San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Toucans Mate for Life: Weddings with a Twist

Weddings in Costa Rica have varied inlocation from waterfalls to butterfly farms and, of course, the sunset at the beach.


IT may have been a little abnormal, but things just felt right for Christa Yakel with her bouquet clutched in her hand as she followed her future husband, Rafael Calderon, along a path at Monte de la Cruz to their wedding ceremony spot in the mountains above Heredia, north of San José.

“It just seemed so appropriate,” Yakel recalls. “There was my future husband walking in front of me … as a toucan.”

The birds captivated the couple after they spotted them on a canopy tour during a vacation in 2001. The pair were struck by the bird’s beauty and “we are just a little goofy and thought it would be funny,” said Yakel, a Dallas, Texas native.

“The idea of getting married as toucans seemed to fit our personalities versus a traditional wedding,” she said.

Although Yakel and Calderon are just one of the hundreds of couples looking for alternative ways to get married and are choosing Costa Rica as the destination, dressing as toucans proved more challenging than they had originally thought.

“We looked all over for costumes,” Yakel said.

They couldn’t find anyone who carried what they were looking for and in their search saw that renting costumes was going to be expensive. The couple talked to a seamstress, giving her a stuffed toucan for inspiration. After adding two pairs of orange tights to the ensemble, the couple was ready to go.

ON the big day, the wedding toucans – he was also wearing an oversize bow tie and she had a small veil sewn on to the top of her toucan head – walked into the ceremony dressed as the tropical birds, much to their guests’ surprise.

“The fact that no one knew and seeing their faces was the best part,” Calderon said. “They were all dressed up thinking it was formal.”

Other Costa Rican weddings are more formal and in recent years, the wedding industry in Costa Rica has experienced a boom. Whereas before the choices were primarily a Catholic church wedding or simple civil ceremony, now couples can get married wherever and however their hearts desire.

“I think Costa Rica is one of the best places in the world to host a wedding,” said Aimee Monihan, a wedding planner with more than nine years experience. “You get a special feeling here that you don’t find in other places.”

In 1999, Monihan moved to Costa Rica not long after graduating from ColoradoStateUniversity and two years later started Tropical Occasions (TT, June 29, 2001.)

Since then, Monihan has helped hundreds of couples plan everything from an intimate ceremony with a total attendance of four to weddings with a few hundred guests.

THE beach is always going to be the leader,” Monihan said of the popular locations. “It’s just quintessential Costa Rica with the sunsets and waves crashing behind you.”

For years, Manuel Antonio was the beach wedding destination of choice. However, Monihan notes that Guanacaste beaches are experiencing a surge, something she attributes to the increased number of flights into Liberia and the opening of resorts that can handle larger groups.

For people looking for something away from the beach, options are virtually limitless. From butterfly gardens to waterfalls to the rainforest, ideal and picture-perfect locations in Costa Rica abound. Some companies, such as Costa Rica Expeditions offer wedding and honeymoon expeditions as well as wilderness weddings. Other couples have said “I do” on canopy tours and at the foot of a volcano.

WITH the increase in weddings comes an increase in the merging of cultures and traditions.

“I recently did a two-and-a-half hour Hindu wedding ceremony,” Monihan said. The event involved everything from setting up the mandap (a four pole canopy under which the ceremony takes place) to flying in a maharaja (a high-ranking member in the Hindu faith community) to conduct the ceremony.

On another occasion, Monihan booked a mariachi band to play “Masel Tov” for a Jewish-Latino couple.

Perhaps most interesting is that, of the surging number of North American couples getting married in Costa Rica, Monihan estimates 80% have never even been to the country and don’t know exactly what to expect. In cases like these, or for couples who are planning their wedding from abroad or those who don’t know where to start, having a wedding planner can be extremely helpful, Monihan said.

WEDDING planners can do as little or as much as you want them to. They already have contacts for flowers, catering, entertainment, photographers and everything else a couple would need to put on a wedding. The planner also helps take care of all the legalities involved for the marriage.

Stacey Benham chose Costa Rica for her wedding after having vacationed here a year earlier.

“We chose Costa Rica because of all that it has to offer,” she said.

“There’s a lot of adventure and we thought it would be a fun spot to bring our family and friends.”

BENHAM said she used Tropical Occasions to take care of the details because planning the wedding from Boulder, Colo. would be difficult. From planning the ceremony and reception on the beach at Manuel Antonio to getting all 50 guests to Costa Rica and to the wedding, Benham said having someone else to help take care of the details made the experience enjoyable.

However, with the growth in the industry, some people have gone into wedding planning, but might lack the credentials, Monihan warned. Asking for references can help make sure things go as planned.

“It’s a special day,” Monihan said.

“It’s crucial that you check references.”

Of course, in the end, the most important thing for a dream wedding is finding the love of your life. Something Yakel and Calderon are sure they’ve done.

HIS dad said that it’s a good thing we found each other because no other bride would dress up as a toucan,” Yakel said.

“And he’s right. I guess it just shows that we were meant to be together.”

To contact Tropical Occasions, call 249-0773 or see


Nothing ruins your wedding day more than finding out your marriage won’t be legal. Luckily, not much is required, but here’s what you need to ensure all the paper work is in order:

A certificate of marital status is required to prove you are single, divorced or widowed and must be certified by the Costa Rica consulate where you live. Copies of your birth certificates and police records must also be certified by the consulate. In addition, you will need to present passports valid for six months.

If marrying a Costa Rican, he or she will need their cedula (indentification card) and a marital status certificate from the Civil Registry.

A Catholic ceremony is the only other option aside from a civil ceremony that is independently recognized. A civil ceremony is required for all non-Catholic ceremonies for the marriage to be valid.



Comments are closed.