This guide will set you set up for success by guiding you through the first steps you should follow when beginning to plan your destination wedding in Costa Rica!
Create the guest list
The first step is to create your guest list! Fun, right? Why does this need to be numero uno? Because soooo many factors such as the budget and which venues will work for your wedding depend on the number of guests.
Start by writing down EVERYONE you want to invite. From there, separate the guests into three categories- A, B, and C, or as I like to call them… YES, maybe, and meh depending on how close you are with that person and the importance of their attendance. This is going to help you keep things in perspective as you narrow down your list.
Keep in mind that destination weddings have a lower acceptance rate than local weddings so don’t be surprised if a large percentage of your guests RSVP that they can’t make it. It truly varies by the group but typically 50-60% of guests will make the trip. There are many exceptions to that because sometimes a lower percentage will come often due to the cost and other times almost all invitees attend since Costa Rica is on most people’s bucket lists! You know your group best so put some feelers out there and go with your gut!
Set the budget
I know, I know… talking about the budget isn’t enjoyable but it is oh so necessary! You really shouldn’t move forward with the wedding planning until you have done this step.
What is the mistake I see most when it comes to budgeting? That people aren’t realistic about costs. Yes, Central America as a whole is inexpensive but Costa Rica is the most $$$ of them all. You pay for what you get though! Costa Rica is safe, easy to travel, the people are super friendly, and IMHO is the most beautiful. The country is a hotspot for tourism and weddings so you aren’t going to see discounts or wheeling and dealing like you would in Mexico.
Plan for the costs to be on par with what you would see in your hometown. As a starting point, I recommend you budget a minimum of $250 per person for the wedding day budget. This includes things like the venue rental, officiant, passed appetizers during cocktail hour, dinner, cake, an open bar (which you HAVE to have…more on that later), musicians, floral decor, and event rentals like lounge setups, dining chairs, tables, and seating. That number does not include your dress, hotel, flight, hair and makeup, and other miscellaneous items.
Create your Pinterest board and get pinning!
Phew! Now that you are done with the tough stuff it is time to move on the fun part! I’m sure you have been busy pinning wedding inspiration to a secret board, but in the chance that you haven’t, now is the time to start!
You don’t need to make any final decisions about the design or style of the wedding now. You also won’t be held to any designs you initially show your wedding planner or venue. It is smart to start pinning in order to learn what you like. This will get you prepped for the next steps so you can let your wedding planner know what you are looking for and help you define which area of Costa Rica and ultimately which venue will be the right fit for you based on the overall vision.
For tropical wedding inspiration check out my Pinterest:
Select your wedding planner
I feel very strongly about this subject and my answer as to whether or not you should hire a wedding planner will always be a resounding YES! Costa Rica has a variety of fantastic wedding planners that can help you plan your big day.
Many couples decide to skip this step. It can be hard to justify the cost of a wedding planner because it is a service and not a tangible item like decor. Take a minute and think about what the most important aspect of your wedding day is to you. Is it really about having beautiful decor or is your goal to have fun and enjoy the party?
A wedding planner does a lot behind the scenes throughout the entire planning process and on the wedding day that you won’t even realize happened. Why? Because it is their job to negotiate, review contracts, worry, stress, and deal with any problems so you don’t have to.
Ladies, something I see so often is the groom convincing the bride that they don’t need a wedding planner. Why? First, because men are focused on the budget above all else. There are many exceptions and as time goes on, I see more and more grooms getting involved with the design and planning of the wedding, however, those are the exceptions and not the rule. To the majority of men, a photographer is a photographer, a bouquet is a bouquet, and food is food…get it? They aren’t focused on the details like the quality of the provider (are the rentals going to be in great condition?), the reliability (are they going to show up on time?!), or the customer service (how easy will it be to work with them for the 12 months?).
See what I mean?
Second, the men aren’t the ones planning the wedding. YOU ARE! Yes, they’ll be there to help make decisions and weigh in on the different options, and colors, and so forth, but that is what? maybe 10% of the planning? The planning is never truly as easy or simple as you expect it to be.
You are the one burdened with the majority of the planning tasks and stress, all on top of your already busy life. That is precisely why it is so important to keep these things in mind when you are making the decision about whether or not to hire that wedding planner!
Wondering how to select a wedding planner? Read my top tips on how to hire a wedding planner in Costa Rica:
9 Tips For Hiring A Wedding Planner In Costa Rica
Choose the right area of Costa Rica
Although Costa Rica is a small country, the various area – Guanacaste, Nicoya Peninsula, mid-Pacific, San Jose and surrounding central valley, and the Caribbean all have very different cultures, climates, accessibility, scenery, venues, and accommodations.
Things you want to consider when choosing the area:
• How adventurous are your guests?
Check out how difficult it is to get to the town you’d like to get married in. You’ll also want to consider whether the hotel or venue require 4×4 access to be reached. As the crow flies, the destination might be close but remember to consider the condition of the roads. The Waze driving app, not Google Maps, will give you a true estimate of the time it takes to get there.
• Which airport would everyone fly into?
Look up the town’s proximity to Costa Rica’s two major airports which are the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia (LIR) and Juan Santa Maria Airport (SJO) in San Jose.
• What are the budget, mid-range, and luxury hotel options?
Keep in mind the number of accommodation offerings for your guests in small towns.
• How long is the drive from the airport and is the road paved?
Certain areas, like Malpais, although stunningly beautiful and rustic, provide logistical difficulties. You’ll also want to consider whether the hotel or venue require 4×4 access to be reached. As the crow flies, the destination might be close but remember to consider the condition of the roads. The Waze driving app, not Google Maps, will give you a true estimate of the time it takes to get there.
• Choose the scenery
Do you want a beach, volcano, mountain, waterfall, ocean view, or jungle? Unfortunately, you can’t have it all so you’ll need to choose. We all want a wedding on the beach beside a waterfall with a view of the volcano, but contrary to what Pinterest photos might show you, it isn’t possible.
In most parts of the country, the dry season is from December to March and green season is from April to November. Costa Rica has so many microclimates that the weather can change even from town to town.
Find out more about rainy and dry seasons in Costa Rica:
When Is Dry and Rainy Season In Costa Rica?
• Size of the town
Some small towns may have a limited number of hotels accommodations. It is nice to offer your guests a budget, mid-range, and luxury option so check if these three types have availability over your preferred dates. You’ll also want to look up how many dining options there are in the area.
Choose the venue
Now that you have decided on the area of the country it is time to narrow down your top three venues.
When you’re checking out potential venues, get on the phone and review any and all questions with them so you are clear about what their policies are. Keep in mind that you need to do all the negotiating upfront when the venues are eager to get you to move forward and book them.
Here are some questions to ask the venue:
• What is the availability like during my preferred dates?
You’ll want to avoid Easter week, Christmas, and New Years which are the times when areas are the busiest and the cost of accommodations quadruple.
• What are my options for the ceremony and reception spaces?
Venues may often have more than one option they can offer you for the ceremony and reception space.
• When the venue is rented privately what hour is set up allowed to begin?
• Will you still offer a breakfast and/or lunch service on my wedding day?
Depending on how elaborate your decor, your vendors will need to start the setup anywhere from 9am to 1pm. If the venue will be open for lunch, then ensure that the vendors will be allowed to begin setup during meal periods given that they are quiet and respectful. Note that the setup of a tent typically needs to start early in the morning so if you are planning for a rainy season or fringe rainy season event keep this in mind.
• How many weddings do you host per day?
At large hotels and venues, sometimes two weddings are held on the same day.
• Can I utilize your furniture? If so, would it be possible to see photos?
Restaurants may offer complimentary seating and tables but the number available may not be guaranteed or be of wedding quality.
•Will the space be cleared of unneeded furniture on the morning of the event? If so, by what time?
• Do you provide all of the necessary plate ware, cloth napkins, silverware and glassware needed for the meal and beverage services?
Find out what is included with the food and beverage packages they offer if there is anything that you’ll need to rent at an additional cost.
• What time must the party end?
At most locations, outdoor parties will need to end or be moved inside at 10pm.
• *If on the beach* Are there any regulations related to turtle nesting or wildlife we should be aware of?
Beach venues may possibly need to adhere to special rules related to sound and light due to their location.
• Are there any other event-related policies that we have not discussed or are listed in your information packet that we should be aware of?
Asking this simple question may result in additional information you may not have thought to ask about.
• How do you accept payments? Any additional fees that we should be aware of? When are payments due?
• Can I see your food and beverage menus?
Be sure to review the food and beverage menus prior to booking. You’ll want to make sure their prices fit into the budget you have created.
• How many events have you hosted at this location?
Verify that your venue has held a number of weddings because they will need a different set of knowledge and skills for putting on a successful wedding than is needed to run a successful restaurant. If they don’t have much experience putting on weddings, their pricing may be lower, but the service you receive from a more experienced venue will be better.
• For a hotel* Are a percentage of my guests required to stay at the hotel? Are outside guests allowed to attend?
• *Rainy season* Do you require the event be tented?
If during the rainy season or even fringe-rainy season, the venue may require that you rent a tent in order to protect their furniture or keep their servers from getting wet.
Wondering when rainy and dry seasons is?
Learn about the difference between dry season and rainy season in Costa Rica
• What additional fees will apply? Are the service fee and tax included in the quotes listed on the menus?
The 13% tax and service fee (10%) can add a hefty amount to your food and beverage costs.
• Do you have an on-site event coordinator?
A dedicated event coordinator will be helpful because they will be more knowledgeable and be able to answer your questions quickly.
• Do you allow outside vendors or do we have to choose from your preferred vendors?
Certain venues, especially all-inclusive hotels, may not allow outside vendors and require you to choose from their list of vendors. If they do allow outside vendors, you may need to pay an additional fee. If they restrict the vendors then ask to see a list of the approved vendors.
Research guest accommodation and set up room blocks
It is recommended to set up room blocks at one to three hotels. Ideally, you want to have all or most guests stay at one or two locations to keep things simple. During your chats with venues find out which hotels in the area they recommend for your wedding guests.
Things to ask the hotel:
• Do you offer a group rate?
Find out what the number of rooms is required to receive the group rate.
• If I set up a room block how many room nights am I committing to?
The block is based on the number of room nights and not the number of rooms so keep this in mind in case guests might stay a shorter length of time than you are committing to.
• Do you require a deposit?
Find out whether or not the deposit is refundable and the payment terms.
• Do you allow children to stay at the hotel? Do you offer any services for children?
• Are there any policies I should be aware of prior to booking?
By asking this simple question you may find out information that you may have forgotten to ask.
8. Begin researching and selecting vendors
If you have a wedding planner, they will provide their top vendor picks for you based on your needs. If you don’t have a planner then often your venue will be able to recommend their preferred vendors.
When deciding on who to hire, one of the most important things to keep in mind is reliability. Companies in Costa Rica may not have the same code of ethics when it comes to doing business, that most of the companies in your home country may have. Be sure to check their reviews and testimonials.
Take a look through their portfolio and make sure that what they offer is in alignment with the style you are looking for.