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Many couples opt for a destination wedding, but some are going a step further: They're having weddings with all the local customs and fanfare.

Hotels around the world now provide cultural weddings and vow renewals, such as a Hindu ceremony in India, a shaman-led Mayan celebration in Mexico or a traditional Maasai wedding in Tanzania.

Although they're typically not legally binding, the ceremonies have become a hit with adventure-seeking couples.

"We've seen a substantial pickup in the last two years," said John Reed, manager of Amankora Bhutan Paro, a resort in Paro Valley in Bhutan that offers Buddhist ceremonies in a nearby ancient temple. Last year the facility hosted some 20 Buddhist weddings and vow renewals, a record number. "Before it was a once-in-a-while event," Reed said.

Damari Rubio, 35, and Ian Lane, 32, of Houston had a shaman-led ceremony in January at Chable Resort & Spa in the Yucatán region of Mexico. The resort held nearly a dozen shaman weddings last year, according to Nicolas Dominguez, chief executive of Hamak Hotels, which operates the property.

Rubio, a glove designer, and Lane, who works in construction, said they wanted to exchange vows in a nontraditional way. "We had been to Mexico before and were fascinated with the Mayan culture," Lane said, "so it wasn't even a discussion about whether we should do this."

In the couple's ceremony, four celebrants played sacred ceremonial instruments, including a conch, and a shaman priest chanted blessings in Mayan. "We're not religious, but we're spiritual, and the ceremony embodied that," Rubio said.

Cultural weddings are likely to resonate with couples who don't have a strong affinity to any religion, said Lauren Kay, deputy editor of The Knot.


Jack Ezon, founder of Embark, a New York travel company specializing in destination weddings, said he planned more than a dozen cultural ceremonies last year, including one for 200 people in Marrakech, Morocco, where the bride gave a traditional Moroccan henna party before the wedding, and all the women received elaborate henna patterns painted on their hands and feet. He has another half-dozen in the works for this year.

Wedding planners, too, say that more of their clients are requesting cultural wedding ceremonies.

Colin Cowie, who runs Colin Cowie Lifestyle, an event design and production company with offices in New York and Los Angeles, planned 10 such events last year. The highlight was a 110-person wedding in November at Sabi Sands Game Reserve, in South Africa, where a sangoma (or healer) married the bride and groom. "It wasn't the textbook destination wedding where you basically change the date and the place," he said. "It was a ritual that reflected a sense of place."

As was the case with Lane and Rubio, couples will often choose a locale because they have an affinity to the culture or to the destination.

Following are some cultural wedding locations:

&Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

A safari lodge and wedding venue in one. The Maasai weddings here happen just before sunset on a hill overlooking the namesake crater. A Maasai from the nearby village of Endulen helps dress brides in traditional garb, including a silver beaded shuka, a beaded hat, bracelets, anklets and necklaces. Grooms can wear checkered shukas. Couples are escorted to the ceremony's site on a rose-petal-covered path by two dozen or so Maasai from the surrounding villages, singing Maasai wedding songs and carrying torches. They're married in the Maasai language by William Ole Seki, who is called an elder because he is regarded as a spiritual counselor and leader in his community. Starting cost: $1,700.

Chable Resort & Spa, Yucatán, Mexico

Having a shaman wedding at this 19th-century hacienda spread over 750 acres in the Mayan forest is a daylong affair. In the morning, brides have a 15-minute ceremony in a temazcal, or sweat lodge, that's heated to 110 degrees, where a shaman chants in Mayan and asks the gods to get rid of any disturbances they may have. An hour before the wedding, five Mayan women help dress the bride in a terno, a white dress embroidered with colorful flowers, and style her hair. Grooms wear a white linen shirt called a guayabera. The Mayans walk the couple to the property's cenote (or sinkhole), where the shaman marries them in a ceremony that includes music courtesy of four shaman musicians. The ritual incorporates yams, pumpkin seeds and other elements that are symbolic of unifying couples. Starting cost: $800.

Viceroy Riviera Maya, Mexico

This oceanfront resort's in-house shaman, Jose Colli, leads Mayan Kamnicté wedding ceremonies on the beach, which begin with couples exchanging daisy flower bracelets as two Mayan musicians play drums and blow from a conch shell. Colli, who comes from a long line of Yucatán shamans from the village of X-pichil, addresses the four cardinal points of the universe, asks permission to bless the couple and seals the union by strewing flower petals across the waves. Brides wear ternos, and grooms, guayaberas, or lightweight open-neck shirts. Starting cost: $350.

Amankora, Bhutan

Amankora's Buddhist weddings occur at Kyichu Lhakang, one of the most sacred temples in Bhutan. It was built in the seventh or eighth century as one of 108 temples across the Himalayas to pin down an evil ogress and has a spectacular view overlooking Mount Jomolhri and a valley dotted with pine forests. A Buddhist monk leads the ceremonies, which begin with couples exchanging white scarves or khaddars at the temple's entrance -- they're meant to bring good fortune and happiness. As the monk chants the wedding vows, he sprinkles couples with holy water to cleanse their minds and bodies and then asks them to light a series of butter lamps to dispel any darkness from their lives. A procession of more than a dozen local villagers donning colorful Bhutanese attire escort wedding parties out of the temple and back to the resort. Starting cost: $1,200.

The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur, India

Married couples can come to this Rajasthan property to renew their vows in a ceremony that's almost as elaborate as a full Indian wedding. To start the day, couples visit the spa to have their hands painted with henna patterns. The vow renewals happen in the late afternoon under the auspices of a pundit or Hindu priest at a 280-year-old Shiva Temple, situated on a small island in the center of the resort amid verdant greenery and redolent with orange marigolds. A dinner for two or for up to 100 follows the ceremony, complete with a trio of Indian musicians for entertainment. Rajvilas can also arrange for Indian wedding attire for couples -- a sari or lehenga for women and a kurta pajama for men. Starting cost: $1,400.

Koro Sun Resort, Fiji

The Fijian wedding ceremonies at this beachfront property take place amid a 90-acre rainforest. As is customary on the island, couples have the option to wear matching dresses made from softened mulberry tree bark and hand painted with black and brown patterns. They arrive at the site of the ceremony through a trail in the forest while sitting atop a coconut-wood chair that's carried by four members of a Fijian tribe. A local priest recites wedding vows in Fijian and blesses the newlyweds by having them sip kava, a drink made from an indigenous pepper plant. A pig-roast feast follows. Starting cost: $1,700.

Belmond Jimbaran Puri, Bali, Indonesia

Situated on pristine Tunjung Beach, this resort offers a typical Balinese ceremony in its bamboo pavilion, which is laden with fragrant pink and white frangipani flowers. A pemangku, or Balinese priest, marries couples in the Balinese language. The property also loans out traditional wedding clothes -- for brides that means a white lace blouse and skirt called a kebaya, and for grooms, it's a white linen shirt and pants. Starting cost: $2,600.

High Profile on 06/02/2019

Print Headline: Destination nuptials add cultural import


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