By JUAN DE JESÚS BREENE
Invariably on flights between Mexico and the United States, I meet someone traveling to Mexico for a destination wedding.
Those headed down are often excited for the exotic experience.
Those headed back home, especially seniors, often comment on the number of unexpected steps on challenging terrain, rides in boats to reach certain events and other challenges.
The conversation often turns to the topic of the wedding being held on a “private” beach.
Visitors are often surprised when I share that the Mexican Constitution decrees that all beaches as public.
Any resort, hotel chain, guest house, condo or accommodation claiming to have a private beach is, in fact, doing so against the law.
About two years ago, Mexico actually passed federal legislation to strengthen what the constitution has always stated: All beaches in Mexico must guarantee free public access to everyone.
As anyone with any time in Mexico knows, there is, of course, a wide gap between the law and actual practice.
It not uncommon to find police officers who do not even know the federal laws.
Large resorts in Los Cabo, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun continue to “charge” to have a wedding on “their” beaches.
Granted, private ownership is permitted on land that adjoins the beach. But the law is also very clear on where the public beach ends and private land can begin. Measuring from the point of high tide, there must be at least 20 meters (65 feet) of public beach before any private property can begin.
Clubs, hotels or other organizations that “rent out” on-beach services such as umbrellas and chase lounges can legally do so, but cannot prohibit entrance or transit on the beach where these amenities are located.
And while some accommodations may feature beaches that may be quiet or even secluded, all are open to the public and anyone is free to use them.
While some travelers may feel entitled to believe a beach belongs to them while there on vacation, there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. Mexicans are the ones sharing their beaches with travelers, not vice versa.
Therefore, beach vendors, mobile masseuses, hawkers passing out publicity for tours and restaurants cannot be told by a resort that they cannot operate on “their” beach.
Since even Mexicans rarely know this law, a tourist might be in even less of a position to challenge a hotel that tries to charge for holding a wedding on the beach in front of their property.
In fact, there is a fine of about $50,000 for anyone who prohibits access or use of a beach in Mexico.
Yes, a wedding party would need to negotiate the rental of the chairs, platforms or shade structures with a hotel or any other event organizer on a public beach, but there is no beach fee.
Weddings in Mexico, outside of a courthouse or with a judge officiating, whether in a church, on the beach, inside a hotel or in a private residence, are symbolic ceremonies with no legal standing.
So if a resort or police officer tells you that you cannot have a symbolic wedding on a public beach that will last an hour with 20 guests, just ask him why such an event would not be permitted if any Mexican family of 30 can arrive with chairs, music, umbrellas, food and alcohol for an eight-hour family event on the beach.
I don’t think anyone wants to spend their special day arguing with Mexican police and angry resorts. That resort (or whoever) may not own the beach but neither do they owe you any duty to keep your wedding peaceful and enjoyable.
So unless you live in and know Mexico it’s still probably best to pay that resort before your family and friends fly down to attend an ad hoc destination wedding.