There's something to be said for having an island wedding with a "castaway" feeling, but it's not easy to achieve that and still give your guests the kind of luxurious accommodations that many of them crave when they travel to a tropical destination. Frequently, choosing a remote-feeling destination wedding location means having to ask your guests to make compromises. Unless you choose to get married on Palomino Island.
Palomino Island is one of only three privately-owned islands in Puerto Rico. It's just a little over 200 acres, and it has been owned by the same family for generations. The vast majority of the island has been rented to the Waldorf Astoria's El Conquistador Resort, a popular destination wedding venue on the east end of Puerto Rico, about an hour's drive from San Juan.
While El Conquistador's gardens and terraces on the cliff overlooking the water (and Palomino Island) are popular ceremony locations, for brides seeking a beach ceremony in an unforgettable locale, the resort has a very special treat for them on the shores of its private island.
There's a ferry that runs between the resort and the island every 30 minutes, free to guests of the hotel. It's only a 15-minute trip each way, and many couples choose to get married on the private island, and take their wedding pictures there, before returning to the resort for a fabulously posh reception. Choosing to get married before the regular ferries stop running at 5:30 pm keeps your budget in check, as all of your guests will travel to and from your ceremony for free. But not to worry, El Conquistador has kept the rates reasonable if you choose to charter your return trip so that you can capture sunset in your wedding photos.
For brides and grooms attracted to the Gilligan's Island-vibe of Palomino Island, it's possible to rent the entire private island for your wedding festivities. As in, you can get married on a beautiful Caribbean island that is entirely yours for the evening, and treat your guests to a fabulous tropical experience that is unlike anything they can experience anyplace else.
Just because Palomino evokes a castaway feeling doesn't mean your wedding ceremony or reception has to be any less elegant and sophisticated than you want. El Conquistador and its recommended vendors have designed numerous elaborate weddings, and other special events, on Palomino. You can have as many bells and whistles as your budget allows. For those who choose the private island for its Jimmy Buffet-esque appeal, you can stick with that theme and keep it casual while your guests party all night long. On a PRIVATE island that you and your fiancé have rented for your entire wedding night.
Kamil Rivera Lopez, a catering sales manager at El Conquistador who plans weddings, explains that brides and grooms can literally have anything they want catered to their wedding reception on Palomino.
"We take everything over to the island on the ferries, and set it up exactly as the clients imagined it would look," Kamil says. The only caveat to her "anything you want and can afford" policy is elephants. The resort is popular for Indian weddings, and she's had that request more than once. There are no elephants available for rent in Puerto Rico. However, Palomino Island is equipped with beautiful horses that are frequently brought into service for wedding ceremonies and photo shoots.
There are many lovely destination wedding venues on tropical islands, but El Conquistador is the only one in the Caribbean that boasts a private island that can be used exclusively by wedding couples for their wedding festivities. And since El Conquistador itself is located on the island of Puerto Rico, brides and grooms who choose Palomino Island as their wedding destination are getting married on an island, located off of an island. It makes their destination doubly special.
Another added bonus is the fact that this resort is in Puerto Rico, which means your wedding guests won't need passports for the trip, and they can use U.S. currency for their expenses. Don't forget to check out the off-season rates—while temperatures in the continental United States become unbearable in the summertime, El Conquistador has stunning views and spectacular breezes on its cliffs year round.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events and author of How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show Wedding Island, about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques.