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Chasing Waterfalls: How We (Spontaneously) Eloped in the Middle of a Cloud Forest in Costa Rica

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

Everything changed in March of 2020.

In a matter of days, we went from every day normality, to working from home, to a country-wide lockdown. We, like many couples, were thrown together and forced to make living and working at home the new normal, carving out space in our two bedroom apartment. While some found new hobbies to fill their days, our work only increased, as did our stress levels.

Normally in tough times, we look ahead to our planned or booked vacations in order to make it through. Unfortunately, the epic safari adventure we had booked for June of 2020 was immediately in question (and was later postponed, and postponed again), but we managed to make it through the dark days together, and unlike many couples in our circle, we thrived.

The one thing that kept us sane was going for walks. At first it would be only in our neighbourhood at night, when there were less people and later it would be destination hikes at nearby parks and forest trails. There is something about being engulfed by tall tress, following a rough path through the dense bush that relaxes and inspires us. One of our best hiking experiences was years earlier, through the Santa Elena cloud forest in Monteverde, Costa Rica. A five-hour solo hike, following a barely-marked path through thick greenery. It was spectacular.

Santa Elena Cloud Forest, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Santa Elena Cloud Forest, Monteverde, Costa Rica

After a full year, with vaccines now available and things looking a little better, we decided to take a risk and book a trip to Costa Rica in late October 2021, knowing that it could be cancelled at any time. At least it was something to look forward to. Understanding that travel post-Covid19 would be different, we felt going (back) to Costa Rica made the most sense. It was somewhere familiar and relaxing. We could rent a house on the beach, rent a car for the duration, and stay as far away from people as possible.

In the two-weeks before we left, our flight was finally confirmed (though they did change the return flight several times). We opted for an Air Canada business class flight, again to be around less people and be as comfortable as possible, where we were required to show proof of vaccination and wear masks throughout the five-hour flight (except when eating or drinking). The cabin stayed eerily quiet, until meal times when passengers felt free/er to speak. It was during one of those meals that we overheard another couple discussing their plan to elope in Costa Rica. In all the years we have travelled back to Costa Rica, why have we never thought of that?

Something sparked, and we began discussing how perfect that would be for us. No fuss, no ceremony, no stress, just us. Neither of us had ever felt the need to get married. We were together and knew we would spend our lives intertwined, but never needed the piece of paper to "make it official". Being the center of attention makes us both very uncomfortable, so the extravagant fairy tale wedding was always out of the question. We were happy, but the lockdowns and panic of the global pandemic shone a bright light on how good we really were together. We still didn't need the document, but we now wanted it.

Direct path to the beach from our house in Playa Grande, Costa Rica
Direct path to the beach from our house in Playa Grande, Costa Rica

Without staged proposals or flashy engagement rings, we decided to look into it once we landed, and quickly discovered that to legally be wed in Costa Rica as a foreigner, all you need are two witnesses, valid passports and either a priest or a lawyer to officiate. That's it. Maybe we can pull this off. After unpacking and settling into our beach-front house in Playa Grande, we began searching for a lawyer and a photographer.

Though we loath being in front of the camera, we knew we needed to mark the day, and though we are both photographers, we couldn't do both. We found a local photographer, Joice Dahianna Ruiz Soto, who responded quickly and was available on the dates we were thinking. We booked three weeks in Playa Grande, but we longed to return to cloud forests of Monteverde, so also booked a few nights up in the mountains. If there was a way to elope amongst those trees, we wanted to do it.

Sunset on the beach at Playa Grande, Costa Rica
Sunset on the beach at Playa Grande, Costa Rica

It was Joice who made everything happen. She happened to be affiliated with El Tigre Waterfalls, a protected area of cloud forest in Monteverde, known for its extensive forest hiking trails and beautiful waterfalls. She spoke to them about the possibility of us getting married in the park and they were so thrilled with the idea of hosting their first wedding on the premises, the offered it free of charge (but we paid them anyway). Joice also connected us with a lawyer, Einar, who would not only handle all of the paperwork, but join us on the hike and officiate the wedding.

Within a few days, it was all set. We found a local jeweler in Tamarindo, EK Art Jewelry, who created unique pieces of jewelry in pure silver, inspired by nature. The owner overheard us while perusing in the shop and offered to customize and engrave the rings for us in time for the ceremony. This is really happening.

All that was left to do was tell our friends and family (or rather decide if we were going to tell them before or after). Sitting in the living room of our beach house in Playa Grande, we exchanged calls, texts and chats with friends and family back home. Some were confused, but most were thrilled (much more than we had anticipated).

Our wedding rings by EK Art Jewelry, Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Our wedding rings by EK Art Jewelry, Tamarindo, Costa Rica - Photo taken by Joice Dahianna

The next week passed slowly, spending lazy days on the beach, photographing local surfers and enjoying the art of doing nothing. The day before the wedding, we packed up our necessities and began the drive to Monteverde. Six hours later, having taken a less than desirable route through the mountains, we arrived, stopping briefly at Stella's Monteverde Restaurant for a snack and to watch the birds and coatis.

The rental property, Monteverde House, was huge, once an artists home surrounded by trees, it was capable of hosting a dozen people, and had its own auditorium. After exploring the property and settling in, we decided to do a test run to the nearby El Tigre Waterfalls, to ensure we knew how to get there and how long it would take. The plan was to meet Joice and Einar at the main entrance for 7am the next morning and we knew the roads were unpaved and somewhat dangerous.


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Inside Monteverde House, Costa Rica
Inside Monteverde House, Costa Rica

After successfully finding the right path, we headed into town to Sabor Tico, for a delicious fish casado and fries, recreating one of the best meals we had so many years ago.

Pineapple Pesto Pizza for Breakfast
Pineapple Pesto Pizza for Breakfast

For dessert, we followed suit and headed to the nearby Bon Apetit Pizzeria e Ristorante, hoping to order the same pineapple pesto pizza.

To our dismay, it had been removed from the menu, but like all "ticos", the friendly staff offered to make it special for us. We then ordered two. We went back the day we left Monteverde and ordered 5 more for the road.

We indulged in a slice (or two) before bed and were up by 5am. As the coffee brewed, we enjoyed chocolatey Clicky cookies and more pineapple pesto pizza for our wedding breakfast before quickly getting dressed.

No one staging pre-ceremony photos or pressuring us to hurry up (well at least one of us wasn't pressuring). Just us.

Not having planned this elopement, we wore vacation clothes we brought with us; he simple linen pants and a white t-shirt, and I a simple white dress with little blue flowers. Again, no fuss.

Following the same path we did the day before (nearly sliding off the edge of the final decent) we arrived at El Tigre Waterfalls. The view from the main entrance was breathtaking. Rolling green hills as far as the eye could see. Joice arrived shortly thereafter, with her boyfriend Diego (also a photographer) and his sister, who would be taking photos and standing in as our witnesses. Once Einar arrived, we were good to go.

View from the entrance to El Tigre Waterfalls, Monteverde, Costa Rica
View from the entrance to El Tigre Waterfalls, Monteverde, Costa Rica

The plan was to hike the 6km "marked" path through the cloud forest, crossing over the ten bridges and passing the four big waterfalls, stopping at the second waterfall to perform the ceremony before continuing. We made it very clear to Joice that we were not looking for posed photographs, but something to mark the day as it happened. Simple honesty. She did try to pose us in two locations, when the waterfall sparkled or rainbows appeared, but other than that, we just hiked.

We led the train, both with bamboo walking sticks helping us down the muddy path and over rocks. Einar (in his big rainboots) and photographers lagging behind, hiding in the bushes snapping photos. It took us about two hours to reach the second waterfall, where there was a small sandy area carved out for us to stand. We set up our own camera to record video, and freshened up before the ceremony began.

The "wedding party" train during the elopement hike, El Tigre Waterfalls, Monteverde, Costa Rica
The "wedding party" train during the elopement hike, El Tigre Waterfalls, Monteverde, Costa Rica

The air had been cool when we started, but the heat and humidity rose so high, we were quickly drenched in sweat. The lawyer swapped out his rainboots for loafers, we swapped our sneakers for sandals and I added a lace coverup overtop my dress.

Over the roar of the waterfall, we exchanged rings and vows, happily wed amongst the trees.

At the wedding spot, El Tigre Waterfalls, Monteverde, Costa Rica
At the wedding spot, El Tigre Waterfalls, Monteverde, Costa Rica - Photo taken by Joice Dahianna

We signed the paperwork, changed back into our hiking footwear and said good-bye to Einar and Diego, who continued on ahead of us. Einar thanked us for the opportunity and the experience, he had never had the chance to hike through El Tigre before today and was thrilled. It was only at this time, as we were packing up, that we saw other hikers, congratulating us as they walked passed.

Further along the trail, we travelled low enough to reach the river. We brought with us towels and swimsuits, planning to take some time to swim, not anticipating the water would be ice cold. We decided against it, but did walk into the flowing river with our wedding clothes on.

During the elopement hike at El Tigre Waterfalls, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Getting into the frigid water at El Tigre Waterfalls, Monteverde, Costa Rica - Photo taken by Joice Dahianna

The last hour of the hike then became tiresome, hiking up our pants and dress that hung lower with the weight of the water, dragging along the mud and under our feet. Luckily we had also brought with us a change of clothes. Holding up the towels for some privacy, we took turns changing out of our wet clothes before pushing through the last of the hike, which was now mainly up hill.

Our soaked shoes and clothing after wading through the frigid water
Our soaked shoes and clothing after wading through the frigid water - - Photo taken by Joice Dahianna

At the last check point, we used the phone booth to call the main entrance and let them know we were close to the end. In addition to the 6km forest trail, there was an additional 3km of steep incline to return to the main building. We had a choice; we could hike it (not recommended), ride on horseback or travel in a 4x4 tractor. As much as riding on horseback sounded romantic, the incline was very steep and we felt for the poor horses who would have to carry us, so we opted for the tractor.

Within minutes we were back where we started and welcomed onto the outdoor patio overlooking the rolling hills, a decorated table waiting just for us. We enjoyed a delicious casado lunch, while we texted friends and family that the knot had been tied.

The wedding table, El Tigre Waterfalls, Monteverde, Costa Rica
The wedding table, El Tigre Waterfalls, Monteverde, Costa Rica

By 1pm, we were back in our rental home, relaxing on the balcony with some fresh coffee. We were soon entertained by the dozens of white-faced monkeys who swarmed the house, ultimately trapping us inside for a few hours, hoping we would give them the last of our food.

Luckily they dispersed by the early evening, when we left to get something to eat for dinner. We had hoped we could go back to Stella's Monteverde and enjoy watching the animals again, but it was closed, so we headed across the street to El Bosque Restaurant, who were luckily still open.

Inside El Bosque Restaurant, Monteverde
Inside El Bosque Restaurant, Monteverde

The large restaurant was empty, save for the lone server and chef. We enjoyed the delicious food and laughed as romantic love songs from the 80s and 90s played over the speakers. It was our own private wedding reception.

We hadn't planned on dining there, but were so happy we did. As the first restaurant to open in Monteverde in 1989, El Bosque was now managed by the children of those entrepreneurs. A small cabinet showcased the first menus and silverware, and the walls were adorned with canvas paintings by local artists. One such painting, a close-up of a woman's face decorated for the Day of the Dead, caught our eye, and we decided to buy it as a wedding gift to ourselves.

The painting we purchased from El Bosque, Monteverde, Costa Rica
The painting we purchased from El Bosque, Monteverde, Costa Rica

Once we were back in Canada, we didn't need to register the marriage. As long as it was valid in Costa Rica, it was considered valid and legal in Canada. The lawyer sent us home with a copy of the certificate on the day, but later mailed us the official documents, along with copies that had been filed in Costa Rica.

An elopement (or even a destination wedding) may not be for everyone. We believe, a wedding should reflect the people and the passions that define them. This, for us, was perfect.

On one of the bridges at El Tigre Waterfalls, Monteverde, Costa Rica
On one of the bridges at El Tigre Waterfalls, Monteverde, Costa Rica - Photo taken by Joice Dahianna

On all our future anniversaries, we plan to commemorate the elopement by hiking together through a lush forest, spending time together amongst the trees. No dresses or linen pants, but we do have our very own bamboo walking sticks.

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2 Kommentare

Josy Austin
Josy Austin
22. Okt. 2023

Squee this is sooo lovely! Congratulations - this sounds like such a perfect way to get hitched (we would both love something like this too, but we bowed to the pressure of getting married with friends and family around us.) In the end I did love our wedding, but hiking through the cloud forest and taking vows near a waterfall does sound perfect too! Joice did a fab job of the photos as well <3

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D Marino
D Marino
26. Okt. 2023
Antwort an

Oh thank you so much!

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