Start Slideshow View Grid Start Slideshow 45

A Tropical Black Tie Wedding in Cartagena That Kicked Off with Salsa Dancing at Café Havana

By Shayna Seid | Photography by 

Sergio Sandoná and Marco Varchetta

Sophia Ahl, the woman behind the boutique travel consultancy Ahl Collective, and Jimmy Sloan were set up by their mutual friend, Thomas, when they were in college at the University of Virginia. After five years of dating, he proposed with a sapphire ring while the two were on holiday in Vienna. 

Because Sophia’s parents and grandparents were married in Colombia, where her mother’s family is from, it was a natural choice for their wedding. Cartagena, in particular, was a perfect meeting point for their Colombian and American friends. For their tropical black tie aesthetic, Matthew Robbins and Luis Otoya of the destination weddings and events company RobbinsOtoya made sure everything was traditional, fun, colorful, and full of local flavor. 

The weekend kicked off with a night of salsa dancing at Café Havana. “The bands that play there are always fantastic, and on this particular night, the club was packed with wedding guests and locals, which made for a great evening,” Sophia remembers. The next day, they hosted a beach party in Isla Baru, just outside the city. Sophia’s grandmother, Tita, brought hundreds of empanadas from Cali, and Evento y Cocina prepared three massive paellas for everyone to enjoy. DJ Martin D’Arce kept the party going all day with great samba music. 

Their rehearsal dinner was in the grand room of the historic Casa Pombo—a beautiful old mansion converted into a boutique hotel. After everyone was fed and toasts were given, the party continued at the Inquisition Palace. All cocktails were prepared by El Barón, and there was a cigar roller so that guests could try local Colombian cigars. “Later in the evening, Jimmy surprised me with a serenade given by a mariachi band, just as my dad did for my mom 30 years ago,” Sophia says. 

While Sophia had always dreamed of wearing a long-sleeve gown on her wedding day, the humidity and heat in Colombia were an obstacle. Thankfully, stylist Cynthia Smith, of Cynthia Cook Brides, stepped in, and they landed on a dress by Reem Acra. “The dress fit had the traditional long sleeves and high collar I had always wanted, but also felt light and airy,” Sophia explains. Her second dress was an ivory, silk Johanna Ortiz number, paired with her mother’s pearl choker. The groom wore a black tuxedo from Ermenegildo Zegna for the service and later changed into an ivory dinner jacket for the party.

By her side on the day-of, Sophia’s maids-of honor were in gowns by Silvia Tcherassi and Johanna Ortiz. And throughout the  weekend, Terrell Maurice kept Sophia’s makeup simple and light for each event. 

In the evening, the bride and her father made their way via carriage from Casa San Augustin to the cathedral. “People lined the streets to watch us go by; it was such a cool experience,” she remembers. After the ceremony, everyone headed to the reception at Baluarte San Ignacio on the walls of the old city. “The UNESCO World Heritage site was a blank slate for our wedding planners, who designed an impressive space full of tropical greenery and hanging orchids, against the backdrop of old Cartagena and the harbor.”

The newlyweds had their first dance to You’re All I Need to Get By by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Following the dance, my dad and I danced to ‘Come and Get Your Love’ by Redbone. Then, my brother stepped in and pretended to dance with me, but really just danced solo. It was one of the best moments of the night,” Sophia says.

After cutting the cake, the salsa band Ensamble Lírico of Cali came on. “Despite the fact that not everyone was familiar with salsa, everyone was on the dance floor,” the bride says. “The band played until midnight, and then DJ Martin switched over to disco through the early hours of the morning.”