Planning a destination wedding’s quite different than getting married where you live. You know the ins and outs, its oddities, its idiosyncrasies. You know where and where not to go. You know when the sun sets. You know when the rainy season is. You know which places are touristy and which ones aren’t. You can check out wedding venues in person and meet with your wedding planner and wedding day providers face to face. That’s usually not the case with destination weddings. All the things you take for granted and that are common knowledge where you to have a wedding in your home town can pretty much be thrown out the window.
To help you plan and have the destination wedding of your dreams, and to get the best wedding photos, Lindsay and I have come up with a list of great tips we’ve compiled during our years as wedding photographers in Costa Rica. They are not organized according to any system, so the order’s a bit random.
When to Plan Your Wedding Ceremony
Costa Rica is such a gorgeous country for a destination wedding. Many of its beaches are sublime, as are its rainforest, cloud forests, waterfalls and volcanoes. It would be a pity to not see these marvelous works of nature in your post-ceremony family, group, bridal party, and bride and groom photos. If you want to see the marvelous surroundings in your post-ceremony family photos, bridal party photos, and bride and groom couple’s session, plan your wedding ceremony accordingly.
To say the sun sets early and sets quickly in Costa Rica would be an understatement. We recommend you not plan you wedding ceremony any later than 4:00 p.m. for a wedding of 30-35 people. By 5:30, the sun’s pretty much set. For an elopement, 4:00 is fine. The larger your wedding, the earlier your ceremony should be. Our Best Time for Wedding Ceremonies in Costa Rica page provides more information on this topic.
Where to Have Your Wedding
There are so many great wedding venues in Costa Rica it can be hard to choose. You can get married on a gorgeous beach, at a mystical waterfall, in a cloud forest or rainforest, at a volcano among other locations. Not all venues are alike. Choose your venue wisely. Do your research. Our Luxury & Unique Costa Rica Wedding Venues page has some fantastic options.
Some venues are in very touristy areas. Others, in sparsely populated locations. Some are packed with people all year round. Others are busy only during peak season. Some beaches can be so filled with people that it would be like getting married on Daytona Beach during Spring Break. It depends on what you are looking for.
Something else to consider if getting married on a beach here is that there are no private beaches, only private access points. If there are non-private access points nearby, you might find yourself getting married on a beach packed with panhandlers, people selling all sorts of trinkets, and voyeurs who might record your wedding on their phone , regardless of how much you pay. It’s helpful to look at lots of pictures online of the locations where your ceremony will be to get a good idea of what to expect.
Which season, wet or dry?
The time of year you get married in Costa Rica will affect how your wedding goes. If you prefer to not have your dream Costa Rica beach wedding marred by rain, it’s better to plan it during the dry season. In general, the rainy season in Costa Rica is from May to mid-December, and the dry season is from December to mid-May. This does not mean it can’t rain at any moment. In Guanacaste – a dry rainforest (yes it’s an oxymoron) – the chance of rain during the dry season is very small.
If you have your wedding in a rainforest or cloud forest, it can rain at any time. There’s a part of the year it rains less in these areas, but less is a relative term in this case.
Hire a Professional Wedding Photography Studio
If your wedding photos are important to you, hire a professional wedding photography studio. Hiring a wedding photographer in Costa Rica is a complicated matter given that you are not able to visit a thier studio in person and converse with them, and that there are many people here with cameras masquerading as professional wedding photographers who charge professional prices, if not more.
To help you find a reputable pro wedding photography studio that’s right for you, visit our How to Choose a Wedding Photographer page.
Hire a Pro Wedding Planner
If the thought of saving a couple of thousand dollars by planning your own wedding sounds alluring and doable, entertain the thought at your own peril. It’s not worth the headache. Your wedding day is supposed to be a memorable, fun-filled occasion you spend with your closest and dearest loved ones. If you do it yourself, you will be running around managing everything and not living the moment of one of the best and more important days in your life. If you still think you want to do it – it’s not really about ability – check out our 7 Reasons Why You Should Hire a Wedding Planner to put the idea to rest.
Does Your Planner Charge Vendors?
Find out if wedding planners you are considering charge the vendors they recommended a commission. If they do, take their recommendations with a grain of salt as their recommendations more than likely are based more on financial self-interest than on what’s best for you. Find your own vendors, include the ones they recommend in the group, and then apply the same criteria to all vendors equally.
Whether enjoying outdoor activities, lounging by the pool, laying on the breach or swimming on your wedding day or before, we highly recommend you and whoever is participating – bridesmaids and groomsmen in your wedding wear the strongest sunblock possible. Peeling skin, dry skin, red, skin, sunburnt skin, red tan lines, cracked lips do not make for the best wedding pictures, especially for photos the bride and groom.
We can fix most if not all of these issues in post processing. If it’s a red tan line here and there, or a bit of peeling skin, we just fix it. Not all wedding photographers can or will. If it’s extreme, however, and if you want it edited, it’s extra. Sorry! It’s really time consuming.
Avoid Makeup with Titanium Dioxide
Brides and bridesmaids – or anyone in the bridal party who’ll wear makeup – should not wear makeup that contains Titanium Dioxide as the ingredient for SPF. It creates a reflective surface, which is why it’s effective. When flash is used, it will make your face shine disproportionally, and leave your skin pale and flat. For more wedding day makeup tips, visit our 4 Great Wedding Day Makeup Tips for Brides & Bridesmaids page.
Patience is Priceless in Costa Rica
The saying, “We’re not in Kansas anymore”, rings true if you’re not from Costa Rica. Things move at their own pace and in their own way in Costa Rica. If you receive a response to an email weeks after sending it, that’s par for the course, regardless of how much money you are paying. A client once emailed us that her wedding planner had ceased to respond and asked us to intervene. Come to find out, the planner had not been employed by this boutique, expensive, luxury hotel for several weeks, according to the manager whom we phoned. They had yet to fill the position, and no one thought it important to check her emails. That’s daily life in Costa Rica. Don’t take it personal. Just be persistent and patient and it will work out.
Check Tides for Beach Weddings
Some beaches at resorts in Costa Rica are completely underwater during high tide. If you want to get married on the beach, contact your wedding planner and/or resort and find out if this is the case at the venues you are considering. Make sure they reply in writing and that their answer is crystal clear.
Is Yours The Only Event Scheduled?
Find out if your wedding is the only one scheduled for that day and time. Some wedding venues focus on quantity, not quality, and will schedule multiple events in the same area at the same time. We’ve photographed weddings where there was an event happening 50 feet away – there was a live band on a stage playing – and another wedding 50 feet from that event. There was so much noise you could not hear the officiant, bride or groom speak, and there were so many people in the area that it looked like the wedding was happening in the middle of a larger event. This is common at all-inclusive resorts.
Email Account for Wedding Matters Only
You will be sending and receiving lots of emails while planning your wedding, not just to potential venues, wedding photographers, videographers, planners, officiants, and DJs among various others, you’ll also be emailing airlines, travel agents, transportation providers here, business about your wedding dress, jewelry, other attire, and dealing with the logistics of having family friends attend your wedding. Create an email account just for this and it will keep all of these emails out of your personal inbox.
Use Bug Repellent
The likelihood of contracting a mosquito-borne disease – malaria, dengue, yellow fever – is quite unlikely in Costa Rica. Mosquitos really are not a problem here (I’m from Florida, so I can say that with some authority). Regardless, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so use a bug repellent.
It’s also a good idea to use it thinking of your wedding photos. Bug bites aren’t photogenic. Most photographers don’t remove them when editing. We do! We think your photos should be exceptional.
Take Care with Open Windows & Doors
Your wedding rings and jewelry are precious. Some of them might be heirlooms. You might have spent countless hours choosing them and a bit of money. Plus, you’ll need them during your wedding!
If you don’t want to lose them, keep your doors and windows closed. It’s not that someone’s going to rob you – which is not impossible – it’s that there are various species of small monkeys in Costa Rica that love to visit guest rooms at resorts. They like shiny objects and might make off with yours, which is very possible.
Another reason, especially if you are on a ground floor, is to prevent venomous creatures from entering your room unannounced and unnoticed. It’s not very likely, but you never know . Always check your shoes before putting them on, as spiders and scorpions love to hide in them.
Don’t Pay in Cash
Pay your hotel, wedding planner, wedding day providers – photographer, DJ, videographer, musicians, etc. – by credit card or PayPal (if by PayPal, be sure to make payment as paying for goods or services. Never send it as a gift). If you send money via wire or bank transfer, pay in cash, or send it as a gift through PayPal you will have zero recourse if a hotel or provider does not fulfill their contractual obligations. If they don’t accept credit cards or PayPal, chances are they are not a legitimate business, which is a red flag.
Pay Vendors Before Wedding Day
Some vendors want you to pay them in cash on your wedding day. (See the above section on why you should avoid paying them in cash.). Arrange to pay them around a week before your wedding by credit card or PayPal. Do you really want to carry lots of cash with you on your wedding day and have to find the moment to pay all your vendors on your wedding day? It’s a day for you to enjoy, not make payments. If you hire a wedding planner, they take care of all these payments, leaving you free to enjoy your wedding day.
Ask Lots of Questions
Transparency is not a virtue in Costa Rica. I’m not saying is by malicious intent, it’s that it’s just not important. When dealing with your venue and wedding planner, ask as many questions you think is necessary before you sign a contract or make a deposit! Don’t assume anything.
Why, you might ask. Here’s why: A client of ours recently complained such and such resort was taking advantage of her. In their brochure, they have a photo of an outdoor area with no roof where a wedding reception is taking place. In the photo, there are string lights overhead. Come to find out, after she signed the contract and made the deposit that the lights were not included. They were $1,000.00 – $1,500.00 extra. The brochure had no fine print reading: String lights not included.
As happy as an occasion it is, and as happy and full of joy you might be – just as you should be – this is a business. Go into this with your eyes wide open, keep your emotions in check, and read the contract with a fine-toothed comb before signing (the aforementioned client’s sister is a wedding planner who found $7,000.00 of hidden fees). That way, on your wedding day, you can let go and have a marvelous time.
Get Everything in Writing
If it’s not in writing, it simply does not exist. Make sure there are detailed contracts. If it’s not in writing, you have no recourse if your hotel, wedding planner, or wedding day provider did not do what they said they would do verbally. If you have a phone conversation with one of these people, write a follow-up email detailing the points of the conversation and have them respond.
If it’s in writing and you paid by credit card or PayPal, you can file a claim with your whichever one you used and get your money back. It’s for your protection.
Schedule Stylist Early
As previously mentioned, things move and their own pace and happen in their own way in Costa Rica. As such in our experience, it’s not uncommon for a stylist to show up late – the latest we’ve seen was one-and-one-half hours – or take much longer than necessary to do your wedding day hair and makeup.
If your ceremony is at 4:00, ideally your makeup should be done at 2:45. This will give you and your bridesmaids time to get dressed in peace, and to take photos of you in your dress alone and with your bridesmaids before heading to the ceremony site. If having a First Looks session, your makeup will need to be done even earlier.
Another point to consider is how long it takes to go from your suite or hotel to the wedding ceremony location. Some resorts in Costa Rica are quite extensive. You may have to do down various floors, call for a cart, wait for the cart to take you close to the ceremony location, and then walk the rest of the way. At some resorts, beach sites for ceremonies are offsite, requiring transportation, which can take 15-20 minutes each way.
Our Ideal Wedding Photography Timeline for The Best Wedding Photos page will give you more insights into how best to schedule the events on your wedding day.
Does Venue Charge for Outside Providers?
Some wedding venues in Costa Rica charge if you contract a vendors that’s not among the ones they recommend. Most resorts charge recommended vendors a commission to refer them. Charging for outside vendors is how a way to avoid losses. Avoid sticker shock by finding this out before making any contractual and financial commitments. The charge can be quite steep at some resorts.
Have a Wedding Rehearsal
It’s not everyday you get married. Where will you stand during the ceremony? How much space should there be between bridesmaids and groomsmen who walk down the aisle? What do you do right after the ceremony? What’s a signing ceremony (if it’s a legal ceremony and where does it happen? A rehearsal will answer all of these questions and more.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
At some wedding venues in Costa Rica, you will find yourself walking quite a bit to the wedding ceremony area. We recommend wearing comfortable footwear for the walk to the ceremony area – sandals are best- and then put on your wedding day shoes right before walking to the altar.
Use Waze & Fill the Tank
If you plan on driving in Costa Rica, install Waze on your phone. In our experience – we’ve been all over the country to photograph weddings – it works better than other navigation programs. Here, it’s direction by monument. If you ask for directions, this will be a fairly accurate response: It’s 300 meters east of the Catholic Church, then 150 meters north across the street from the Musmani (a chain bakery) on the second floor of the white house with a red gate.
Gas stations are not ubiquitous as they are on the U.S. They are few and far between. If you’re at half a tank, fill up if you see a gas station. Also, make sure your rental has a jack, a tire iron, and that there is a spare tire that holds air. You don’t want to get stranded here.
To quickly connect with someone in Costa Rica – be it your wedding planner, driver, photographer, DJ, you name it – you should have WhatsApp installed on your cellphone. It’s what everyone uses here, and pretty much everyone has a cellphone on them at all times. Make sure to contact your cellular provider in your home country to make sure you will have data coverage in Cost Rica. You can always buy a SIM card at the airport if you have GSM phone for a few bucks, but make sure you ask for data or Internet service.
Confirm Date & Location with Providers
A week before your wedding, make sure your wedding day providers know where your wedding will take place if they are not provided by your resort. Once, the officiant for a wedding we photographed went to the wrong location with a similar name in a different city. Thankfully, it was a symbolic wedding and there was a pastor in attendance, so it all worked out.
Have a “Plan B”
It may rain on your wedding day. Costa Rica’s covered with lots of dense cloud and rainforest. Make sure your venue has an alternate location for your wedding ceremony and reception if they are outside. This is something you should work out with your wedding planner before signing a contract and make sure that it is in the contract after reaching an agreement.
Preventing Skin Indentations
Does your wedding gown have an open back? If so, when preparing for your wedding, avoid sitting in chairs that will leave impressions on your back. Also wear the same bra that you will wear with your dress to avoid having a bra line that will be exposed if you wear one. If there are only wood chairs with no padding on the back, put a pillow between your back and chair, preferably one that does not have heavy texture. These lines don’t make for the best wedding photos.
Bring Over-the-Counter & Prescription Meds
We’re still not in Kansas anymore! You can’t go to the corner store or local gas station and by over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen. You have to go to a pharmacy, and they sell them individually, for high prices. One 600mg tablet’s about $3.00. The same goes for saline solution, band aids, sunblock, tweezers, cremes, lotions . . . any every-day, over-the-counter medications, that is. It’s all very expensive here everywhere, so bring what you think you will need. Also, depending on where your wedding venue is, the nearest pharmacy can be 30 minutes to an hour away, and they close early and open late.
Well, those were a few tips! We hope they help you have the best wedding in Costa Rica possible!