per night.

For the wedding packages, they will also vary greatly depending on the resort and inclusions.

Related: How much does a destination wedding really cost?

Free packages normally come with certain conditions and exceptions. Some resorts will limit what time or what day you can have your ceremony and many will require a minimum amount of booked room nights or a certain room category to be reserved in order for the package to actually be free of cost.

If you want to calculate quickly an average cost for your group, I would base it on $150 per person. This is an extremely loose average as it does not take into account the number of events you want to have and the extras you can add. However, it is a pretty good base for packages in general.

Most resorts also offer compensation based on the group size. These could be free rooms, credit on the wedding packages and/or extra events.

Related: Read how to get the best group rates

Depending on the wedding packages, some services are an extra charge and have to be taken into consideration. The most common are the following:

  • Hair and Make-up
  • Photos
  • DJ or live band
  • Extra decor and lighting
hot pink hand held fans at a wedding in mexico

Is a destination wedding less expensive?

This will depend on how you see it! A venue in the US is about $18,000.00 and the total cost is close to $25,000 per wedding. If you base yourself on the venue vs the all-inclusive wedding packages, the latter is less expensive.

However, if you consider the cost of travel, the overall cost would be higher. However, this normally includes a certain amount of vacation time not included in a “regular” wedding.

stone wedding gazebo with white chairs the finest playa mujeres weddings

Who pays for the wedding?

In general, the wedding couple or their family pay for the wedding event itself and the guests for their travel portion.

However, it is fairly common to see couples pay a portion of the travel for the wedding party and/or some of their guests.

TYPES OF CEREMONIES & LEGALITIES

What types of wedding ceremonies are available?

There are 3 main types of wedding ceremonies offered in all-inclusive resorts: Symbolic, Legal, and Religious.

The majority of couples will decide on a symbolic ceremony as it is the easiest one.

You can have an official ceremony back home for the legal side of it and then have the symbolic ceremony and big fiesta in the destination. There is no importance as to the order you want to do it, do what works best for you!

You don’t need to be legally married to have a symbolic ceremony.

Religious ceremonies can also be offered. However, in the case of a Catholic ceremony, there are extra requirements that you will need to coordinate with the priest here and your local parish at home to make it official.

Legal ceremonies also involve different steps to be taken and will usually require a few extra days in destination prior to the wedding.

Those are the three main ones but there are quite a few different options as well. South Asian weddings, Jewish ceremonies, Muslim weddings, Mayan ceremonies, and more can be done at different locations depending on your needs and vision for your wedding.

indian wedding brides dancing with colored smoke stick

If you choose a legal ceremony, there are a few hoops to jump through, but YES, your wedding should be legal once you get home.

In the case of same-sex weddings, it also needs to be legal in the state or province when you will register your marriage.

What are the legal requirements for a destination wedding?

Well, this will depend on where you decide to have your destination wedding.

Get the legal requirements for a destination wedding in Mexico here.

Get the legal requirements for a destination wedding in Costa Rica here.

How long before the wedding will we have to arrive?

Most hotels require 2 business days for symbolic ceremonies and 4 business days for legal ceremonies.

ocean view wedding gazebo with a palapa roof

Where can I have a same-sex wedding?

Well same-sex weddings are legal in certain states in Mexico as well as Costa Rica (well done, CR, the first country in Latin America to legalize!)

We suggest avoiding Jamaica where they are still intolerant to same-sex couples for the most part.

What is the difference between a semi-private reception and a private reception?

When a resort includes a semi-private event, they will reserve an area within an existing restaurant or bar for your group.

This limits a few things: you cannot play your own music or have a microphone for toasts or announcements. That said, it tends to be a lot less expensive than a private reception.

A private reception is an event that will be set up exclusively for your group. The area will be set up only for your guests and depending on the services you want to include, you will be able to hire a DJ, dancefloor or even just an audio system.

beach wedding reception at night with string light structure

AND MORE FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS…

Can kids attend a destination wedding?

Only if you want them to 😉 Yes, if you choose a family-friendly resort, children will be able to attend the wedding or part of the wedding. Some couples choose to have smaller ones only at the reception and not the ceremony. Completely up to you.

Can my friend/ uncle / loved one officiate my wedding?

If your ceremony is symbolic, then yes, most hotels will allow you to have your own officiant.

In the case of a legal wedding, this must be performed by someone that will allow the legalization of the marriage.

What kind of wedding dress should I wear?

Any kind you want. However, most brides do take the heat and humidity into consideration.

wedding couple on the beach with guests at a palladium wedding in mexico

What should my guests wear?

You can choose the vibe you want and the level of formality for your wedding. That said, since you are in a tropical destination, you can opt for less traditional options and invite people to go barefoot, wear all white, wear shorts (or funky tropical shirts), or stick with lightweight linen clothing.

What is the best hairdo for a destination wedding?

Again, this is YOUR wedding so the only ‘best’ is what you choose. Factors to consider are the heat and humidity, whether or not you are in a windy location (sky terraces can be VERY windy), whether or not you have a veil.
Our advice is to find a couple of options you LOVE and discuss it with your stylist when you have your hair and makeup trial.

first dance for newlyweds at a destination wedding on the beach

How do I choose a photographer?

My way of gauging whether or not something is right for me is “Hell, YES!”. Whether it is my sandwich for lunch or a big life decision, unless I am in LOVE and feeling passionate about it, I let it go. The same goes for your photographer. Your wedding day photos will represent your big day and the photographer will be in your personal space on one of the most important days of your life. Make sure you feel that they are ‘the one’!

Related: Pro Tips from a Destination Wedding Photographer

Can I bring vendors from home?

As a general rule, hotels will allow you to bring vendors from home for certain services and if they stay as part of the wedding group at the resort, they will waive the vendor fees. Examples are photographers, hairstylists, makeup artists, and DJ. Normally for the DJ, the hotel will need you to rent the equipment from their audiovisual vendor, however, your DJ can play MC and your favorite music all night.

Can I make or bring my own decorations?

DIYers rejoice. Yes, most hotels will allow you to bring your own decorations. There will be set-up fees that vary according to the amount, type of decor, etc, but if you want to get crafty and make your own centerpieces or favors – craft away.

Related: A Real Bride’s Tips: How to save money on your destination wedding

calligraphy and macrame name tags at a wedding

Conclusion

We hope that our complete guide to destination weddings has been helpful. Having planned hundreds of destination weddings gives us a little insight that we are happy to share!

Did we miss anything? Leave us a comment or get in touch.

Still have questions? Our team is happy to help.

1-888-472-7077

[email protected]

Lisa Wright

Soccer-mom, newlywed-wife, dog-lover, yoga-doer, tequila-drinker and master-wedding-specialist-extraordinaire! At your service…

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