I always knew that I wanted an island wedding, and since I was living in Colombia at the time, San Andrés proved to be an obvious choice. It also happened to be somewhere in the middle of Houston (where most of my friends and family were coming from) and Bogotá (where my husband's family were coming from). Before deciding on the destination, I had never visited San Andrés before, so I knew I would need a lot of help planning the wedding. I did a lot of research online and began to realize how outdated the information was that I was coming across. There was hardly anything available and yet there were so many people like myself out there looking for answers. I eventually came up with what I thought would be a good idea for a venue, planner etc. Then I visited the island and my plans changed completely. This is why I am writing this guide. To help others like me who want to plan their wedding on the island and aren't sure who to contact, or how to go about planning a wedding when you aren't able to visit the location beforehand.
Wedding planner: Andrea Vargas
Ok so she's not an official wedding planner, but she was sooooo amazing that she ended up helping me out with everything once I had left the island after my first visit. We actually hired her catering services (not wedding planning services). She's the owner of the Grog restaurant. I met with a few different wedding planners while I was there and decided just to work with Andrea instead because she was the most genuine and willing to help. She wasn't pushy and made me feel comfortable - which was the most important thing after all. She helped organize the menu, the music, the beach décor and the rental of chairs etc. And the best part was that she put all the costs together so I didn't have to worry about paying separate people.
Ceremony location: San Luis Beach
I originally had Johnny Cay in mind because the pictures online are so enticing and I imagined having a little cay all to ourselves with nobody to spoil the photos or special memories. When I got there, however, I realized that Johnny Cay is full of tourists and having my ceremony there would mean having to fork out a lot of money to ship guests out and back on a private boat. After visiting other beaches on the island I realized that San Luis is by far the prettiest (and surprisingly not that overrun by tourists). A few weeks before the wedding I would find out that 4 weddings were taking place on the same beach that day - guess everyone had the same idea.
Time of ceremony: 4pm
After realizing that all the other weddings would be doing their ceremony at sunset I was glad to have chosen an earlier time. Yes, the idea of a sunset wedding is quite romantic, but so is not having to share your location with 3 other brides. I also picked 4pm because I knew it would be a great time for photos, and that if we were running late (which we were), that we wouldn't be taking our family photos in the dark.
Reception location: Private house on the beach (next to the Grog restaurant)
After visiting the hotel I previously had in mind, and then stumbling across this beautiful private location, we decided to go with the house. Unfortunately it had been rented out while we were on the island so we didn't get to see inside or walk through the grounds. Andrea kindly took photos for me afterwards and sent them by email. When we arriving for the wedding the house seemed even more amazing than before. It had 6 rooms and space for 17 to sleep comfortably. It also had 2-3 living rooms and a huge kitchen with a washing machine and everything else you might need. If you're interested, the caretakers can even organize to cook your meals for you. The pool is amazing and it has a private entrance that walks right out onto the beach. We had initially thought to have the reception in the garden but ended up putting the tables around the pool. It was just too gorgeous. The only downside was that I had planned to put floating candles in the pool and the wind kept blowing them out. At the time of the wedding the house cost us COP $1,900,000 per night. We stayed 3 nights. It worked out well because we could split the costs between family members and save ourselves having to rent a space elsewhere.
Caterer: The Grog
As mentioned before, we found our caterer and everything fell into place from there. Since it was right next to the house it was easy for them to bring the food and set-up over. I was a little worried when I found out a week before the wedding that Andrea had booked a second wedding to be held at the restaurant. Everything ended up going really smoothly though and I didn't feel like the attention was taken away from us at all. We opted for buffet over table service and it was great. They brought their own décor for the buffet tables, complete with food art and everything. My husband is super environmentally concious and wanted the menu to reflect that. Andrea worked with us to design an amazing menu with the invasive lion fish as a main course (they sent us pictures of the hunt as her husband also runs a diving company).
Drinks: Open bar organized by us
The guys went downtown the day before and organized the drinks for the bar. Keep in mind this is a duty free island so there is no need to bring your own booze. It's super affordable and the selection is great. We had wine, whisky, rum, beer and Amarula (for a South African touch). The Amarula ended up being a hit. The house comes with a built in bar next to the pool so it was an ideal set-up. In spite of the fact that we didn't buy the drinks from them and there was no de-corking fee (since it wasn't their location), the price we paid Andrea for service included their help at the bar. Very appreciative of that.
Andrea set me up with someone who made the cake. I brought my own decorations and she put it all together. I was going to have my brother's girlfriend do it since she's so great at cakes, but the lady was kind of offended so I let her handle it. I think it was bad enough I already brought my own décor.
Music: Saxophone, Creole band, Latin band and personal friend
Ok so music was one of the most important things for me - reason being why I decided to hire all the musicians on the island and made sure to book them ahead of time. There is only one saxophonist. Everyone knows who he is. While he couldn't play any Kenny G (he mostly played latin hits), he did save the wedding when he agreed to stay longer after the creole band failed to show up on time. He played before, during and after the ceremony. The creole band was supposed to be there for the entrance to the reception but they showed up 1-2 hours late. Keep that in mind too. They were a crowd favourite though for the character of the musicians and the uniqueness of their instruments (think animal skulls). We also hired a latin band which played during party time. We used an ipod for the first dances since the songs weren't a part of their repertoire. They played alright, but I was kind of disappointed by their ability to entertain (felt like a DJ would have been more exciting) - enter the pesonal friend. One of my best friends is a musician from Houston that plays latin music (Guateque band). His ability to entertain is the reason I first fell in love with latin music and then Colombian culture. While he didn't want to step on the band's toes, we were glad he was there to steal the microphone and liven up the party.
Décor & flowers: Do-it-yourself
We went to paloquemao market in Bogotá ahead of time and organized the flowers we would need (order extra in case some get destroyed - they will). We ended up spending about US $100 and had more flowers than we knew what to do with. We arranged to have them packed in boxes and went early to the cargo area at the airport to have them sent on the plane. For the decorations I got a lot of inspiration from Pinterest (see my page for ideas). I bought some items in Bogotá and my family brought the rest from the US. I was looking for a way to incorporate both of our cultures (South African & Colombian) so coffee beans, Amarula & elephants seemed to be a re-ocurring theme.
Substitute rehearsal dinner: Bonfire at the Grog
Since so many people were traveling from afar we decided to include everyone in our rehearsal dinner plans. Andrea agreed to reserve the restaurant for us the night before the wedding (no extra charge) and set up a bonfire on the beach for us to enjoy. We ordered some appetizers for the group and packaged smores for everyone. We left the drinking up to them.....so cash bar.
Group activities: Kayak tour with EcoFiwi
We planned a group activity with our friends who arrived early and we all went kayaking through the mangroves and snorkeling in the bay. EcoFiwi is a socially and environmentally responsible company that organizes fantastic tours. Their guides are very knowledgable and we had an amazing experience. Great idea for a group activity with the gang. Other things we enjoyed were the botanical gardens, diving (LAN Divers) and swimming with the fish at West View. Many of the tour operators that run boat trips from downtown seem to have irresponsible practices so I don't recommend them or their party boats.
So these are just some of the ideas and planning that went into having my wedding on the island. If you have any questions about things I haven't covered (or even those I have), please feel free to send me a message and I'll try to help as best as I can. And remember, if you are looking for a photographer to capture the best of your big day....CdP Photography would be happy to help out!