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Planning a Wedding in Costa Rica

Six months ago, my husband and I stood on a mountaintop, the sun's golden rays illuminating our faces. We posed for photos while friends and family wished us congratulations. It was a beautiful day -- not only for the brilliant blue sky and picturesque setting, but also as the beginning to the next phase of our lives.

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Anyone who's been engaged knows that while the wedding is blissful, planning is often hectic. Getting married in Costa Rica is no different: in addition to finding a venue, choosing flowers, and attending dress fittings, couples must also take care of legal requirements.

For non-residents, this means collecting official copies of your birth certificates, police records, and certificates of single status. Both your state/provincial government and then the Costa Rican consulate must authenticate all documents. Depending on your state's fees, expect each document to run $50-$75, for a total of about $150-$225. Once in Costa Rica, your documents must be translated into Spanish (10 CRC per word, or about $100-$200 for the set) and then legalized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This process will take between two (expedited) and four months, so plan accordingly.

In Costa Rica, only Catholic priests and lawyers have the legal right to perform a marriage ceremony. If you would like a Protestant minister, rabbi, or other religious leader to marry you, a lawyer must also be present at the ceremony. If you need to hire a lawyer, look for one with fair fees -- about $60-$100 -- and who doesn't cut corners. Many lawyers will offer to officiate your marriage with just a valid passport (no other paperwork required), but the government has been cracking down lately, and without the proper paperwork, there's a chance your marriage would not be approved.

With our paperwork in process and our lawyer chosen, it was time to begin the planning stage. My husband and I were determined to have a beautiful but low-stress day, and we began by choosing our setting. Costa Rica's destination wedding industry is booming, and it's possible to get married in almost any locale you dream up: at the base of a waterfall, on the beach at sunset, in the middle of the rainforest, or high up on a mountaintop.

Once we had chosen the cool mountains of the Central Valley, we focused on the venue. Many of the country's hotels, restaurants and small inns offer wedding packages and event planning services; others with less experience will often rent out their facilities for day use. Professional wedding planners are available to help you plan every detail. These services can be especially helpful for couples who live outside of Costa Rica: good wedding coordinators are detail-oriented, organized, and familiar with the best local vendors -- helping turn the wedding of your dreams into reality.

Next on our list was setting the date. Since we were planning on an outdoor wedding at a small hotel, my husband and I chose a date during the dry season (December-April), when most days are clear and sunny. However, if you're planning an indoor wedding, morning event, or a location that sees gentle rain throughout the year -- the rainforest or the Osa Peninsula, for example -- you may want to take advantage of green season bargains (generally May-November).

When it came down to the details -- the flowers, our cake, and music -- plans went off without a hitch. Our hotel recommended local vendors that were very helpful, accommodating and well priced. And speaking of prices, I was happy to learn that a wedding in Costa Rica can be very affordable: packages including the menu and venue rental start around $15 per person for a Costa Rican menu (an economic $750 for 50 friends and family), and work their way up to more than $50 per guest for an elaborate wedding in an exclusive setting. Other costs are equally fair: our flowers, for example (bouquet, centerpieces, and cake decoration) cost less than $75.

At the end of the day, we knew that Costa Rica had been the perfect choice for our wedding: our gorgeous setting, delicious food, beautiful weather, and colorful flowers had been everything we hoped. Best wishes for planning your big day!

Planning a Wedding in Costa Rica in Pictures

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