Dreaming of a destination wedding in Mexico, but don’t know where to start? Lucky for you, our friends at Martoca Beach Garden are here to help. Martoca Beach is a family-run indie wedding venue located in Nayarit, Mexico. We asked Martoca’s James Basáñez the most important tips couples should know when planning a destination wedding — plus major mistakes to avoid. Read on for our interview with James and feel the wedding planning stress slip away. You got this!
Couples look to maximize their chances of having a successful wedding, meaning all guests are happy they came. Secondly, they love to spend the least amount of money possible. Avoiding the use of their first down payment on a house is a major point for our couples. Aside from budget, there are a few other factors:
Low cancellation risk. This is probably number two (after cost effectiveness) on any couple’s list. You must find a location that is safe for guests and for your investment. Guests won’t come if they feel unsafe. Vallarta-Nayarit has the best hurricane safety record among major resort areas. What good is it to find the perfect location for your wedding if you have a high risk of not being able to get to it during your wedding weekend? No hurricanes means your money is safe and your guests are coming to your wedding.
Diversity. This is the typical has “something for everyone.” Puerto Vallarta is just as fun for older couples as it is for young couples. Beach lovers or mountain lovers. Rich or budget travelers. Club going as a single guest or families. Gay or straight. So all your guests needs and tastes are satisfied. They can stay in a luxury hotel as easily as an Airbnb rented out by an absent expat a block from the beach for half-rate.
Convenient travel. You must find a location that is easy to get to for as many guests as possible: within one or maximum two flights from the guests’ home town, preferably direct flights. Vallarta is about seven hours total travel time, or less, from any major city in United States. Most major cities south of Denver are four hours or less from Vallarta. Once guests are in Vallarta, they should find that all areas are easy to get to within the destination itself and safe to hang out outside the resorts, which Vallarta is.
Vallarta-Riviera Nayarit is special and popular because those who have ventured outside the typical Cancun and Cabo bubble have discovered a gem that is safe, convenient, fun for all guests, and costs less than other locations. The nightmare decision is not why Vallarta area, but where in the bay to get married. 🙂
You can have anywhere from 10 guests (sometimes elopements) up to 200 guests or more, which means you can spend anywhere from $10,000 up to $100,000 or more. I don’t mean to be vague, but [Martoca] really is an indie venue, therefore it is not like a hotel or restaurant where all but the extras are predetermined. We have no inventory pre-purchased. We have no forced décor or catering. For indie venues, the couple chooses everything. So it is really up to you what you want to spend.
The most requested or popular wedding in an indie venue would be about $20,000 for 50 guests. Again, you can make a wedding for 50 people with $10,000 on a Monday. Or spend $70,000 on a Saturday for those same amount of guests. It just depends on what ingredients you feel like having in your amazing creation.
You should only bring very unique or personal items. Maybe some rare décor you made yourself, fabric, napkins, menus, etc. As far as commercial items, most things we can find. I rarely have anyone bring anything. We specialize in Mexican handmade artisan weddings. We combine colonial or pre-hispanic Mexico with beach vibes. That is what we like to do and most of our couples want to have our Mexican culture shine in their weddings, with some modern touches here and there.
I have lived in Bucerías for 40 years. I feel I know the weather as well as a Weather Channel expert. In early June we see the crabs come out for the first time from their winter hiding. No, you will not have crabs crawling over your feet. However, they indicate that the first rain will arrive two weeks later. Don’t ask me why, but it is true. Usually, the first rain begins about the 15th of June in the Puerto Vallarta area. You can expect to have some rain in the evenings after June 15th. Not every night, but maybe 30 percent of the time. Usually, the rain falls after 9 p.m. Of course it rains sometimes during the day if there is a storm or hurricane off the coast. But the normal rains are at night when the temperature drops. The rainy season is usually mid-June through October.
In July, August, and September, you should consider that rain is inevitable. If you are having an outdoor wedding we strongly suggest you have a tent. You can have a transparent tent or another less expensive type of tent. In Martoca’s case, we are closed for these months because it is a great time for us to vacation.
November is fairly safe. It is possible to have rain in your wedding, but not likely.
The best weather for weddings in Puerto Vallarta is in the winter and Spring. December rain is almost unheard of, however in January within the first 10 days you may have a cloudy day or two with some drizzle. As for February, March, April, and May, you probably will not see rain at all. There never is a guarantee of course. However, if I were a betting man, I would bet that in these months you will not have rain. And if you do, you can change your date by one day before or after your original date and avoid it — our venue allows this if we have the date free. So basically, avoid June through early November if possible. The to closer August, the higher the chances of rains are.
It depends on their budget. If the budget is tight, no need to visit. Do it all online and visit the week before the wedding if you are truly confident in the venue’s reputation. Arrive a week early and do the tasting and table sampling the week before if you must have one. I have had couples see the venue on the day of their wedding.
I actually had a bride do a site visit and she did everything except see the venue on purpose. She thought it would be cool to surprise herself on the day of the wedding. It is up to the couples. As far as the planners, we can roll with or without a site visit. We can do it all with Skype or Facetime.
However, if you can afford it, it is best to come before you pay the initial deposit. During the visit, I suggest couples ask who owns the venue, their track record, guarantees on wedding date being respected, and questions like this. You must be careful of venues that are only managed by property managers or caretakers. We have saved couples many times from occasions when they rented a “venue” meaning a house or villa, and then they come to realize the house was not authorized to have parties. So ask your a local planners with experience and good ratings (30 plus reviews) as to what venues are truly professional wedding venues and which are just houses that some people rent out.
Bottom line, visiting before paying is best. But many couples cannot afford the time or money to visit twice. In that case, go with a friend’s recommendation or an online DM to a past bride on Instagram. Following a venue on Instagram for six months can be just as effective as visiting in person. If the venue is active and successful, the couple will be able to see all the happy guests and weddings being held in “real time” throughout the year.
There is a list of requirements you need to fulfill if you want to get married legally: blood work, go to a judge and get all the registry paperwork, and more. But most couples get married legally in their home country either before or after their destination wedding, and come to Vallarta already married and just do the religious or symbolic ceremony.
You know how some people like to get to the airport two hours early and then read a book once they find their gate? Same thing with destination weddings. Some couples can handle coming in a day or two before. Some like to get there a week before and check it all out and feel really comfortable.
However, balance is best. Usually couples stay for a week. So I would say an arrival four days prior to the wedding day is perfect. This way you can have three days after the wedding to recover as well. Usually a week is what people can take off work. I would do three or four days before wedding to prepare, tie loose ends, find cool restaurants and souvenirs and just be present. Then have one or two days to relax before returning home or heading to another plane ride. We have had guests’ flights cancelled, lost, and delayed, dresses not arrive on time, lost luggage, and other surprises. It never hurts to get there a bit early to take care of some business, before the stress level and tequila drinks start flowing with your BFFs. As with anything else, the earlier you arrive, the more relaxed the process will feel.
I think planning without first considering your guests ability or willingness to travel to Mexico is a major mistake. We have had an entire planning process — emails with brides, discussing pricing and services — and they hold the date. After all the hard work, they find out their grandma cannot make the trip due to health. Or so-and-so is pregnant and does not want to fly. Or Mexico scares their parents. This is probably the first mistake couples make and it can be costly. Once the deposit is down, venues are not obligated to return the money for a cancellation if your grandma doesn’t want to make the trip. So we recommend couples find out from family which countries are viable first.
Another mistake is thinking a large guest count is coming, only to have half the guests. Unfortunately, once you promise a certain amount of guests, you will be responsible for the guaranteed amount you promised vendors. So it is best to under-promise and pay for overage, then to over-promise guests and try to get money back for no-shows. Industry average is 60 percent of invited guests come to the wedding. So I would go for 50 percent to be safe. If you have more guests than you thought you would have originally, you can always add guests for a per-person fee. We ask for the final guest count four weeks in advance.
Money transfers and payment to vendors are also crucial. We suggest you send payment two weeks before the wedding at the latest. Funds from the Untied States or Canada to Mexico can get mixed up in bank cyber space for a week or two easily. Unless you are bringing cash (you can only bring $10,000 per couple) I would make sure the funds are sent within two or three weeks before, so you are not worried about the funds transferring properly. If you are worried about trusting your planner or venue at that point, by the way, then you probably chose the wrong venue or planner.
Another mistake is not verifying travel logistics and hotels for the dates you have in mind. Couples may plan weddings during local national holidays or during home country holidays and flights and hotels can be full or super price-y. Usually planners will make couples aware of this, however, you should be aware of holidays and charter flights. Some flights are available in high season and then in low season they are not flying. So you can come to visit Vallarta in February on a direct flight and then in May or June, when your wedding date is set, you have no direct flights because it is off-season. If this is an issue, you need to know the direct flight or flight times of the actual wedding week.
Lastly, don’t forget your passport expiration date! Check that too. It is hard to say which mistakes are worse than others, since they all can cause havoc, but I would say just logistics and paying details are key.
Well, I have found that our Martocos (Martoca’s couples) usually want more than just a hotel or sterile corporate resort or villa. They want to connect to a romantic story of Martoca. They love to hear how my parents came here when very little people knew about Puerto Vallarta. How they started Martoca back in the ’70s as eight bungalows on the beach when no hotels were around at all except four hotels in Vallarta proper, 40 minutes away.
When they find out that we live next door, and that I was married in Martoca before it was even a venue back in 2001, they can see their wedding is personal for us as well. This is our home and we will protect it and care for it forever. We are more like cousins who own a backyard on the beach, which they can decorate and use as they wish. We are just going to hook them up with all our local buddies and make them feel amazing for a week. 🙂 We have always been in hospitality industry. Weddings are like running the original Martoca bungalows—we had parties all the time for guests back in the day, and boats for tours, and a restaurant. We love to entertain and serve. Mostly people love that they feel like part of our Martoca family. They see on Instagram or Facebook or blog that we care for Bucerias and our community.
We also only have two weddings per week. Martocos (our Martoca couples) love this because we absolutely focus on their wedding 100 percent. And if we have weddings back-to-back, the planner is rested because she has back-up. We do not have to worry about weddings daily or two in one day like hotel planners. We really focus on one at a time.
Our planning team is made up of three main planners. I love this and I designed it this way in case one has a health issue or family issue. Martoca couples are assured a beautiful, seamless wedding. Each planner knows the others’ needs. As an owner, I think they feel I will make it all work for them at any cost. If I have to myself, I will jump in and tend bar for them. I think they sense that and feel that from our Martoca Team who are all on the same page as I am since we are all owners of our own little businesses.
So I don’t really know exactly what attracts them the most, but I know there are more beautiful and fancier places. Better designers. There are more secluded areas and perhaps villas with more fancy bathrooms or bride rooms or pools, but very rarely you will find an owner/planner/chef to go with that mansion. Usually those villas are owned by corporations for corporate parties or millionaires who come once a year. Those owners don’t even know why Bucerias is called Bucerias. Martoca is our home. We planted all the trees you see in our venue back in the ’70s. This place has roots. And Martocos I think know that. We will be with them every step of the way to make sure they are all safe and happy. And they know it.
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