Cartagena is a port city in Colombia known for its beautifully preserved Spanish colonial architecture, historic squares, and quaint cobblestone streets—the kind of picturesque elements that make saying “I do” there special. Valentina Hernandez Botero, who was born in Bogotá and raised in South Florida, convinced George Dufournier, her boyfriend of five years, that it was just the spot for their nuptials. “I wanted to show my country to his family and have them experience everything I love about it,” she says of her French in-laws, who live in Paris, where George grew up and where he proposed in December 2017.
To that end, the couple—who met in 2012 as college students at a boat party in Miami—orchestrated three days’ worth of fun, blending age-old Colombian traditions with a distinctly modern approach. “We decided to focus on what was most important to us—making our guests feel like they were on the most amazing trip—and forget the rest.” What didn’t make the cut? A wedding cake, printed invitations (they used Paperless Post), and any florals beyond the bridal bouquet. Instead, they sprang for a band and a DJ, a four-course seated dinner, and an all-day beach party the day after the reception.
"Ever since I was little, I dreamed about a wedding in the magical city of Cartagena,” says the bride, whose dress was from Made With Love Bridal.
After getting ready in a modern suite at the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara, Valentina headed up to the roof for bridal portraits in the afternoon sunlight. She accessorized with a cathedral-length veil and pearl drop earrings that she found on Etsy.
“I had seven! My lucky number,” says Valentina about her bridesmaids, who dressed in blush tones.
For his wedding party, the groom chose “three men from three important phases of his life—high school, college, and present day.”
“Our motto is to always do the unexpected and create experiences that make people feel alive,” says Valentina of their destination wedding weekend.
The ceremony was held at Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría on Friday afternoon.
Valentina made a grand entrance alongside her father. George’s mother stood with him at the altar as he watched Valentina walk down the aisle.
Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría is a dramatically vaulted 17th-century church in the historic center of town. In an effort to showcase the venue's existing beauty, the couple opted to add minimal decor to the space.
The couple wrote their own vows. "It was the most special moment," Valentina recalls. "One thing I will always remember from George's vows was that I was a fearless woman. Tears!"
After their vows, the newlyweds ambled down the aisle to “I Say a Little Prayer”—performed by the bride’s sister, the recording artist Naty Botero.
Following the ceremony, the couple and their 130 guests took horse-drawn carriages to the reception at Sofitel Legend Santa Clara hotel, a former convent built in 1621.
Guests enjoyed cocktail hour on the hotel's terrace while George and Valentina slipped into the reception space for a preview of the night’s décor.
Inside the ballroom space, the couple created a “dreamy, tropical, and warm” environment by using tall arrangements of palm fronds and lots of candlelight—even without flowers!
“We had a big table with our best friends,” says Valentina. “It was the ultimate dinner party.” After dinner and lots of Champagne served by waiters dressed in monks’ robes—a unique hotel tradition—guests danced until midnight, or hora loca (“It translates to ‘crazy hour,’ ” says Valentina) when the party went into full-on carnival mode with drummers, dancers, feathered headdresses, and guaro shots until 4 a.m.
The next day, with the formalities behind them, the couple could relax with friends. And they did, heading to a house on the ocean for a “Just Married” bash. Not that there was much lazing around: “Our friends DJ’d for a full 12 hours—no joke!” says the bride. Everyone had plenty of energy thanks to enjoying another Colombian wedding custom the night before. “At about 2 a.m., waiters brought out soup called levante muerte—raise the dead. You sip on the broth and no hangovers, guaranteed!”
This story originally appeared in the August/September 2019 issue of Brides, on sale beginning July 2.
Ceremony Venue: Catedral de Santa Catalina Alejandría
Reception Venue: Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Hotel
Wedding Planner: CCC Event Planning
Bride's Shoes: Stuart Weitzman
Bride's Earrings: Etsy
Groom's Attire: Dior
Wedding Stationery: Paperless Post
Floral Design: Decorfiestas
Photography: Melissa Marshall
Videography: Valentina Quijada