Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Destination Wedding Locations: Cancun, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

One of the best bargains for a destination wedding and honeymoon is Mexico. Compared to the sky-high prices of the Caribbean and Hawaii, Mexico looks darned affordable. And when you compare hotel prices here with a stay in Europe . . . well, it's no contest.

That's not to say that a wedding and honeymoon in Mexico is free. When you factor in airfare, hotel, meals, and shopping during a week's stay at a nice resort, the total tab can run $2000 to $3000. Package options, as we'll discuss later, are the most affordable way to go. A basic wedding will run you about $500, with more elaborate options at $1000 and up.

Perhaps the most difficult decision about planning a far and away wedding in Mexico is which location to choose—each resort area has its own style and character. Here's an overview of what we consider the best places to tie the knot: Cancun/Cozumel, Acapulco, and Puerto Vallarta.

CANCUN/COZUMEL. The best thing about Cancun and Cozumel is that you can get Caribbean water at a Mexican price. The white sand beaches, the plush resorts, a plethora of water sports—you get the idea.

Seasoned travellers tell-us Cancun is a young person's resort. And, as evidenced by the throngs of spring-breakers who flock here once a year, this fact has not gone unnoticed.
A thirty minute flight from Cancun is the island of Gozumel. Here you'll find some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the country. The shopping is limited, but the leisurely pace stands in contrast to Cancun.

A few hours away from Cancun are two famous Mayan ruins, including Chichen Itza, which is the largest and most fascinating.

ACAPULCO. On the Pacific coast, Acapulco is famous for its culture and history. The water and beaches aren't as outstanding as Cancun, but the hotels, private homes, and villas are stand-outs. The hustle and bustle here continues well past sunset with a busy nighdife. Great restaurants overlook the harbor and shopping is fantastic.

PUERTO VALLARTA. Further up the coast from Acapulco is Puerto Vallarta, made famous by the 1964 movie, "Night of the Iguana," starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. This resort has a totally different feel than Cancun or Acapulco. Cobblestone streets and outstanding restaurants give the town an international ambience, enhanced by the sporty boutiques and great shopping. Take a day trip into the jungle for a mini-safari. On the down side, Puerto Vallarta has only "average" beaches and water, according to travellers we've interviewed.

Wedding Logistics
Only civil marriages are legal in Mexico. As for requirements and documentation, each federal district (roughly the equivalent of states) of Mexico has its own rules and regulations. Some require blood tests and a medical exam with chest X-rays by a Mexican doctor. Fortunately, most of the tourist areas have relaxed marriage license rules that do not include such extensive medical exams.

There is no residency period, but you must have your birth certificate certified or notarized (unlike other regions of the country, the three destinations we highlight here require no translations). There are a few more paperwork requirements and the bureaucracy in Mexico is famous for its red tape. Hence, we strongly recommend that you use the services of a professional wedding planner or a resort's wedding coordinator to ensure you've complied with all the rules. The bottom line: with all the paperwork and regulations, it takes about three to five days processing time to get a marriage license in Mexico.

Local Bridal Customs
Mexican weddings are full of ethnic traditions and color. From mariachi bands to bridal bouquets of flowing bird-of-paradise flowers, you can pick and choose different options. The most common wedding-cake is a single-layer "tres leche" confection of white cake. At receptions, friends and family circle the bride and groom while they dance their first dance.

Best Time to Go
High season runs from Christmas through April, with prices at their peak. Perhaps the best time to visit is from November 28 through December 15—the weather is quite nice and the premium prices haven't kicked in. Other discounts can be had during the off season in the summer and fall.
As for the weather, the coastal areas boast a tropical climate, with temperatures in the 70s and 80s in winter and 90+ in the summer. Each region of Mexico has a different climate, so you may want to research an area before making plans.

Cost, Accommodations, and Getting Around
Compared to Caribbean destinations, Mexico is one of the most affordable destinations around. You could pay as littie as $140 per night for a standard room in a nice resort in low season, up to $ 185 in high season. Overall, a Mexico hotel stay runs about 30 percent less than a similar room at a resort in the Caribbean or Hawaii. Dinner at a nice restaurant costs about $50. Contrast that with Hawaii, where dinner for two can often run $75 to $100 or more.

Some of the more interesting packages we discovered include Acapulco's Westin Las Brisas (800-228-3000), which offers rates from $980 per couple for three nights to $2176 per couple for seven nights in the low season (April 18 to December 18). That price includes continental breakfast, one dinner, a rental jeep, and all gratuities.

In Cancun, the Ritz Carlton Cancun (800-241-3333) has a three-night package for $1330 in low season and $1482 in the high season. Extra nights are $247 to $293, respectively. The plan includes a candlelight dinner on a private balcony and a day excursion to the ancient Mayan city of Tulum.

So diving is your passion and Cozumel your ultimate destination? We discovered that the Stouffer Présidente Cozumel hotel (800-HOTELS-l) offers an eight-night package for $1260 per couple in the low season, which includes breakfasts, one dinner, and gratuities.

Puerto Vallarta may be the most affordable of all, with a seven-night package at Fiesta Americana (800-FIESTA-1) costing a mere $920 per couple; this includes breakfast, one dinner, and rental car discounts.

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