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An Elevated Summer Oceanfront Wedding in Cartagena

By Cathleen Freedman | Photography by 

Bruno Rezza

|Planning by 

Robbins Otoya Destinations

Valerie Cohen was at a business lunch with her colleagues when the waiter brought her a plate of sliced watermelon. The waiter explained that a young man at another table sent it. Moments later, tech entrepreneur and today’s CEO of Rappi Simón Borrero stepped forward, introduced himself as the stranger, and asked Valerie out on a date. She was completely charmed.

After five years together, the couple spent New Year’s Eve with Valerie’s family on the Barú island off the coast of Cartagena. That morning, Valerie woke up to a plate full of watermelon for breakfast. Simón asked Valerie to close her eyes. When she opened them, she saw Simón down on one knee in front of the rolling ocean. He proposed, and she said yes. Suffice to say, that evening’s New Year’s celebration was particularly memorable.

Before planning their wedding, both Simón and Valerie knew that their nuptials would have an oceanside view. A glowing sunset over the water was a necessity. They originally chose Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic for their venue but postponed twice because of COVID-19. The couple’s planners, Matthew Robbins and Luis Otoya of Robbins Otoya Destinations, suggested that they buy out the Hotel Las Islas, located on the same island the couple got engaged. Luis and Matthew discovered a small nearby island where they could turn Simón and Valerie’s vision into a reality. Matthew Robbins Designs created the wedding day florals, while Cartagena Mágica arranged them.

For her bridal ensemble, Valerie wanted something romantic, flowing, but comfortable above all else. She always admired Monique Lhuillier‘s designs, so she tried on a few gowns right away. With several alterations to make her dress lighter and sheerer, she found “the one.” Instead of a veil, Valerie brought drama to her look with a dramatic train. Her jewelry was all created by her friends behind Rituaal Jewelry. Colombian celebrity hair and makeup artist Victor Abril styled Valerie’s beauty for the weekend. Valerie knows how much Simón loves her hair down, so Victor kept her hair free and loose for the wedding.

Simón wore a custom linen suit crafted by Colombian designer Lina Cantillo. And later on for the after-party, the bride changed into a short backless fringe dress by Colombian designer Jorge Duque. She topped the look off with a singular white flower in her hair.

On August 15, 2o21, the children in Simón and Valerie’s families walked down the aisle in linen ensembles. All of the couple’s family members and friends gathered for an ocean-front view as a sumptuous sunset covered the sky. Georgette performed. The ceremony was truly personalized and officiated by Valerie’s cousin and Simón’s cousin. The mother of the bride, the mother of the groom, the maid of honor, and the best man offered a few heartfelt words before the couple exchanged vows and rings. “It felt like magic was in the air,” Valerie recalls. “Everything was so perfect. It was just surreal.”

During the ceremony, guests wrote personal messages to the couple, wishing them a happily ever after. Simón and Valerie still have these notes in a box that stays at home. They read the excerpts whenever they want to be reminded of this day and the love their friends and family have for them.

The reception soon followed. This was the first time Simón and Valerie saw the tent, and they were overwhelmed by the dreamy landscape. “You could feel the breeze, the waves of the ocean, and all the beautiful energy of so many happy people around us,” Valerie says. Chef Juan Felipe Camacho of Restaurante Donjuan crafted an inventive menu of Greek salad, grilled octopus with patatas bravas, and sea bass over lime risotto. Elsy de Figueroa concocted the dessert of tres leches and other small bites.

Music filled the night. The Fausto Chatella Band, The Faces, DJ Andrés Macía, and Shonny y el Hijo del Búho played for guests. The couple’s first dance to Jerry Rivera’s “Dame un Beso Así” was the bride’s favorite part of the whole party. The legendary Grupo Niche band, who Valerie deems as the “Kings of Salsa,” regaled the crowd and kept the dancing going all night long. The after-party even saw the sunrise on the terrace that morning. The newlyweds and a few of their closest friends reconvened for breakfast with arepas de huevos.