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A Hint of Tropical Nostalgia at This Colombian Wedding in Santa Marta

By Alexandra Macon | Photography by 

Nicolas Fernandez of Efeunodos

It was love at first sight for financial broker Alejandro Velez, who first spotted Natalia Zapata, a marketing manager at Verdi Design, when they were both living in Bogota and had several friends in common. “He had seen me in pictures and at a couple of parties and had asked around for my number—but he now denies it!” she says. When he finally did reach out, Natalia was away on a trip, but several texts later, they met up for dinner and clicked immediately. “What I had thought would be a simple dinner date soon turned into hours of sharing life stories over wine,” she adds. “The night ended in the inevitable Colombian way: aguardiente shots and dancing!”

Four years later, the two took a road trip up the California coast and ended up in Napa Valley, where they spent a sunny day hoping from one winery to the next. Their last stop was a Clos Du Val, a family-owned vineyard, where a special wine tasting awaited. “We were sent to a little desolated table outside and before sitting down it finally hit me and I started crying before he could even speak!” Natalia says. “He cracked up and pulled out a little black box from his pocket.”

After settling on having their wedding in Santa Marta, Natalia hired planner Maria Ximena Duran and decorator Andrés Cortés to help transform the traditional Club Santa Marta into a tropical seaside wedding venue. “We used tiny lights, branches, and green to create a romantic outdoorsy feeling,” she says. “We also added blue accents, like linens and vases on differently decorated tables, to preserve the beachy vibe.”

Natalia had previously worked with Colombian designer Johanna Ortiz, so she knew from the start she wanted to wear one of her bridal dresses. Since Ortiz now works with Moda Operandi on her bridal collections, she rarely makes custom gowns anymore, but luckily for Natalia, she made an exception for her former employee. Natalia was sure she wanted something romantic with a vintage feel, and despite Santa Marta’s warm weather, she was also set on long sleeves and a dramatic cleavage. “Aside from the pearled buttons and back with small ties, my favorite detail was the untrimmed hem in the ruffles, which gave the dress a subtle messy touch,” the bride says. She finished off her look with Tabitha Simmons heels, her great-grandmother’s pearls with cluster diamonds, and a tiny sapphire ring band that her mother gave her as her “something blue.” And for the traditional hora loca later in the night, Natalia wore a straw and pearl Magnetic Midnight headpiece.

The day of the ceremony, the couple tied the knot at a cathedral in Santa Marta’s historic center. A family priest delivered an emotional ceremony and a choir sang throughout the mass. “I was nervous, excited, and emotional,” she says. “We both just talked and talked and laughed until even the priest had to quiet us down!”

Dinner and dancing followed at Club Santa Marta, where guitarists greeted guests at the entrance, while a DJ and a band took turns performing music from 10:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. “In Colombia, dancing the waltz at the beginning of the party is a very common tradition but we wanted nothing of that,” Natalia explains. “We opened the dance floor with a salsa song that we love, “Cada Dia Que Pasa,” which translates to ‘every day that goes by.’ ”

As you can tell, dancing was a large part of the evening’s festivities, so it was only logical that the hora loca was one of the bride’s favorite moments of the night. “Alejandro is from Manizales, a traditional city in the Colombian mountains where bull fighting is a big part of the culture, so we started the hora loca with a song from there and a neon capote,” she says. A traditional band from the coast (where Natalia hails from) called a papayera followed, while men were given handwoven hats and ponchos from Manizales, and the ladies were handed long colorful skirts and bouganvillea headpieces from Santa Marta. “It was all about mixing traditions from our two cities,” Natalia says. Sounds like the start to a long and healthy marriage.