Thinking about a Mexico destination wedding? Look no further! Check out these 10 tips to help you plan an epic, stress-free, tequila-infused bash. I am an open book when it comes to our international wedding planning experience, so please reach out if I can help answer any questions!
Disclaimer: these festivities occurred in January and February 2020, before COVID-19 turned our world upside down. I am grateful we had the opportunity to celebrate with our loved ones. I am also keenly aware many of you have had to postpone or cancel your own celebrations. My heart is with you. For those planning late 2021 or 2022 weddings, I hope this post sparks both some travel inspiration and wedding planning inspiration during these trying times.
First, a little background…
You could consider me an unconventional bride. I didn’t grow up dreaming of my wedding day, what I would wear or what color flowers or bridesmaid dresses would accompany me at the altar. In fact, anytime I did think of a future wedding day, I felt both underwhelmed and overwhelmed. Honestly, I just kind of assumed when the time came, my soon-to-be spouse and I would jet off to one of our bucket list destinations and elope. Preferably with our feet in the sand.
Before Wardell proposed, we had never discussed our vision for a wedding. Our future, of course, but never the wedding itself. So, after the excitement (and champagne headache) from our engagement night wore off, I was relieved to know we were both on the same page: we’re having a destination wedding.
Why destination and why Mexico?
Traveling is inherent to who we are as a couple – we are always planning our next trip, researching off-the-tourist-path locations, and getting comments from family and friends like “you’re going WHERE?!”. We didn’t bother doing even some cursory research for wedding venues and vendors in our home city – we jumped straight into finding the perfect destination to celebrate with family and friends.
Wardell and I spent the first week scouring the Internet, reading wayyyyy too many articles about the Best Destination Wedding Locations in the World. We researched Aruba, Hawaii, Dominican Republic, St. Thomas, Costa Rica, the Cayman Islands – if it had a beach, we considered it.
And then we got to Mexico. First up were Tulum and Playa del Carmen. I had visited both cities in the past, they had beautiful resorts, plenty of venue options, and the turquoise Caribbean Sea didn’t hurt either. Either of those options seemed like a great choice. I started contacting resorts and venues, and all signs pointed to a 2020 wedding in the Riviera Maya.
One night, though, as I was going deeeeep down the Google Maps rabbit hole, I found Puerto Vallarta. I didn’t know much about the town – I knew it was a vacation destination, but never remember our friends or family ever visiting. After scrolling through some Google Photos, my curiosity was piqued. I quietly declared “Wardell, I think I found it.” The photos of the old cobblestoned streets, the red-tiled roofs, the mountains leading straight to the Pacific Ocean – they are old-world scenes just can’t find in the Riviera Maya.
I’ll save my gushy “Puerto Vallarta is the best town in Mexico and here are the reasons why” TED Talk for another day. You’re here for the Mexico destination wedding planning goods, so let’s get straight to them!
Mexico destination wedding planning tips
1. Get clear on the basics
Before we started seriously looking at wedding venues, I had this idea in my head that weddings are so cheap in Mexico. Well, I’m sorry if I’m the one to break it to you (you would have found out soon enough anyway), but weddings are not so cheap in Mexico. Are they more reasonable? Yes. Can you get more for your money? Yes. But be prepared for your cost per head to be higher. For example, a couple might have a $40,000 budget for a traditional hometown wedding with 200 guests. In Mexico destination wedding currency, that same couple might budget $20,000 for a 50-guest bash, including multiple evening events, fireworks, and other specialty items. Having a wedding in Mexico allows you to get more bang for your buck, stretch your dollar, and provide more amenities and “wow-factor” for your guests.
Enough about money. Let’s talk guest list. The honest truth: not everyone will be able to come to your destination wedding. Grandparents might not be able to travel. Friends might not have the budget. Families with small kids might not want them to miss multiple days of school. Part of planning a destination wedding is accepting that some of the most important people in your life might not be there for the big day.
Our rule of thumb while planning our wedding was to invite everyone we would invite if we were having a traditional wedding at home, minus most coworkers, distant relatives, and acquaintances you run into sporadically. Then, for those you do invite, let them decide if they choose to come. But remember, everyone you invite has the potential to RSVP “yes”. So don’t invite 200 people, gambling that only 75 will come because it’s a destination wedding. Be prepared for all 200 guests to book their tickets as soon as they receive your save the date!
2. Research, research, research
Consider the time of year, weather, and holidays
Before you can do anything else, you need to nail down a date, or in our case, a set of preferred dates. And be sure to research those dates before settling on them. How is the weather that time of year? Is it hurricane season or rainy season? Are there any national or local holidays or festivals that might impact your ability to get the best hotel pricing? Are your VIPs (think: parents, siblings, best friends) generally available during those dates, or do they have conflicts, like school or work obligations?
Develop a short-list of venues and stalk them like crazy
Once you’ve identified your preferred dates, it’s time to develop a short-list of venues that you’ve fallen in love with and put your Internet prowess to work. Find their profile on TripAdvisor, search “wedding” in the comments, and take notes. Are the reviews positive? Do they mention certain wedding planners or vendors? Are there any tips for you to consider before signing a contract? And then do the same on The Knot and WeddingWire. Honestly, at this point, there is no such thing as too much research – you are about to make a huge decision (monetarily and emotionally), likely without stepping foot on the property. And, after all, this isn’t just your wedding – you are essentially planning a vacation for your closest friends and family and you want to ensure they will have a great time.
Plan a reconnaissance trip
There was one big problem about planning a Mexico destination wedding in Puerto Vallarta: we’d never actually been to Puerto Vallarta. So, in potentially record time, we planned a trip to visit the city that now holds such a special place in our heart. It was, without a doubt, the best investment we made while wedding planning.
We had five days of jampacked meetings with hotels, venues, and wedding planners. We stayed at a couple of different hotels to really get a feel for how our guests would be treated. And we even arranged to have our engagement photos taken while we were in town. This is a great way to try out a photographer you’re interested in, get a feel for their work, and build rapport for the big day. I would consider a reconnaissance mission non-negotiable and recommend finding a way to squeeze it into your budget. Your on-the-ground experience will pay dividends in the long-run.
3. It’s never too early to send out invitations
As soon as you decide on your date and venue and sign on the dotted line, it’s time to send your save the dates. Even if your wedding is eight months to a year away, it is never too early to alert your guests to provide them time to plan and budget. After all, an RSVP “yes” to your wedding is really someone saying, “heck yeah, let’s go on vacation!” We designed and ordered all of our stationary from Minted. I was extremely pleased with the customer service and quality of each piece – from save the dates, invitations, to menus and place cards.
4. You don’t need everyone’s opinion…
This tip applies to literally anyone planning a wedding – the only opinion that matters is yours and your soon-to-be spouse’s. I’ve seen people get way too wrapped up in other people’s opinions or ideas that they lose sight of their vision for the big day. My advice: keep your circle small. It’s important to have people to help bounce around ideas, but keep it small and with only those people whose opinions truly matter the most to you.
5. …but Pinterest will be your best friend
Okay so I just said to keep the input to a minimum. And here I am saying “Pinterest is your best friend!” What gives? Planning a destination wedding long-distance can be complicated. It can be hard to describe your vision to someone over the phone, and even harder with a language barrier. We used Pinterest as our vision board and shared it with our wedding planner so she knew exactly our style. Trust me – things can get realllllll cheesy and cheap looking, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and show your venue and vendors exactly what you want. If your experience is anything like ours, they’ll execute your vision flawlessly, and then some.
6. Take charge
I was so weery of being deemed a “bridezilla” at the beginning of our wedding planning process. I didn’t want to come across as too needy or pushy or demanding. Our venue, coordinator, and vendors are all professionals, so they’ll tell me what decisions we need to make and when, I thought. Wrong. Things in Mexico move, well, slow. We knew what we wanted, our Pinterest board was full of inspiration, and I wanted to make decisions and be done with wedding planning months before our venue was ready to even start discussing details.
After weeks of no movement, I just took charge. I scheduled weekly meetings with our wedding planner, had an ongoing list of action items and decisions, and did my best to move things along at the pace I was comfortable with. Sometimes you just have to take the reins. And, instead of being deemed a “bridezilla”, our wedding coordinator said we were one of the most organized, kind, and creative couples she’s worked with. So there!
7. Don’t overlook your wedding website!
A destination wedding in Mexico has the potential to turn into a multi-day affair (and I highly recommend that it does!) With that, though, comes the need to share important information with your guests. We built out our wedding website as if it were a travel blog. It included everything our guests needed to know about our three wedding events throughout the weekend, how to book their accommodations, what to expect when they land, how to get around town, and what to see and do in Puerto Vallarta. I had so much fun developing our site (ha – shocker, coming from a travel blogger) and our guests also found it very useful. It also provides an easy reference point for any welcome notes or itineraries that you might leave for guests upon their arrival.
8. Take care of your guests, but don’t over-plan
As much as your wedding is about you and your new spouse, destination weddings are also about your guests. After all, they’ve made the decision to invest their time and money into a vacation to celebrate you. When we first started planning our Mexico destination wedding, we had grand ideas of chartering a catamaran one day, scheduling walking tours of Old Town, and having other pre-planned excursions for our guests.
While everyone’s situation is different, I’m so glad we left daytime hours unplanned. We provided each guest a welcome bag that included an itinerary for the weekend, local information and tour company suggestions, and some refreshments and snacks. A few groups went ziplining and took ATVs into the jungle, another group went whale watching, and the boys went deep sea fishing. Other than that, our group spent each day at the same spot on the pool deck – drinking margaritas, watching whales on the horizon, and making memories no amount of pre-planned excursions could match.
9. Arrive at your destination early
The week of your destination wedding goes by so.freaking.fast. Like, blink of an eye fast. We landed on a Tuesday, got married on Saturday, and the next thing I know, all our guests are leaving us on Monday. If you can swing it, make a point to arrive at your destination before your guests. No matter how well you’ve planned, there will still be meetings with your wedding planner and your vendors accounting for a majority of your first two days in town. Nothing worse than having a carefree time at the beach with your guests only to be torn away to finalize yet another detail.
10. Most importantly, relax and have fun!
If I could go back and tell myself one thing, it would be to not sweat the small stuff and to only worry about things you can control. Okay, so that’s technical two things. Whatever. Leading up to the wedding, I was waiting for something to fall through. The venue would overbook us, our photographer wouldn’t show up, it would be a weekend of rain during the middle of the dry season, no one would dance at the reception. All things I had zero control over.
In the end, it did rain (but only briefly), our venue went above and beyond for us and all our guests, our photographer and videographer knocked it out of the park, and the dance floor was full until we were kicked out. Our guests had such a great time and still rave about our time in Puerto Vallarta to this day. And in the end, that’s what really matters.
Okay, this is so much longer than I planned. Clearly, I’m passionate. I could go on and on and on about having a Mexico destination wedding, the pros and cons, insider tips, planning resources – you name it.
But I’ll leave you with this: if you are even remotely considering a destination wedding – don’t hesitate. Instead of spending four hours with our guests at a reception, we spent four wonderful days with them, growing closer and building memories that I’ll never forget.
I didn’t cry the entire weekend. Okay, lies, I cried during the wedding toasts, but other than that, zero waterworks. When our guests left us the Monday after our wedding, I was overcome with emotion. As we waved goodbye to my parents, aunt and uncle, cousins, sister, and friends, it hit me. We just experienced a once in a lifetime weekend with the people who matter most to us. Never again will each of these people be together in the same place together, on vacation, celebrating such a special occasion. We set out to plan a beautiful and fun destination wedding in Mexico. It hit me that Monday morning that we planned something much more special than I could have ever imagined.
Special thank you to the people that made it all happen:
- Venue and wedding planner: Patricia at Secrets Vallarta Bay
- Photography and videography: Evgenia & Maxim of Vallarta.Photo
- Dress: Something White Bridal
- Suits: Indochino
- Stationary: Minted