5 Unexplored Destinations You May Want to Add to Your Bucket List

July 16, 2018

By Brienne Walsh

Photo © Katja & Simon Photography

Every once in a while, a couple will approach a photographer knowing they want a destination wedding or elopement but are unsure of where in the world to go. You, the photographer, will want to be prepared for that moment. You will need a backburner simmering with location suggestions that lead to one-of-a-kind photographs of their special day (or days), the likes of which their friends and your followers have never seen on Instagram. Because so many countries renowned for their beauty—Iceland, Italy, Croatia, Mexico—have already been colonized by the wedding industry, we present five somewhat undiscovered locations to consider.

Photo © Wainwright Weddings

Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia

At Song Saa Private Island, a luxury resort with 24 villas located in the Gulf of Thailand, everyone knows your name—or at least the staff learns it before you arrive on the island. Breathtakingly gorgeous, the resort was designed with sustainability in mind, and it offers the ultimate wedding experience for a couple that has always dreamed of getting married in paradise. Song Saa translates, in Khmer, as “sweethearts,” and the island fulfills its promise of romance. Couples can be married on completely private beaches or in pavilions overlooking the ocean.

“When you show up as a photographer, you have a big smile on your face, because [the owners] really thought quite cleverly about the aesthetics,” says Manila-based photographer Julian Abram Wainwright, who has documented weddings on the island in the past. And Wainwright doesn’t just mean the outdoors. “Sometimes I go to resorts to photograph a wedding and the rooms are really dark and feel kind of dated,” he says, “[but] there’s a lot of natural light at Song Saa.”

The only noticeable downside—besides rooms that start at $850 a night—is that the resort requires quite a bit of travel. Getting there is a 4-hour drive from the international airport in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and then a 45-minute ride on a speedboat.

Still, the travel, Wainwright notes, is worth it: “Song Saa is on a very short list of the most spectacular places I’ve ever visited.”

Photo © Christine Meintjes

Stellenbosch, South Africa

Just 31 miles east of Cape Town, Stellenbosch is the Napa Valley of South Africa. Famed for its Mediterranean climate, the town is located at the foot of the Cape Fold Mountain Range and contains hundreds of wineries, some of which are centuries old. A combination of rolling hills, lush vineyards and snow-capped mountains make Stellenbosch one of the most photogenic places in the world.

The area is famed for outdoor weddings flush with great food and even better wine, including Pinotage, a local varietal. International guests will find that even the most exclusive wineries and lodges, including MolenVliet, Delaire Graff and LeParis, have favorable rates given the relatively weak value of the South African rand against the United States dollar.

Cape Town photographer Christine Meintjes, who frequently shoots weddings in Stellebosch, says the location is perfect for any couples that want an “upscale farm setting.” She warns, however, that the area poses unique challenges for photographers. The mountains tend to block out sunlight, for example, making it advisable to shoot 40 or 50 minutes earlier than one normally would to capture the golden light of late afternoon. The winter can be cold and rainy and the summer can be quite windy, making spring and fall the best times to shoot a wedding. Traveling halfway across the globe, however, is worth it. “It’s just absolutely beautiful,” she says.

Photo © Daniel López Pérez

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

In the highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range, Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán covers 50 square miles and is flanked by three volcanoes. The writer Aldous Huxley said, in 1934: “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes.” In other words, its beauty is beyond imagination.

In fact, the landscape is humbling, says Melissa Ballarin, who runs a photography business based in Guatemala with her husband, Daniel López Pérez. Along with luxury hotels such as Casa Palopo
and Hotel Atitlán, the area around the lake also holds eco lodges, rental homes and small guesthouses.

The area is rich with indigenous Mayan culture. Surrounded by 13 villages, each of them renowned for a different craft, there is plenty of local flavor. Even still, it can be difficult not to end up trapped in popular vistas. To avoid that, Pérez recommends hiring a local guide and venturing by boat or foot to less traversed areas. Other considerations are capturing the light before it dips below the volcanoes well in advance of scheduled sunset.

Another potential pitfall is accessibility. Lake Atitlán is a 3-hour drive down windy roads from La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. To break up the journey, Pérez recommends stopping in Antigua, a UNESCO world heritage site located halfway to Lake Atitlán from the airport.

Photo © Jamie Mercurio Photography

Nevis, West Indies

Connected to the island of Saint Kitts by a shallow, 2-mile-wide channel, Nevis is a tiny island in the Caribbean Sea best known as the birthplace and early childhood home of Alexander Hamilton. Consisting of a population of less than 12,000 people, Nevis boasts aquamarine waters, coral reefs and an ancient volcano that last erupted 100,000 years ago. These paradisiacal features, along with colonial ruins and large stretches of untrammeled beaches, make Nevis perfect for heart-stopping wedding photos. “Good luck if you can’t find a location to photograph!” says Jamie Mercurio, who shot Brooklyn-based couple Chris and Celeste’s wedding there in 2016. The wedding was later featured on Style Me Pretty.

Mercurio notes that Nevis is perfect for couples wanting a Caribbean wedding without a super commercial feel. She recalls wild cows on the beaches, a local joint called Sunshine’s Bar where natives welcomed the wedding party with open arms, and a rehearsal dinner held on a catamaran that sailed around the island, allowing for exquisite shots of the volcanic landscape.

It helps, Mercurio adds, to have a local guide to point the way to all the best spots. “It’s kind of hard to get around” otherwise, she says. For couples wanting more structure to their experience, there is the Paradise Beach Nevis and the Four Seasons Resort Nevis, both of which are 5-star hotels, along with a variety of less expensive options. The island is accessible via a short boat ride from Saint Kitts.

Photo © Katja & Simon Photography

Bled, Slovenia

It’s a longstanding tradition in Bled, Slovenia, that before a couple gets married, a groom must carry his bride up all 99 steps leading to the Chapel of the Virgin Mary, a 17th-century church built on an island in the middle of Lake Bled. Equally unappealing is that the bride is supposed to stay silent for the entire journey. Živa, the pagan goddess of love to whom the island was originally dedicated, however, will presumably forgive a bride for making noise.

Traditions and history abound in Bled, a town located 22 miles from Ljubljana International Airport, close to the north border with Austria. The island upon which the chapel is built is only accessible via rowboat—there are no motorboats in the lake. If couples don’t feel like making the 20-minute journey, they can also be married at Bled Castle, a medieval structure built on a cliff overlooking the lake. Or they can elope quickly at Bled’s City Hall and go to the historic sites on the lake for photographs. All options work, says Katja Avbar, a Slovenia-based photographer who photographs weddings in Bled with her husband, Simon.

Along with being nestled in a wooded forest redolent of a fairy tale, Bled is flush with affordable guesthouses, bed and breakfasts, and hotels. And for those who want the best of both worlds, it only takes 90 minutes to travel from Bled to beaches on the Adriatic Sea.

The only thing one has to worry about is planning. The Chapel of the Virgin Mary is often booked a year in advance.

Paradise in the States

Greenough, Montana

Located 30 miles west of Missoula, Montana, Greenough offers the quintessential Western experience, laden with prairies, rivers and horses.Those wanting a dose of Americana mixed with a rustic vibe should stay at The Resort at Paws Up, a 5-star hotel on a 37,000-acre cattle ranch.

Fort Bragg, California

Just a 3-and-a-half-hour drive from San Francisco, here photographers will find plenty of settings for great photos, including MacKerricher State Park, which houses harbor seals, a steam locomotive that runs through a redwood forest, and Glass Beach, a shore full of glass stones.

Canyon Point, Utah

Nestled in the heart of the Grand Circle—which encompasses national parks and monuments, including the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell—Canyon Point, Utah, is picturesque in a prehistoric way. Ringed by red geological formations, the minimalist Amangiri Resort is located on 600 acres of land and provides a photographic backdrop that is part desert, part outer space.

Cumberland Island, Georgia

Perhaps best known as the place where John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy married in 1996, Cumberland Island, Georgia, is a barrier island accessible only by ferry. Along with 18 miles of isolated beachfronts and forests of live oak dripping with Spanish moss, the island is home to Dungeness, the ruins of a mansion built in the 1880s by a member of the Carnegie family. The only place to stay is the Greyfield Inn.

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