My partner and I went on a Riviera Maya scouting trip in January 2012. Hope you find this summary helpful!
Background: We are based in San Francisco, our families are in Southern California, and we have friends all over the world. We knew we wanted to have a destination wedding, but had to factor in a) difficulty of travel for older folks or those who have never traveled; and cost/time of travel for the majority of our guests. We fell in love with Tulum from internet photos alone, and believed it would be the perfect setting: remote(-enough) and relaxed, and a manageable distance for most.
Unfortunately, at the same time, I became obsessed with the idea of having our ceremony at an authentic hacienda. Besides them being utterly gorgeous (to me), I thought their architecture would be a stunning backdrop to the Hindu ceremony (decor, clothing, colors) we would be having. Because haciendas don't exist in Tulum (most of them are in Merida), we had to expand our search beyond Tulum.
We contacted several wedding planners based in the Riviera Maya, and felt connected to one person in particular. We found Angie (Angelina Cardenas) through TulumDestinationWeddings.com. She also happens to be the in-house coordinator for Las Ranitas Eco Boutique Hotel in Tulum. Angie said she didn't know of any haciendas in her area, but her friend was based in Cancun and had a lot of great contacts. So we arranged for both Angie and her friend Nallely, also a wedding planner, to meet us in January for a scouting trip down the coast.
We arrived at CUN around 9 pm, and were picked up in a big van. Much to our (impressed) surprise, we went straight to our first site visit around 10 pm! Here are the synopses of the visits (please note that we only visited venues that could hold at least 150):
Amarte Maroma: An "elegant, bohemian village" (between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos)
120-150 capacity (at the boutique hotel -- up to 300 in other areas of the property)
No site fee
Good in-house sound system
Menu: Per person from $65 at Pavo Real restaurant
Cool art gallery where a ceremony can also be held
Great palapa that could hold a ceremony
Great clean, sparse rooms and more upscale bungalows and villas
Cantina-style Mexican restaurant onsite, great for rehearsal or day-after brunch
20 minutes from beach (but they also have beach accommodations for a wedding)
Amarte Maroma was solid. Their staff was great, even at 10 pm. Their grounds are very well-maintened. The boutique hotel is set on a large jungle property, beautiful and peaceful. They are very well-organized, and you would have no problems with resources for planning a wedding here. They are connected to tons of vendors and are very service-oriented. For some reason, as lovely as it was, I didn't get the feeling that this was for me, though I could easily imagine loving attending a wedding there.
That night, we slept at Hotel LunaSol, a very affordable small hotel in Playa that we found through TripAdvisor. Very clean, basic.
We met Nallely and her friend Denise, from a wedding planning company, around 10 am. Denise drove us in her car down to meet Angie in Tulum.
Las Ranitas Eco Boutique Hotel (Tulum)
$3000 site fee
Menu starts at $50/person
Open bar starts at $16/person
Gorgeous multi-leveled dining area that opens up to the beach
As soon as we stepped onto the patio of Las Ranitas, we looked at each other with huge, excited smiles. This place is breathtakingly beautiful. If you are looking at photos, please keep in mind that Las Ranitas was renovated in late 2011. We had some breakfast (very good!) and talked with Angie about the possibilities at Las Ranitas. Denise also met with us to show us her company's portfolio and ask us questions about our plans. We felt a little hesitant to lock ourselves in to vendors already, but went ahead and spoke in generalities. Denise's portfolio showcased large and lavish weddings, so if you're interested in that style, I'm happy to put you in touch.
Pre-renovation photos of a wedding at Las Ranitas: Las Ranitas and Sol - Photos by Sol Tamargo
La Zebra (Tulum)
La Zebra is a popular hotel right on the beach.
- Cool restaurant with great wooden furniture and sculptures.
- Located directly on the beach in Tulum
- 16 jungle-chic suites, cabanas, and room
- Private swimming pool
- Beachfront Mexican cantina & bar
- Outdoor tequila beach bar
The beach area, while big, somehow felt cramped to us. We are recommending La Zebra to our guests as a lodging option.
No one was available to talk to us at Ak'iin, but we really liked it. It was very undeveloped and spacious, and could be decorated however you like.
- Beach club lounge furniture included
- Onsite kitchen/food services
- Site fee is $1500 (all day/private basis)
- No lodging here, but that wasn't a problem for us
- Blank canvas!
Photos of Ak'iin Beach Club weddings by del Sol Photography!
Kristy + Bryan - Photos by Matt Adcock
Nicole + Anthony - Photos by Jonathan
Kelly + Santiago - Photos by La Luna Photographers
Michelle + Kevin - Photos by del Sol Associate
Ana y Jose Beach Club *the website doesn't seem to be working at the moment (Tulum)
We had read a lot about Ana y Jose Beach Club on BDWF before the site visit, and most of it rang true. It's a lovely beach club made for weddings. To see it come to life, check out the following slideshows also from del Sol Photography:
Megan + Marc - Photos by Sol Tamargo
Lisa + Reed - Photos by Matt Adcock
Sangeeta + Cristian - Photos by Matt Adcock
Ashley + Hai - Photos by Sol Tamargo
Michelle + Mark - Photos by del Sol Associate
Irene + Scott - Photos by Sol Tamargo
Though we didn't get to try any food, we've heard it's very good. Please note that the beach club is separate from their hotel. Also search the forum for "San Fran Sarah" for her great reviews of Ana y Jose Beach Club.
Adonis felt very grand to me, like a big Vegas resort (Palazzo, maybe?). Lots of marble, huge sculptures, spread-out property. The rooms are very well-appointed. Staff are friendly and helpful. It was surprising to me that something like this would exist in Tulum.
Adonis has recently been re-branded as a gay resort and is now adults-only, so that may take this venue out of the running for some of you.
In the afternoon, we met with Pablo and Karla from Gourmet Events. Their chef, Federico Lopez, is internationally known and was the winner of the Canadian Iron Chef in 2007. It seems Gourmet Events has access to and contracts with pretty special event spaces. Pablo and Karla took us to:
â€¢ Capacity inside the house up to 120 guests
â€¢ Capacity outside the house up to 250 guest
â€¢ No time limit
â€¢ No sound restrictions
â€¢ Fireworks not allowed
â€¢ Catering fee may apply to group events smaller to 50 guests
â€¢ Restrooms capacity included for up to 50 guests
$5500 site fee
Nha-ha is incredible. You have to see photos (or rather, visit) to understand. It's not for everyone. It's located far from the beach and is privately owned in Sac-be, which from our loose understanding is a preserved and protected Mayan area. There are trees, cenotes!, trails onsite! A super unique house, great jungle-y outdoor areas. But it's not paved, very uneven paths with rocks and roots, there are tons of mosquitos, and you would have to bring in pretty much everything, including a generator, which is expensive, and extra bathrooms. We were worried about the many kids who would attend our wedding, and couldn't shake the anxiousness of having to keep an eagle-eye on all the kids in such a location. If you have a group of adventurous adults, I would highly recommend checking out this place.
Villa Sol y Luna (Playa Secreto)
Large house in a gated community good for a big group. Great backyard for BBQs or just hanging outdoors. Right on Playa Secreto, which reminded us of some Southern Californian beaches; not too much surf and good for swimming. The house comes with a lot of beach toys and sporting equipment. This house is great for family vacations, but too much like a typical California beach house for us.
On Saturday night, Nallely used her connections to get us a fairly-priced room at a brand-new resort in Cancun. We aren't the resort type, so I'm sorry I can't remember the name!
Our coordinators had obviously saved the best for last.
Hacienda la Esperanza (Cancun)
Hacienda la Esperanza is a magnificent rust-red replica hacienda. Exquisitely done. Not crumbling and authentic, but still vibrant and beautiful. It has a great entrance (perfect for a bharat (Indian procession preceding the wedding ceremony), animals! (dogs, peacocks, horses (I got bitten by one, but that's a whoooole different story), monkeys...), fountains, a pool... just perfect for a hacienda wedding. Unfortunately, it's a $5500 site fee, and Gourmet Events, the only company who can have the site fee waived, was way out of our budget for catering. If you have money to spare, this space fits 500+ and is something to see. It's not on the beach, though, which is of course a top reason for many wanting to have a destination wedding in Mexico.
Hacienda las Marias is a mini-version of Hacienda la Esperanza, carrying a $2500 site fee. It is constructed in the same exact style as Esperanza, but just doesn't have the same grandeur.
After the last site visits, Pablo and Karla took us to Gourmet Events for a tasting. It was great, and we met the Iron Chef. Gourmet Events offers a wide range of cuisine, and can customize menus. However, we were deeply disappointed when they presented us with a menu some weeks later with the first dish being steak. We had told them several times how important food was, and how my partner's family is mostly vegetarian (and specifically non-beef eating). We had hoped that someone, either from the catering company or our own coordinators, would catch that.
Our decision-making process, in brief (for those interested)
When Esperanza turned out to be to costly for us, we were somewhat relieved. Tulum was our first choice anyway! We got quotes from Ak'iin, Ana y Jose, and Las Ranitas. Ak'iin and Ana y Jose came close to our budget, and then in the final round, Ana y Jose delivered the most competitive proposal. We were far along in the process with Ana y Jose, even having signed a contract, but almost a month went by without any communication from them. We tried multiple times to get a counter-signed contract from them. Our coordinators told us that counter-signed contracts aren't customary in Mexico, but we knew from our own experiences and those of people on this forum that we didn't want any surprises. We bypassed our coordinators and called Ana y Jose and were able to reach the owner without problem. She promised to get us the counter-signed contract, but it still didn't come. The onsite coordinator there then emailed to say it wasn't her responsibility to get the counter-signed contract (though she was kind and apologetic). The owner promised to oversee our event herself, but our trust in them had been compromised.
Angie and Nallely then informed us that Las Ranitas still didn't have anything booked for our date, and that they were willing to negotiate, so we decided to go with Las Ranitas -- our first choice in Tulum! A case of everything turning out for the best.
One big budgeting tip for those considering a destination wedding in Mexico: know that the holiday season in December is the highest of the high season, and the prices reflect that accordingly. Many hotels will require a 7-day stay between Christmas and the new year.
One big gripe/question mark about destination wedding planning: We've heard again and again that communication with coordinators tends to fall off for a few months after an agreement is made and before the few months before the wedding. We have found that to be true for us, especially since now (May) is the beginning of peak wedding season). We've also found that almost everyone we work with lacks attention to detail. It's not uncommon for a week to go by for an email to be returned, or for us to have to ask a question repeatedly to get a direct answer. We also find errors in dates, names, calculations, etc., which means we have review everything painstakingly, which is time-consuming. Our coordinators are great (people), but the planning process has definitely been slow and frustrating. We recognize that we are on the opposite end of the detail-oriented spectrum, so we try to be patient and while we wait, do a lot of our own research. I will say that having someone take us around during the scouting trip was very helpful.
The only easy part about destination wedding planning has been booking our photographer. As I wrote in another thread: I fell in love with del Sol through their posts on this forum, their website, and communicating with their Sales + PR Concierge, Ael Enciso. They were also mentioned on the blog of my favorite local (San Francisco) photographer, which was a plus, because I really wanted to choose vendors who are local to the Mayan Riviera. Ael has been enthusiastic, kind, informative, thorough, and generous with her time. I never wait more than 24 hours for a response, and all my concerns are handled with understanding and care. When I thought we couldn't afford del Sol, Ael offered me the brilliant suggestion of putting photography on our registry, but also referred me to a handful of excellent other choices that might be able to match our needs. I thought that was classy and professional. Ultimately, we reworked our budget and went back to del Sol. Thank goodness they were still available for our date.
Please feel free to ping me if you have questions about anything above. Happy planning!