What to Expect: Yucatan, Campeche and Chiapas are all card-carrying members of the Mundo Maya, or the Mayan World. Today, these states are home to formidable reminders of this powerful ancient culture, as well as beautiful echoes of the European influences that followed.
Wedding Bells: Somewhat lesser known than the colonial heart of the Yucatan, the coastline along the emerald-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico can offer brides unique venues that bring the beach factor into the mix. Taking its cue from the area’s sense of pride in its amazing ecotourism offerings, Xixim Unique Mayan Hotel (formerly Hotel Ecoparaiso; hotelxixim.com) is located about five miles north of Celestun. An eco-retreat with 24 jr. and eight master suites, couples can marry and enjoy a reception in total eco-chic style with a dedicated staff on-hand to coordinate every aspect of their beach wedding in Mexico. Among its packages is a Mayan ceremony with a civil (legal) component, which means two altars on the beach, all coordination and unlimited consultations with their wedding planner, transfers to and from Merida, a 2-night stay in an oceanfront Master Bungalow and much more (excludes banquet, pre-nuptial reception and guest transfers/accommodations) for $3,850. Book 30 rooms for three nights and a banquet for 100 and the package is gratis.
Merida, the capital of Yucatan, is a city of modern conveniences wrapped in a beautifully restored colonial exterior. With just seven rooms, Casa Lecanda (casalecanda.com) is a perfect example. Located in the heart of the historic district, its meticulous restoration included built-in creature comforts like air conditioning, flat-screen TVs, WiFi, iHome iPod docking stations and more. Fresh flowers, murmuring fountains and unobtrusive yet impeccable service create an ambiance of Old World romance, making it the perfect setting for an intimate wedding. Casa Lecanda can book a wedding party and work closely with brides to custom-tailor the package of their dreams, or host a couple looking for a unique anniversary celebration or honeymoon experience in Yucatan. Room rates start at $170 for an exquisite patio room.
Some of the city’s outlying haciendas, built during the state’s once-thriving sisal trade, have also received their share of loving care and attention, becoming a unique class of accommodations unto themselves. A member of Mexico Boutique Hotels, Hacienda Xcanatun (xcanatun.com) has received numerous awards and accolades for its service and attention to detail, the same attention owner Christina Baker lavishes on brides. Valid through Dec. 20, 2013, its new 2-night Hacienda of Your Own wedding package allows couples to make the restored 18th century hacienda their own to share privately with 34 of their guests. The package includes exclusive use of the hacienda’s accommodations, facilities and grounds along with a staff focused on making wedding fantasies come true, starting at $16,995. The wedding ceremony can take place in the restored family chapel, for example, the 3-course gourmet meal can combine continental, fusion Yucatecan or European treats, there’s a multi-tiered wedding cake and more. The icing on the cake, so to speak, is a stay in the bi-level honeymoon suite with a wrap-around terrace, all artfully prepared for a romantic wedding night.
The Haciendas (thehaciendas.com), part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ The Luxury Collection, also tops the list of Yucatan—and nearby Campeche’s—unique historic wedding venues. The three properties in Yucatan (Hacienda Temozon, Hacienda San Jose and Hacienda Santa Rosa) and the two in Campeche (Hacienda Uayamon and Hacienda Puerta Campeche) combine the European elegance of days gone by with traditions of the Maya, historical and contemporary, which are present in everything from the indigenous products used in the spas to the Mayan Wedding package ($370). This inspiring symbolic wedding is officiated by a Mayan priest, with the couple dressed in Mayan clothing (a beautifully embroidered huipil dress for her, a linen guayabera shirt for him). It includes an invitation to enter the Mandala flower, a reading, a ritual cleansing, the invocation of a Mayan blessing and the consecration, blessing and exchanging of the vows and rings. Traditional Catholic weddings can also be held onsite at the chapel at Hacienda Temozon or in any of the tiny local churches in the towns adjacent to the properties. You can use the services of outside coordinators or The Haciendas’ dedicated wedding coordinators, who can take care of the entire event from beginning to end for $3,000 (plus taxes) or simply be on-hand on the actual day of the wedding to ensure every detail is managed correctly for $1,500.
A mixture of colonial and pre-Hispanic cultures with the distinction of hosting seven out of the nine most representative ecosystems in the country and 46 protected natural areas, Chiapas is an excellent choice for brides looking for a true alternative wedding. Though you will find sleek modernity (and complete wedding coordinator services) in the capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez at the five-star Camino Real (caminoreal.com), a look at the Parador San Juan de Dios (sanjuandios.com) in San Cristobal de las Casas is certainly worth it. With only 12 suites and rooms, the architecture of this tiny inn dates back to the 17th and 19th centuries. It’s made from adobe bricks and stone, with enormous tiled roofs and marvelous gardens. Hand-carved furniture, fine linens and restored antiques mix it up in the rustic-chic decor. Onsite personnel can take care of every detail for an intimate wedding, including a beautiful white tent setup in the gardens with dance floor and all.
Sightseeing: Once called the “Paris of the West,” the “White City” of Merida is an elegant alternative for weddings. In this charming city, horse-drawn carriages carry couples down tree-lined boulevards past an eclectic mixture of beautifully restored Spanish and French colonial architecture. Elaborate mansions stand in mute testimony to the wealth of the 16th century, when henequen (sisal) plantations dominated the land. The principal plaza is decorated with Indian laurel trees, wrought iron benches and fanciful shops. You’ll find Merida’s fine restaurants, lively nightlife and excellent accommodations make it a good base from which to explore the outlying Mayan archaeological sites and nature preserves. According to Linda Schramm from DMC Amigo Yucatan (amigoyucatan.com.mx), the most popular tour for wedding groups is Chichen Itza with a visit to a cenote (freshwater sinkhole) for a swim and lunch. Other popular tours include the Nature Reserve at Celestun and the working Hacienda Sotuta de Peon (also a hotel available for weddings; haciendaviva.com). AmigoYucatan handles tours to the ancient towns of Becal, Hecelchakan and the walled city of Campeche, as well.
Charming, pastel-colored downtown Campeche is a World Heritage site, so cameras are a must. The city has some of the best food in the state, with dishes such as fried oysters, wrapped pompano fish with achiote and a pinch of cumin, squid stuffed with shrimp, tamales stuffed with chaya leaf and boiled egg wrapped in banana leaves. It’s also the gateway to the Mayan ruins of Edzna, Calakmul, Balamku and more. Forty percent of Campeche’s territory has been declared a protected natural area and it has two biosphere reserves. Outfitters like Ecoturismo Carey (ecoturismocarey.com) and Edzna Operadora Turistica & DMC (edzna.com.mx) offer couples and their party tours to spots like the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and the Petenes Biosphere Reserve, which alone cover over 3,800 sq. miles filled with spectacular landscapes and an amazing array of flora and fauna.
Located in the southern part of the country, Chiapas is a remarkable montage of climates and ecosystems, rich in archaeological treasures and predominantly indigenous. Stays in rustic cabins deep in the Lacandon jungle can include cave explorations or river excursions. A point of departure for many a trek is the town of San Cristobal de las Casas, a lovely colonial town that is a vivid representation of a curious mix of Catholicism and indigenous beliefs. Surrounding towns such as San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan offer their own captivating glimpses into the lives of the Tzotzil and Tzeltal Indians, each with their own traditions and their own language—just two of the many tribes that call Chiapas home. This is also the site of the ruins of Palenque, Yaxchilan and Bonampak, the latter famous for its brightly colored murals, the best preserved in the Mayan World. Adventure Life (adventure-life.com)—committed to providing quality small group tours—takes active couples and their wedding party on a 9-day active trip that combines mountain biking, rafting, and hiking with visits to local villages, Mayan ruins, and remote rainforest.
Weather: Yucatan, Campeche and Chiapas share similar tropical weather patterns, with a humid climate with a defined rainy season and a relatively dry season from late winter to early spring. The temperature drops a bit in the winter, with winds making it chilly enough for a sweater at night. However, on the several mountain ranges near the center of the state of Chiapas (where San Cristobal de las Casas is located), it can be temperate to quite cold at night.