We never wanted a traditional wedding. We didn’t want a big banquet hall, a fancy $2,000 dress, or a 3-course meal. The idea of planning a wedding didn’t interest us in the slightest bit.
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We considered eloping. Just Max and I, on a beach somewhere in Thailand (because we love Thailand and it’s a country that will always hold a special place in our hearts). But guilt overwhelmed us. We wanted to share the memories with our families and friends and to be surrounded by people who’d been on our rollercoaster love-journey with us.
Then one day the idea came to us. Let’s do it in Costa Rica!
We traveled to Costa Rica in December of 2014 to scope out the area and after I’d given the nod of approval the date and the location were set.
December 31, 2015, Playa Lagartillo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
…..and then preparations commenced…
Except, they really didn’t! Remember how I said that the idea of planning a wedding didn’t interest me? Well I wasn’t lying. I bought a dress online for under $400 without ever trying it on, we booked a photographer, sent out over 100 save-the-dates to friends and family all over the world, and created a Pinterest board full of “rustic beach wedding” ideas.
The excitement of wedding planning wore off pretty quickly. There wasn’t much we could do while still living in Australia and every time I raised an issue to Max (I can’t find a good caterer, or where are we going to find tables), he’d brush it off with a casual “don’t worry, we’ll get locals and friends to help”.
At the time, I had no idea how true that statement was going to be.
It was a busy year for us with so many big life changes and adventures. We quit our jobs, said goodbye to Australia, sold all of our belongings and made our way to Costa Rica via 15 (!!!) other countries. We were on the road for 4 months straight, changing hotel rooms every 2-3 days, diving, trekking, exploring, taking photos, filming videos, all while trying to keep and actually grow Drink Tea & Travel. Wedding planning was the last thing on our minds. Although I had a idea what I should do for the perfect wedding video.
Fast forward to November and with just 2 months to go until our big day, the panic started to set in.
After spending a few weeks in Canada/US, stocking up on wedding supplies (as it turned out Amazon does not ship to Costa Rica), we made our way to Costa Rica in December.
Somewhere between discovering cool decor ideas on Pinterest and hearing stories about turtles dying from inhaling plastic straws in the oceans, we decided that we wanted everything at our wedding to be recyclable and plastic free! Oh and while we were at it, we added handmade and locally sourced/made to it as well.
Not a single “destination wedding” provider benefited from our wedding (other than our photographer, who worth worth every penny). There are a lot of vendors down here in Costa Rica, all charging exorbitant prices targeting rich North American couples that are looking for their fairytale wedding. If you are happy to drop $20,000-$30,000 on your wedding day, there is a myriad of options. We couldn’t justify spending that much money on ONE day, when we know that $30,000 is enough for both of us to travel the world for 365 days creating incredible memories every day along the way.
So we built our own tables using recycled cable wheels and driftwood that washed up on the nearby beach. And hired chairs from a local bar…
We bought a ton of solar powered Christmas lights and other light bulbs that we built it into beautiful light fixtures to light up our entire reception area.
We asked locals to cook our buffet dinner of traditional Costa Rican dishes and bake our cake, putting our money back into Costa Rican economy.
We bought disposable, eco-friendly bamboo plates and cutlery, making sure that we didn’t need 100 gallons of scarce water (there is a massive drought in Guanacaste at the moment) to wash all the dishes the next day. We even got 150 handmade bamboo cups for our guests to use throughout the night.
We made own centrepieces, bridesmaid bouquets, table runners, signs, and all other decor…
…and put a Spotify playlist on shuffle and had our favourite tunes entertaining us all night long.
But before you start ahh-ing and ooo-ing at our amazing craftiness, let me stop you. Because we didn’t do it alone. The truth is, we realized how much we bit off about a week into our time in Costa Rica when our to-do list was getting longer and longer and the number of days left until the wedding was declining rapidly.
December was by far the most stressful and most emotionally draining month of our lives. We now jokingly say that since we made it through a DIY wedding in Costa Rica, we can make it through anything life throws at us.
I cried daily in the week leading up to the wedding. Once so hard and for so long that I think any therapist would call it a full on panic attack. Things just kept going wrong….
Our plan was to have all the arrangements and preparations complete by the time our families flew in for Christmas, but instead they arrived into complete chaos. All nice-to-haves went out the window and we focused on just the mandatories. But even that list was overwhelming.
I didn’t think we could do it.
When our friends arrived for the rehearsal dinner, Max and I were a ball of stress and our parents were absolutely exhausted. But within a few minutes, our backyard transformed into what looked like Santa’s workshop.
Every single one of our friends stepped in to give us a hand. There were people everywhere! Girls were decorating tables with table runners, putting together centrepieces, hanging up mason jar candles, and hand painting signs, while the boys were nailing together pieces of wood, sanding down and sealing all bamboo cups, setting up the sound system with new subwoofer models and bringing in sand for our sand dance floor. And they never stopped…
The morning of the wedding, our friends were back, and they were all back scurrying around, crossing off tasks from my to-do list. There was so much love, so much care put into everything they did. It brought tears to my eyes more than once. To be honest, talking about it still does. I said it before and I’ll say it again, we couldn’t have done it without everyone’s help. And I do truly mean it.
I remember people telling me to relax and enjoy the day, but I stressed about everything until the moment I walked down the aisle (and then some…) and so did Max. We didn’t hire anyone to oversee everything on the day of the wedding, so when things went wrong people came to us. Needless to say, our wedding wasn’t perfect. We dealt with a fair few hiccups on the day, but despite the challenges and all the struggles, we wouldn’t have traded that day for anything.
It really was a beautiful day…
The boys got ready at the house next door. After the set-up of the day was complete, they got a chance to jump in the pool and take a few (they say it was just one) courage shots.
In the meantime, the girls were upstairs getting ready in the room that overlooked the back yard. I had planned that strategically to allow myself to be far enough from the set up so that I didn’t have to get involved, but close enough that I was there to resolve any last minute emergencies (there were a few…as expected).
The second we stepped foot onto the beach, all the worries seemed to have melted away. I remember walking down the aisle to the tune of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love”, toes in the sand, ocean breeze in my hair, my dad by my side, feeling absolutely overjoyed. The ceremony setting was nothing short of stunning! I never expected it to look that incredible. The bamboo and burlap wedding arch, built with so much love and care by a group of our friends and family the night before, looked absolutely amazing. Through it, Max and I watched the ocean waves crash into the rocks along the beach, as our officiant talked about the importance of marriage and its meaning in our lives moving forward.
Right there and then with friends and family gathered around us in the most magical setting we could have ever imagined, Max and I found ourselves in one of the happiest moments of our lives.
Shortly after the ceremony, our guests went back to the house for cocktail hour, while Max and I, along with our beautiful bridal party and our incredibly talented wedding photographer, Madi, went off to create some stunning photos that we will cherish for the rest of our lives!
Just as we were wrapping up at sunset, we witnessed another incredible sight. Baby turtles hatched and started running down the beach into the water right in front of our eyes!!! I still can’t fathom how lucky we were to see it. No sanctuary, no tour, just nature, taking its course right in between our toes. If that isn’t a sign of luck, I don’t know what is.
The rest of the night flew by way too quickly and was, to be honest, a bit of a blur. We barely remember eating any of the delicious (so we hear) food prepared for our wedding and I think I only took one bite of the cake.
Our first song wasn’t planned and it wasn’t choreographed. We danced to a beautiful tune of “The Mates of Soul” by Taylor John Williams for no reason other than it is lovely and when it came on, we just felt like dancing.
Our bridal party joined us on the dance floor and soon everyone had kicked off their shoes and was busting their moves on our sand dance floor. There was some more dancing, some drinking, some catching up with friends, and before we knew it, the clock was ready to strike midnight. Someone suggested that we greet it with an official Costa Rican “New Years” song, and after a few minutes of YouTub’ing, the tunes of “Año Viejo” came on the speakers. The dance floor filled up with people and we all counted down!
We doubt any other New Year Celebration could ever beat that for us!
To start the year right, we invited our guests to participate in our favourite New Year’s tradition, the lighting of Chinese lanterns! With a little bit of hesitation, we set off close to 40 lanterns, watching each one navigate its way through the thick vegetation of palms, and mango trees. To our great surprise no trees were set on fire and with the exception of just a few lanterns, they all took off into the night, taking our deepest New Year’s wishes with them.
The party kicked into high gear shortly after New Years …and it kept on going well into the morning. Luckily for all involved, our photographer was not there to witness and most importantly document the debauchery that went on past midnight.
The next day, we invited our guests for a delicious gallo pinto brunch followed by a sunset swim, a daily occurrence that Max and I have come to love here in Costa Rica.
The following day, all 40 of us headed over to experience another Costa Rican tradition – the fiestas! The boys ran around the ring with the bulls, while the girls sat at the top of the fence sipping our drinks out of traveler cups.
It didn’t hit us until a few more days of hanging out with our friends that the true highlight of our wedding wasn’t the wedding day itself. It wasn’t about any particular moment or experience. The highlight was the sum of it all.
We were fortunate enough to bring together friends from 4 different continents to share with us our love for travel, our love for Costa Rica, the Pura Vida lifestyle, and our love for each other during an amazing week of celebrations. And for that, we will forever be grateful!
READ NEXT: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GETTING MARRIED IN COSTA RICA
Special Notes/Thanks: Unless otherwise stated/watermarked, all photos featured in the post were captured by our incredibly talented photographer, Madi Baltodano from Madison Baltodano Photography. We can’t stop thanking her for her work!
Another huge thank you goes out to our beautiful friend, Angie, the owner of the Angie Gerard’s Hair Studio in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada who made me, my bridesmaids and my mom look absolutely beautiful!
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8 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes of Our Costa Rican Beach Wedding”
awwwww… I love the story! It looks all so beautiful and I like the idea with having the wedding eco friendly and locally sourced! Also, getting the family to work on the wedding might result exhausting but then it’s really an experience that all can share together 🙂 I feel, that my wedding might be very similar when it comes to doing everything last minute, because I can’t plan, I usually improvise and do everything really, at the last possible moment 😀 But I hope it will turn out as well as yours 🙂
Oh what a lovely wedding you guys had! And how lucky to have to turtles turn up and hatch just at the right moment. Beautiful!
Ahh, my heart is bursting at the sight of those turtles and your beautiful wedding attire. I am a sea turtle biologist and I think that baby turtles are by far my favorite thing in the world. How lucky are you guys to have experienced it. Your wedding looked absolutely gorgeous! Thank you for sharing with us!
It is such a great wedding. It wedding seems amazing .I like the idea of eco friendly wedding and also want to do wedding like it. Thank you for sharing this article.
That was a very colorful wedding you guys had. And that was a nice choice of a beach venue; the surrounding is just so welcoming and perfect for a wedding. I also love the fun that you guys had from drinking from bamboo cups to the fun parties that you had. wish I was invited 🙂
Thanks for sharing.
Aww, you give me hope in planning a wedding in CR from abroad. And you helped me make a bid decision… Get a Wedding Planner!
Such pretty photos! It’s wonderful how your friends & family jumped in to help. However, as a destination wedding professional in another country, I’m curious if you realize if you had any professionals involved you would have avoided the panic attacks and putting friends to work (it’s awesome they were helpful and effective and got it done, but in my experience that’s a rarity, not the norm!), and could have enjoyed your wedding day without people coming to you with the problems?
I do love how it all came together for you but I’m surprised you speak so poorly of wedding vendors when most, like your photographer, love being a part of your day and do play a very valuable role. The musicians, officiants, caterers, etc.. that we work with, the setup teams for tables, lights, etc.. – all local – just like the people you worked with, but the ones we work with have actual wedding experience so the added cost you pay of this being done as a business comes with the added benefit and peace of mind of the day going smoothly.
The one area you didn’t have any issues or problems was with your photographer right? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that was the one professional involved in your day.
Also, since your story seems to imply that brides can do what you did – that’s not exactly realistic as most destination brides don’t have the luxury of arriving to their destination as far ahead of time as you did so building tables and all the local DIY isn’t possible for the typical destination bride. And with many guests only in the area for a long weekend for the wedding, they don’t want to put them to work.
They may pay for help creating their weddings which you deem a rip off / exorbitant prices, but for many that’s worth avoiding the month of hell and all the day-of work that you experienced.
We are very grateful that our friends and family stepped in to help. We have wonderful people in our lives and they made our day all the more special.
By no means are we advocating for having a no vendor/no wedding planner, DIY all wedding, but simply sharing our experience. Yes, in hindsight, we should have hired some additional help. It would have relieved us from some stress on the day, but unfortunately, not all couples, including ourselves, can afford to put on a $30K+ wedding for that ultimate hands-off celebration. So we made the best with what we had 🙂