Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
Imagine a remote world where unspoiled sandbars stretch as far as the eye can see, where ocean life glows at night like fireflies, and where the only way to get around is either by golf cart, bicycle or foot.
It’s “somewhere” – an off-the-beaten-path paradise that you might have dreamed about once before, but won’t fully understand as a point on the map until you get there.
And when you do, there’ll be a floating taco bar, waiting for you in the pool.
This is the blueprint for Margaritaville St. Somewhere, a 39-suite boutique hotel that Karisma Hotels and Resorts opened last year on rustic Holbox, a 42-kilometre-long island of white-sand beaches and car-free roads north of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, in a utopic section of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve.
It's the first St. Somewhere in the Margaritaville universe, a collection of island-themed restaurants and hotels inspired by the lyrics and license-to-chill lifestyle of iconic singer, songwriter and author Jimmy Buffett.
It’s a brand built on flip-flops, parrots, salty rims and nautical escapism that Karisma partnered with in 2017 to launch a line of all-inclusive beach resorts, now known as “Island Reserve,” as an alternative to Margaritaville’s EP-plan city hotels.
St. Somewhere, however, is a whole new flavour of margarita mix (and perhaps Karisma’s most ambitious project to date) as the brand zeroes in on eco-tourism and exclusively in a lesser-known, ferry-reliant destination where bohemian hostels off dirt paths outnumber big-brand hotels.
Holbox (pronounced “Hole-Bosh,” not “Hole-Box”), with its unpaved roads and fragile infrastructure, isn’t Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum.
But maybe that’s exactly what makes St. Somewhere so alluring.
“It’s an escapism hotel,” Mario Dorantes, general manager of St. Somewhere, told PAX, which stayed at the easygoing property from March 3-7 (the same weekend it marked its one-year anniversary).
“It’s for travellers who want to reconnect with themselves, in a very interesting ecosystem.”
An escape from the mainstream
For the beach-lover who’s been there, done that along Mexico’s Riviera Maya coast, Holbox – and St. Somewhere, by extension – is an escape from the mainstream.
Simply getting to St. Somewhere – the name takes inspiration from the early explorers who once named Caribbean islands after saints – is all part of the adventure.
From Cancun airport, it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour vehicle transfer to the town of Chiquila, where guests then board a ferry to Isla Holbox.
Two companies operate catamarans across a calm channel, with alternating departures every half hour. (Helicopter and private planes from Cancun to Holbox are also available, if your client has the coin).
The ferry costs $220 pesos (about $16 CAD) each way and it’s about a 15-minute ride.
On arrival, you collect your luggage and board a golf cart taxi (remember, there’s no cars), which takes you about 10 minutes inland, along a bumpy dirt road, to Punta Coco, the western point of Holbox where St. Somewhere is found.
Not your typical Margaritaville
It may feel like nowhere, but believe me: it’s somewhere. Because St. Somewhere is not your typical Margaritaville.
An open-air oasis of ash-white wooden boardwalks and bridges, this compact property, comprised of seven three-storey buildings built into mangroves, leans into Karisma’s beach house side with calm, neutral notes.
It marks a dramatic departure from the tropically-flamboyant décor Margaritaville is known for. You won’t find any parrot murals, surfboard installations or towering flip-flop sculptures here (not that there’s anything wrong with those things).
St. Somewhere, rather, is a love letter to nautical escapism (or just Jimmy Buffett’s idea of one fabulous island getaway).
The breezy interiors are peppered with prints of sail boats; above the snug check-in desk hangs an illustrated map of an island (which, for the record, does feature two drawings of parrots, albeit subtle ones).
The hotel’s centrepiece, anchored at the base of a small, rectangular swimming pool, is a lighthouse, which can be seen from the hotel’s 180 metres of beachfront, which is adjacent to a pristine sandbank.
St. Somewhere’s 39 lofty suites, with coastal-inspired, wood-and-rope elements, are connected to water in some way – 80 per cent of the accommodations are on second and third floors, translating into full or partial ocean views.
Ground floor suites have swim-outs – some have private pools, others launch directly into the main pool, which is lined with cozy cabanas.
The crowd? Adults, unplugged. While St. Somewhere welcomes families, the hotel’s unhurried aura might be just a tad too mellow for high-energy little ones.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this hotel, at some point, pivots to adults only. It just makes sense.
As for its Polly Pocket size, St. Somewhere is about as big as you can get in Holbox. As per the island’s building regulations, the maximum number of rooms a hotel can offer is 42. Megaresorts don’t exist here.
St. Somewhere doesn’t have neighbours either as the back-country plots of land on both sides of the hotel remain unused. If anything, this amplifies the exclusivity of it all.
The “Karisma effect”
So, what happens here then? A lot more than you’d think.
While there’s no gym (you can run on the beach), the hotel has two outdoor bars/restaurants: the beachview Sandbar and the poolside Harbour House, which has a second level for prime sunset viewing at cocktail hour. (Sunsets in Holbox, by the way, are electric).
Sandbar’s signature dishes include a black seafood risotto, a wood-fired organic chicken adobo, grilled salmon and a lobster tail. The seafood is freshly caught (and the ceviche is divine).
This is where the “Karisma effect” kicks in. The menu at St. Somewhere sizzles at that “gourmet-inclusive” level that regular clients have come to expect.
Harbour House is where breakfast unfolds (the oatmeal power bowl is a must), and local flavours (like brisket tacos and grilled octopus) are served throughout the day, into the evening.
Ever try guacamole mixed with crickets? You can here. (My travel companion thought they were anchovies).
Harbour House also has a wood stove for thin-crust pizzas – including one with lobster topping (a Holbox specialty!)
Floating taco bars
But the pièce de résistance at St. Somewhere (arguably) are the floating taco bars.
These are giant trays, stacked with meat and fish tacos (with all the dips and sauces you could imagine), served directly to guests in the pool. (These can also be built with pizza, burgers and wings).
It’s a signature Margaritaville experience designed for friend groups who want to keep the pool party going at lunchtime – without exiting the pool.
It’s also social media gold. Pose in front of a floating taco tray and I guarantee you it will be one of your most-liked photos of the year.
You may also, at some point, want to taxi cart or cycle into “downtown” – it’s just a few blocks of sandy streets – where mural-painted restaurants, open-air eateries housed in palm frond-topped palapas, grab-and-go food carts and beach bars serve authentic Mexican dishes and tequila-laced cocktails.
This is likely why St. Somewhere is a European Plan format (although all-inclusive options are available) as Holbox isn’t a stay-on-property destination.
The idea is to relax, but to also leave your hotel to see, taste, explore and listen (Holbox has an awesome live music scene).
You can hop on a bike (St. Somewhere has some) and cycle into town, where locals and nonchalant tourists can be seen chilling on the beach.
Punta Mosquito is a must-do – it’s a majestic-white sandbar that you can walk along, without heavy crowds. It's accessible by treading into knee-high, sparkling-clear water.
Holbox is also for animal lovers. The local shelter, Refugio Animal Sanctuary, cares and re-homes animals that are in desperate situations. Visitors can stop by to spend time with the animals, which are mostly cats and dogs. They can even participate in a dog walk.
There’s eco-focused excursions, too. In one instance, we boarded a speed boat to go swimming in Yalahau cenote, which is about 30 minutes from Holbox, and then bask in the warm waters of a secluded sandbar on Passion Island.
That may sound like a steamy pay-per-view, but in truth, it’s Mother Nature’s swimming pool, hugged by soft sand, tropical birds (flamingos may be nearby) and palm trees.
The Lunar Celebration
But you’ll want to stay at St. Somewhere on some days. The hotel, this year, has launched special events that range from food and music-based to borderline spiritual.
One monthly activation is a Lunar Celebration, a grill-style BBQ beach party that begins with artisan cocktails (like mojitos with red wine) at sunset and flows into nighttime with a Full Moon Party and ancestral Mayan ritual.
The centrepiece, at our experience, was a stick-made tipi, glowing with mini lights and lanterns, placed in a front a DJ, who played tropical electronic house by artists like French duo Polo & Pan.
Beside the DJ was a table holding a random old-fashioned TV set that displayed dot-pixel static.
Everything – the drinks, the beats, the eats, the scarlet sunset – was a formula for one dynamic evening.
The Mayan ceremony, led by a performer in traditional headdress after dinner, honoured the natural elements around us, from wind to water to fire.
In a protected ecosystem like Holbox, the subject matter couldn’t have been more relevant.
Days later, we gathered once again on the beach – this time, a few feet away from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, a seaweed-free shoreline – to partake in a full moon ritual, which included a group meditation around an alter (a fire pit).
As we were instructed to release things that do not serve us, with love, our group, one by one, gathered on the shore, at sunset, to express thanks and gratitude.
It was a cathartic release, bringing some members in our media tribe to tears (the good kind).
It’s authentic (and frankly, different) experiences like this that make St. Somewhere a vacation infused with local flavour.
Other on-property initiatives include a “Forgotten Mexican” experience, which tells the story of Mexican spirits, from tequila to mezcal, and a cochinita pibil night (slow-roasted Yucatan-style pork, wrapped in banana leaves, that’s cooked in hot coals for 24 hours in an underground pit – an “earth oven,” so to speak).
Sundays have poolside DJs, and there’s even “bioluminescent bay parties.”
Bioluminescence is a phenomenon that occurs on beaches in Holbox, steps from St. Somewhere. The waters of the seashore illuminate when micro-organisms light up when hit by waves.
It’s a magical sight, but it can only be observed when there is no moonlight.
(Water) pressure points
Future plans for St. Somewhere include a new dock, which will allow for direct ferry transport (set to be completed by the end of April), helipad service, as well as a 200-seat beach club (currently under construction) that will serve hotel guests and the public.
One key takeaway from St. Somewhere is that the hotel has everyday luxuries – like air conditioning, good water pressure, reliable power and strong Wi-Fi – that aren’t universally seen at all Holbox hotels.
Electricity only reached the island in 1987, and local infrastructure, at times, can be dicey. Even at St. Somewhere, the power would occasionally fail. But for no more than a second, once a generator kicked in.
For clients who need the comforts of home, this can go a long way.
And while St. Somewhere may not look like classic Margaritaville, it retains the brand’s come-as-you-are philosophy.
So many boutique hotels fall into a trap of being pretentious and unapproachable. St. Somewhere is everything but that, drawing a diverse demo of guests, including gay couples.
It's a hotel that's brimming with “be yourself” vibes.
It’s somewhere, for everybody.
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