City Guide: A Wedding Holiday in Cartagena

My dream is all my favorite people in one place for a few days. Those were the most memorable weddings I had attended. Ones where you left with sweet memories whether inner-tubing down the Vermont River, a turkey shoot on Thanksgiving Day in Alabama, or seven friends in an AirBnB in Spain.

On Thursday when guests arrived I sat staring at the front door for an hour so excited for it to open with my family. Soon their best friends of 45-years walked in. Jeremy’s childhood friends. My NYC crew of friends met through online dating. My heart feels so warm thinking back to that first day.

We took all 13 rooms at beautiful Casa Pestagua were the wedding reception would take place, with the remainder of our guests at Hotel Ananda. (Casa Pombo is another favorite we almost went with.) Each had two pools, and taking the “full house” made them a perfect place to gather for anyone who wanted to spend time with the bride and groom. (Note this also made life complicated as we had to assign rooms, and cover rooms when people cancelled last minute, but with my heart for everyone to be together I’m not sure how else we would have done it.) I was prepped with pool floats, foam basketball, and treasure chest diving for the kids.

Photos throughout this post were all by our guests. I barely took out my phone, and used PhotoCircle app to have guests upload everything they shot to share with us and one another. The photo just below of my mom and her best friend Carol within an hour of arriving is one of my favorites that captures just the energy I dreamt of guests having – truly on holiday! They look so happy!

Guests were greeted with a welcome packet including an itinerary, map, guest directory, and fan by a local maker. I worked with one of my talented students, Carol of The Map Chick, to create them.

I wanted guests to feel peaceful they weren’t missing anything, confident in getting to relevant places, and welcome to spend as much time with us as possible. Plus, get to know one another without feeling badly they forgot someone’s name, able to place who was family or who someone’s spouse was.

I have never seen someone else do a guest directory at a destination wedding and hope others steal this idea!

We created a Google Doc for guests with links to restaurants if they wanted to explore before arriving. Overall the feedback was that all were delicious, and most everything reasonably priced. A few favorites are Marea by Rausch to sit outside on the water, Di Silvio Trattoria for pizza (get the pancetta, pear, balsamic), next door restaurants Maria or Don Juan with chic vibes, or La Cochina de Pepina for a local hole-in-the-wall.

Friday we had a rehearsal at the church. I think these two photos sum it up. As the cathedral was open and we had just a few minutes before mass began so I’m trying to coral everyone, Jeremy is keeping the flower girls quiet, and there’s a ring bearer just above my head who escaped up in the vestry!

Meanwhile just one day in, strangers had become besties who have now stayed pen pals, in two of our flower girls.

(Fun fact, if your planner doesn’t get the welcome packets TO the guests, your in-laws may be directed by concierge to a bar called Cathedral at 9am and miss said rehearsal.)

Meanwhile everyone was invited to explore the town, wander the charming streets, and experience the color and culture (and ice cream, because, vacay).

Friday night we had welcome drinks at Hotel Movich, the best rooftop in the town to watch the sunset. We weren’t planning to host a welcome party, but when our planner took us to this venue we instantly added it into the budget, feeling it would set the tone that our guests had come somewhere magical.

It was gorgeous, though so windy! One guest had a wrap dress that despite my multiple attempts to use bobby pins or sewing needles to secure it would not stay shut, but hey, everyone’s hair had great volume!

Then we headed to a few of our favorite bars. El Baron everyone loved the unique cocktails. Alquimico has a chic indoor vibe and a hip casual rooftop. Cafe Havana takes you back to the 1950’s in it’s decor, with live music which was appropriately playing “My heart is in Havana” when we entered.

Saturday we met down at the dock and took boats out to the islands! Cartagena is surrounded by tiny islands. A bit further out there are some very chic ones, remote spots we’d love to go back and vacation at like Blue Apple Beach House. After the wedding some guests stayed at a wildly affordable island hostel Magic Paradise if you’re looking for bare bones.

We chose Bomba Beach Club for it’s joyful local color. And being one of the nearest, as in February the wind (see previous night!) can make the boat trip very bumpy. (To calm my flower girls on the ride back I told them Jesus walked on water, so we shouldn’t be afraid, and it worked great to calm the fact that I was terrified!)

My in-laws had never been outside the country, and understandably were a bit shell shocked the first couple days trying to navigate their way around something so foreign. When I walked up to the beach there was a woman who had pulled a chair right up to the shore to sit with her toes in the water, in a giant sun hat. “She look so happy!” I thought – then realized it was my mother-in-law! Planner tip, everyone feels at home on a beach. (wink)

We headed back to the hotels to clean up in time for the rehearsal dinner. I wore the Kelly Faetanini dress from our elopement dinner, with a Lele Sadoughi headband.

Jeremy and I were a half hour late to our 6pm reservation. In the car over our planner’s assistant told us “Not to worry because the restaurant didn’t open till 6:30.”

“I’m sorry, what? Are you telling me we’ve had 50 guests standing outside a restaurant for half an hour?”

When we arrived to a jam packed lobby with everyone waiting, one of my bridesmaids said, “Okay, don’t panic, it’s going to be fine.” Great start, ha. “They don’t have our reservation, but we’re on it and finding another place.”

We had booked our favorite restaurant, Carmen, and since they wouldn’t seat such a large party, had our planner call multiple times booking tables for 8 or 10 under different names so we could indeed seat everyone. Or so we thought.

When I arrived our planners were huddled in a corner, apparently looking back through their emails, rather than finding a new solution. Meanwhile our friends had gone out hunting, came back with a place around the corner, and I informed my planners we had handled it and were leaving.

The restaurant we ended up at, Mardeleva, was lovely. Flamingo wallpaper, live music, and friends declaring it was the best food they had eaten.

After dinner we headed to Casa Pestagua for drinks, desserts and the opportunity for anyone who wanted to share something.

The first day we arrived I walked all around the venue with the planner explaining how I wanted things for the rehearsal party, reception the following day, etc. It ended up being a wasted afternoon as she either wrote nothing down, remembered nothing, or didn’t pass any information on.

My vision for the rehearsal night was a large yet cozy living room. An intimate space where anyone could stand up to speak, while people felt free to get up for more drinks and food. I had laid out the room in a semi circle… and arrived to the exact opposite. Every chair and couch pushed directly up against the wall so far apart no one would be able to hear each other.

I thus asked guests to please exit the room.

Wait, again.

And began rearranging furniture myself with the help of bridesmaids and male guests. (The women standing against the wall doing nothing, are the planners.)

(Aside: I hesitate how many of these mishaps to share. There were so many. I don’t want it to overshadow the joy in spite of it all. Yet feel for any past or future bride who had disappointments, things she poured time and money into, not honored by the people she hired to honor them, it would be a disservice not to share, so I’m trying to do so as honestly and elegantly as possible.)

We welcomed everyone in a second time to a feast of small desserts. I printed off photos of our married guests, along with framed photos of our parents and grandparents. I thought if I was at a wedding I would be thrilled for others to get to see our photo, my dress. And it was of course hilarious to see photos of those who had been married 10 or 40 years as style time capsules.

Our moms welcomed everyone first with their toasts, then any friends were welcome to grab the mic. I surprised Jeremy as sadly THREE of his groomsmen weren’t able to make it to the wedding. Two with visa issues, and one due to a pregnancy. So I invited them to record their toasts, which we watch on a television rolled in.

The night ended with one of my parents’ oldest friends Nick saying to another dear old friend Rhonda, “We both prayed at Ashley’s wedding (my sister), I think it would be appropriate to do the same”. Everyone gathered around and laid hands on us.

Then I read this quote in closing, thanking everyone for coming to celebrate with us, and sharing that our hope is people present would be for us what Nick, Rhonda and their spouses have been for my parents – experiencing births, children’s weddings, deaths and traveling the world throughout life together.

“In friendship for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ can say to every group of Christian friends, "You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” CS Lewis

Finally, we were off to bed for just a few hours sleep. (To my fellow brides, I’ve learned now with two weddings not to panic if you barely sleep the night before. Your adrenaline carries you through!)

We had one more beautiful free day on Monday, spending more quality time laying around the pool with our people. But first, there was a beautiful wedding day, coming in the next post...

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