Chloe Leung and Garrett Cuff knew they wanted their destination wedding to be unforgettable. “We’re a pretty adventurous couple,” says Garrett, an engineer at an oil company. “We do a big trip each year [for] three or four weeks and go to a few countries at once, and wanted to share that experience with our family and friends.” They never even considered getting married near their home in Calgary, Canada, nor did they want a typical all-inclusive Caribbean or Mexican resort. Seeking a real thrill, they opted instead for a country—and in Garrett’s case, a continent—they’d never seen before their nuptials.
But if adventure is one thing they care for deeply, another is aesthetics; Chloe is an interior designer. Trying to communicate her bridal vision across 6,000 miles and a language barrier was difficult, but she found a way: “I made a 12-page presentation for my wedding planner, focused on decor more than anything else,” says Chloe. “This is what I want. How can we make it happen?”
Ahead, the couple explain how they plotted their aesthetically cool celebration at a vineyard one hour away from Santiago, Chile, for 40 guests last December.
Fall in love with the destination
The couple knew off the bat that they were interested in South America. “I first touched South America in 2007, when I went to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands, and I’ve been to Peru and Argentina since then. I just fell in love with the culture and people in these places,” says Chloe. “I wanted to share the beauty of South America with my friends and family.” In their research, they found themselves drawn to Chile in particular. “I've always loved the Patagonia region, and the Atacama Desert just looked so cool,” says Chloe. The country offered a hip capital city in Santiago, nearby beaches, stunning mountainscapes, an abundant wine country, and the opportunity to pursue their hobbies of hiking (Chloe) and golf (Garrett).
Amid the four days of wedding activities they planned for their guests was an afternoon of either wine tasting with the bride or golfing with the groom. Since it was such a long haul from Canada and the U.S., many of the group extended their trips into other parts of South America. “A lot of our friends went to Peru and saw Machu Picchu, some others hiked Patagonia, and some went off to Brazil or Argentina,” Chloe says. The motivation for attending their wedding led many to create once-in-a-lifetime trips.
Find a bilingual wedding planner
Pretty early on, the pair knew they were interested in getting married in Chile’s beautiful wine region, much of which is conveniently located within a short drive from Santiago. Once they started reaching out to wineries, though, they quickly realized they might be in over their heads.
“I realized this was going to be harder than I imagined,” says Chloe, who didn’t hear back from many of them and couldn’t communicate in Spanish with others. They couldn’t find a Canadian wedding planner who felt comfortable producing an event in Chile, so Chloe researched Chilean event experts instead, and clicked with Cintia Coelho of Destination Wedding Chile.
“She coordinated everything and helped me find every single one of the vendors and tradespeople we used, except for our photographer,” Chloe says. In fact, Cintia’s local expertise led them toward working with essentially two big vendors—Luz Bendita Eventos and Laura Vivanco Implementación Para Eventos—which streamlined email communications, bills, and design discussions.
Locate the Goldilocks vineyard
While they loved the indoor-outdoor dynamic a vineyard venue would offer the event, Garrett says, Chloe was focused on finding a place that was not too stereotypically rustic, but not too contemporary and cold, either. They zeroed in on just the place in Casas del Bosque, a vineyard located in Casablanca known for its gorgeous views of the mountains. “We really liked the setting for the ceremony in particular, with a view of the whole Casablanca wine valley,” says Garrett. “That was pretty incredible.”
Do guests the favor of keeping an eye on flights
Once they’d decided on Chile as their destination, the couple shared the news with their loved ones one year in advance, then set up flight alerts. Over the next few months, whenever they’d spot a good deal on the most common route to their wedding (Calgary to Houston to Santiago), they would share it with guests. Beyond that and a group rate at the W Hotel Santiago, their wedding website helped with additional information around dates and an estimate of overall costs, says Garrett.
“A good 50 percent of our friends and family were new to traveling this far,” says Chloe, “so I just wanted it to be easy on them.”
Connect with a photographer you love
The couple didn’t love the style they saw from many of the wedding photographers available in the Santiago and Casablanca areas, but wouldn’t settle for one they didn’t click with. In a happy accident amid the planning process, and during a trip to the Maldives, they happened to observe a fellow resort guest taking a careful photo of a seashell with a professional camera. “We struck up a conversation and he showed me his portfolio,” says Chloe of meeting Tony and Char Perez, a photographer couple based in Sacramento, CA, who travel to shoot destination weddings as Charp Lenz Photography. “I hired them on the spot, like: ‘Are you willing to come to Chile in December?’”
It turned out the photographers were actually quite attached to Chile, where they once tried to live, so they were game to return. “I don’t know what happened, but I put it out to the universe and in came Char and Tony,” Chloe says.
Watch out for logistical money headaches
One challenge in planning the wedding emerged as the couple tried to pay their vendors. “The Chilean government is really worried about money laundering, so the limit you can send is fairly low by Canadian and U.S. standards—just a few thousand dollars,” Garrett explains. “When you're booking out a venue, that's not that much.”
The pair handled this by breaking their payments into smaller chunks, though this resulted in more global transfer and foreign transaction fees, not to mention losses on the conversion. “There were a lot of odd hoops to jump through,” the groom says, but neither the couple nor their planner could figure out another way around them.
Acclimate your vision to the possibilities
That 12-page vision board that the interior-designer bride created came in handy when local vendors couldn’t quite grasp the wedding aesthetic she was looking for. “I wanted to make a very elegant, but moody garden, with black and white and greenery, instead of the more expected bold colors that we kept seeing,” she says. Guests were even asked to wear black for chic photos. Yet, their vendors’ portfolios were full of those bold hues, as well as one trendy botanical, again and again: “They wanted me to use pampas grass, and I’m not a very bohemian person,” Chloe says.
To lock down their look, Chloe met virtually with the couple’s florist, Laura Vivanco, who pulled up every type of white and green flower that would be coming into season in the month of their wedding.
Celebrate the local food and culture
Though the couple may have eschewed the bolder color palette, they welcomed the delicious local cuisine for their wedding meal, which was catered by the vineyard’s restaurant. Chilean specialties were mixed in with more continental fare for the passed hor d’oeuvres; the appetizer was ceviche, mains were local beef or fish, and the dessert table was laden with several local desserts, including a crowd-favorite passionfruit panna cotta. “Because I didn't want one cake, I wanted five,” Chloe laughs.
In addition, the couple hired a pair of la cueca folk dancers to perform a traditional number at their welcome party, as well as local string quartet Coro Contrapunto to play during the ceremony. A nearby band led by musician Chris Roth played an acoustic set during the cocktail hour, and the DJ, JRF Eventos, mixed in a few Chilean hits during the reception.
Arrive (very) early
As meticulous as Chloe was in some aspects of wedding planning, the couple was pretty relaxed in others. Perhaps the greatest example? They held off on visiting Chile—not for a planning trip, not to check out the venue—until just before their wedding. “I'm a free spirit when it comes to a lot of things, especially travel,” says the bride. “I wasn't really stressed at all with any of this because I truly trusted Cintia.”
They did arrive early for their event, however, two weeks before the big day, to knock out some final details. During that time, they tasted their catering and made final menu decisions, walked through the venue, and finally met Cintia and her team. Their wedding ultimately went off without a hitch, and the newlyweds wholeheartedly encourage any other couples pondering a Chilean celebration to go for it. “It's worth it. That was an amazing week,” says Garrett. “I was thrilled with how it went.”
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler