By MarieSam Sanchez
Journalist + Photographer
One of the most popular locations for destination weddings is the Cancun/Riviera Maya in Mexico. And with one look at the pristine beaches stretched along the Yucatan coast, it’s easy to see why so many couples are flocking to this heavenly paradise to say their I Do’s.
When it comes to getting the most bang for your buck, the Cancun/Riviera Maya area offers an ideal setting for every style, type and budget. Whether you’re dealing with a budget of $5,000 or less, or ready to spend tens of thousands of dollars on your Big Day, this Mexican paradise offers a variety of options guaranteed to deliver your dream wedding.
Where Should I Get Married?
One of the best things about this region is that there are several hotspots all within driving distance of each other, including Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Playa Aventuras, Akumal and Tulum, with each location offering its own special vibe.
As Mexico’s number one tourist destination, Cancun is a huge draw for couples seeking a chic, fast-paced, beach city feel. Here you’ll find tons of well-known shops, restaurants and nightclubs mixed in with local favorites boasting the best of Mexican culture.
Cancun is known around the world for its spectacular turquoise sea and unrivaled dedication to optimum service and relaxation for all its visitors. There is a vast array of fun daytime activities for both young and old along this beachfront oasis, and when it comes to a sizzling nightlife, Cancun offers the best in entertainment, bars and clubbing.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN
Travel 45 minutes south, and you’ll find the region’s next largest draw in Playa del Carmen, a place that some describe as a laid back bohemian version of Cancun. Located in the middle of the Riviera Maya, “Playa” has some of the best beaches in the area, a plethora of beachfront accommodations and the ferry to Cozumel, which runs several daily trips.
The heart of this lively town is Quinta Avenida also known as 5th Avenue – a beachside boardwalk bustling with wonderful shops, flea markets, restaurants and nightclubs. Visitors can be found in droves walking along this popular street day and night with the town’s lovely, white sand shores just footsteps away.
Drive an additional 45 minutes south and you’ll hit Tulum, a town known for having the only major Mayan ruin along the Caribbean coast. It’s also rapidly growing in popularity because of its mixture of great restaurants, shops and resorts amid a more rural, quiet beachfront atmosphere. This area also offers some of the most serene and spectacular beaches along the coast, providing the perfection conditions for snorkeling, diving, swimming and sunbathing.
In between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, you’ll find a hidden slice of treasure known as Akumal, which means “The Place of Turtles.” This sleepy little town is often referred to as a secret getaway because so many visitors in the region have yet to discover its beauty, much to the delight of the town’s loyal fans. Akumal is a small community lined with swaying palm trees sprinkled in between beachfront condos, villas, homes and small hotels. There are no large hotels or resorts in the main part of town, which helps preserve its small and quiet paradise-like feel.
Akumal is a treasure trove filled with small calm bays perfect for snorkeling and swimming with the town’s beloved turtles and precious marine life. Snorkelers of all levels can also enjoy the calm waters of the town’s small lagoon inlet known as Yal-ku.
Although Akumal may be small in size, there are more than a handful of first-class dining options for those who come to visit. Be it the fun beach bars, the popular Italian and seafood restaurants or the delicious bakery and homemade ice cream stand, you will not go hungry in this quaint but vibrant town.
Located just 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras is a luxurious marina community that offers a world-class collection of condominiums, spectacular villas and top-notch hotels and resorts. This gated neighborhood also offers access to a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, shopping, restaurants and a deep sea marina.
BY ED FLADUNG
Puerto Aventuras is also centrally located to cenotes, beaches, the ruins and parks such as Xel Ha and Xcaret, ensuring that each day is filled with fun and adventure.
Where Should We Stay?
After deciding where to have your wedding, you’ll need to start thinking of what type of accommodations you’d like for you and your guests. And fortunately, the Cancun/Riviera Maya offers every lodging option imaginable.
A popular choice for many these days are all-inclusive resorts, and no matter what town you’re staying in, there are all-inclusive options suited for every budget.
If you want to venture off-site a little more when it comes to drinking and dining, then look into one of the many hotels and resorts throughout the area that provide that flexibility.
But if you’d like more privacy than what a resort or hotel has to offer and also enjoy cooking your own meals or dining “at home,” the region is bursting with amazing villas, condos, and beachside bungalows that can be rented on a daily or weekly basis.
Where Should We Have The Wedding and Reception?
Although many couples opt to have their ceremony and reception at the resort or hotel they’re staying at, when it comes to having the wedding of your dreams in the Cancun/Riviera Maya area, there are also other options to consider.
For some celebrating the Big Day on site might be the best choice because it provides the couple and their guests with the most convenience. As a bonus, many resorts or hotels offer fantastic and affordable wedding packages when the bridal party and guests are actually staying on the grounds. This is a great way to cut down on costs if you’re trying to stay on budget.
But for those who want to celebrate away from resort or hotel grounds, the region has plenty of private venues or facilities that can accommodate both small and large groups.
A well-hidden but beautiful gem of a venue that I used for my own wedding reception is the Centro Ecologico de Akumal (CEA) Center in Akumal. Known as a non-profit ecological center dedicated to promoting marine and environmental safety in the region, the CEA Center offers a simple, open-air shoreside venue large enough to host parties of up to 150 people. And best of all, renting this modest yet lovely facility only requires a $500 tax-deductable donation to the CEA Center and its ecological programs.
Another place to consider having your wedding ceremony and reception is at a villa or private home. With ultimate privacy, any couple can easily create their dream wedding in one of the many state of the art homes or simple beachfront properties throughout the Cancun/Riviera Maya. But like a private facility or venue, it’s important to remember that having a non-resort wedding will likely require that you hire a local wedding planner/coordinator to help you obtain a caterer, chair/table rentals, lighting, entertainment and prepare for other important aspects of your celebration.
What Kind of Wedding Should We Have?
When determining where you’d like to get married, one must also give thought to what type of ceremony to have. In the Cancun/Riviera Maya region, couples have the option of having a traditional civil ceremony, a religious/spiritual ceremony, or a cultural ceremony also known as a Mayan Wedding.
Different venues will offer some or all of the above options, so make sure to clarify that with your wedding planner/coordinator early on in the planning process. It’s important to note that most Catholic ceremonies must be held inside a church or chapel, however, there are a few resort gazebos in the area that are allowed to accommodate Catholic ceremonies as well.
What’s The Food Like?
If you love food, then you’ll love the variety of delicious cuisine that Cancun/Riviera Maya has to offer.
While you might often see familiar franchise restaurants throughout the area, there are tons of local eateries that feature the best in Yucatan cuisine. Seafood is of course a popular entrée on every menu along with Maya and Mexican flavored dishes that are guaranteed to please.
And what really makes Cancun/Riviera Maya a foodies’ paradise, is the ease and ability to find restaurants catered to both budget conscience vacationers as well as diners looking to splurge.
What’s There To Do In the Area?
If there’s one thing that makes the Cancun/Riviera Maya area distinctly unique, it’s the myriad of fun activities available up and down the coast.
Adventurers can explore a bit of the region’s past by visiting one of the many fascinating ruins – Chichen Itza, Coba or Tulum. Thrill seekers can also take a trip on the wild side by parasailing over crystal blue waters, ziplining through lush vegetation or speeding through jungle grounds on ATVs. And for those who love to fish, take a charter boat from either Puerto Adventuras or Akumal and test your luck on the deep blue sea.
Known for having some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the area also gives water lovers first-class options for snorkeling, scuba diving, and swimming. And for a refreshing change, why not try a dip or dive in one of thousands of cenotes – fresh water diving holes – scattered throughout the peninsula.
If you’re looking for a fun daylong excursion, take a ferry or boat ride to Isla Mujeres or Cozumel for a taste of island life. And for a perfect mixture of adventure, thrills and discovery, consider a visit to Xel Ha or Xcaret.
Located 30 miles from Playa del Carmen, Xel Ha is a natural inlet known for its rich underwater life and is best described as an open-sea aquarium waiting to be discovered. Xel Ha offers plenty of water based activities and a variety of wonderful restaurants.
Xcaret, the region’s popular echo-archaelogical park, is a beautiful park by the sea where one can discover and learn of the natural and cultural richness of Mexico. Some of the highlights at the park include a butterfly pavilion, a beach, snorkeling inlets, and other water-based activities such as snuba or swimming with dolphins. But its greatest treasure is perhaps the incredible evening celebration, “Xcaret Mexico Espectacular”, a show that showcases the country’s history and culture.
The Bottom Line
The decision to celebrate your Big Day in the Cancun/Riviera Maya region is a great way to go. But like all destination weddings, make sure to carefully consider important things like style, taste, and budget before deciding on where to say your “I Do’s.” And because the region is filled with so many ideal options when it comes to accommodations and venues, be patient and take the time to really do your research. Of course the BDW forum is the perfect place to start your research by searching for reviews and feedback from former brides and grooms as well as vendors.
And while many couples fall into the trap of making sure they choose a location or venue that all their friends and family will love, first and foremost make sure it’s a place that YOU love.
Never lose sight of the fact that this is your day and with careful planning, your dream wedding can easily become your reality.