The first thing I notice as the speedboat pulls up to the dock at Margaritaville St. Somewhere Punta Coco by Karisma Resorts on Isla Holbox is how utterly void of seaweed the turquoise waters of the Caribbean are here. While much of the Riviera Maya coastline is currently muddled by a sea of Sargassum, in Holbox, there is nary a string.

There is, however, a long, near-empty stretch of porcelain white sand beach juxtaposed against a calm sea colored in varying shades of blue and green. The lack of seaweed when I visited wasn’t a fluke. Isla Holbox is just outside the gulf stream current belt that delivers the smelly, slimy brownish grass to beaches in Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancun each summer.

Stepping off the boat and sliding my feet into the warm sea makes me feel like I’m back in the Maldives. The visuals are just as dreamy. But instead of taking 30 hours of flying to reach from my home base in Denver, reaching this island paradise in the Mexican Caribbean is a much more reasonable 3 hour and 50 minute flight to Cancun followed by a 2-hour car ride and 30-minutes in a speedboat.

I’m visiting Holbox, a Mexican island known for a laid back and bohemian vibe, for the grand opening of the inaugural St. Somewhere property, which is a new brand collaboration between Margaritaville and Karisma Hotels & Resorts. The concept combines fun and escapism with top-notch service and amenities, an open-air design concept, and an intimate vibe where the focus is very much on the local destination.

“Holbox island is a beautiful, remote destination, complete with adventure and wonder,” says Beat Müller, Senior Director of Operations at Margaritaville St. Somewhere. “The once-in-a-lifetime experiences that the island offers are truly spectacular, whether it’s swimming among the whale sharks to kayaking in the bioluminescent waters.”

Located on Punta Coco beach, St. Somewhere is the only resort on this side of the island, which means you’ll have the beach here mostly to yourself. Still lesser-known to travelers from the United States and Europe, Holbox feels like Tulum did a decade ago. Development is not yet out of control, and because Holbox is protected as part of the Yum Balam Biosphere Reserve, it’s unlikely to get so. Cars are forbidden and transport takes place by golf cart, bike or foot. There are just 1,200 hotel rooms on the small island and no high rises or large resorts. In fact, 60 percent of visitors come on a day trip from the Cancun area.

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Margaritaville St. Somewhere is boho-chic boutique resort at its best

Photo: Margaritaville St. Somewhere Punta Coco by Karisma Resorts

Margaritaville St. Somewhere is a boutique resort that is boho-chic design at its best. The property isn’t a huge complex and it isn’t all-inclusive. Instead, it offers an intimate getaway to couples, families, and friends alike that exudes a barefoot luxe vibe combined with Holbox’s laidback energy.

The 39 suites feature colors and accents inspired by the sea, flora, and fauna that surround the resort. The six luxurious suite types are distributed in three-level buildings with a choice of plunge pools, terrace, or swim up suites with direct access to the main pool and swim-up bar. Each room is outfitted with upscale whitewashed furniture, natural parota wood tables, a king-size bed or two queen-size beds with tufted headboards, and a bathroom with a hard-carved marble sink and dual shower.

The resort, which is set on raised walkways above a mangrove forest facing the sea, also hosts two restaurants, a long narrow swimming pool with a swim-up bar on one end, and the aforementioned gorgeous stretch of beach with a roped off swimming area, cushioned sun-loungers and umbrellas, and food and beverage service. The resort also offers al fresco massages that integrate multiple techniques from cold cupping to Thai and reflexology for a holistic healing experience.

A sustainable and community minded approach

Photo: Margaritaville St. Somewhere Punta Coco by Karisma Resorts

Because Holbox is protected as an ecological reserve, builders had sustainability top of mind for St. Somewhere. Construction is limited to smaller footprint properties, and existing natural elements, like the red mangrove trees growing just beyond the beachfront, had to be protected during construction.

“We had to design the hotel with a local authority that supervises every ecological aspect of the island,” says Christian O’ Farrill Welter, one of property’s three owners. “They marked our red mangroves and we couldn’t touch them as they are protected by law. So we had to design everything around these trees. It was a challenge. This is why everything is built on top like a bridge so we don’t touch anything on the ground.”

Integrating, rather than alienating, the island’s local community was just as important as the sustainability when planning St. Somewhere.

“The resort is owned by three Mexican families and 100 percent of the investments are funded by Mexicans,” he says. “All the food served here is bought in to Holbox from local growers and the fish is also locally sourced. So what we are doing is working with the community and not against it. We are involving everyone from taxi drivers to market sales people to fisherman. We believe in and need to support our local community.”

The hotel also operates solar panels, and 30 percent of its hot water is heated by solar energy. Other sustainability initiatives include an on-site water treatment plant that uses wastewater to irrigate the plants around the hotel. Straws are only given on demand.

What to eat at St. Somewhere and around Holbox

Photo: Margaritaville St. Somewhere Punta Coco by Karisma Resorts

Serving self-described sea to table fare, the food and beverage program at St. Somewhere is on point. There’s one bar on-site and two open-air restaurants: The Sandbar & Pan American Grill and The Harbour House Peninsula Cuisine & Wood Stove Bar; although when I visited the menu at both restaurants was pretty much the same. This was okay, however, as downtown Holbox is an easy walk or golf cart taxi ride away and has dozens of dining and drinking options. I find when a resort has too many restaurants I don’t explore off property as much, which I always end up regretting.

The menu at St. Somewhere focuses almost entirely on locally inspired and sourced cuisine that’s typical of the Yucatán peninsula. You’ll find fresh ceviches in a few different styles, spear-caught fish served family style whole or as a filet, and the best shrimp tacos I tasted in Holbox.

Holbox is famous for its lobster pizza, and St. Somewhere does its own variation in a wood fire oven that was tasty, but not my favorite dish on the menu. Other non-Mexican fare includes a few pasta dishes and delicious bruschetta.

The craft cocktail menu has classics like piña coladas and margaritas, but also serves up some creative local drinks using tequila and mezcal.

What to do in Holbox: Tulum vibe minus the crowds and prices

Holbox Mexico 21. December 2021 Panorama landscape view on beautiful Holbox island sandbank and beach with entrance people stores bars and palm trees in Quintana Roo Mexico.

Photo: Arkadij Schell/Shutterstock

While not the most affordable destination in Mexico by any means, Holbox is still affordable when compared to Tulum and matches that destination in its boho-chic and small hotel vibe. Unlike Tulum, it doesn’t yet suffer from too many tourists, hour long daily traffic jams, and cartel violence. And with the exception of St. Somewhere, all of the resorts, restaurants, and bars are located on Mosquito Beach or around the small downtown area, which is about 30 minutes by foot or 10 minutes by golf cart from the resort.

Holbox Island is an outdoor lover’s dream with plenty to explore. There’s deep sea fishing charters, kiteboarding lessons, and kayaking through the mangroves along with the bioluminescent waters famous to the area at night. Downtown is also filled with colorful street art that’s well worth exploring. Many of the paintings depict local culture, while others showcase wildlife and people.

If you’re traveling between June and mid-September, don’t miss an opportunity to swim with whale sharks, which is an adventure you won’t soon forget. Tours can be booked through St. Somewhere or in town. You’ll travel by boat for about one and half hours to the feeding ground of the world’s largest fish (don’t worry they are gentle and eat plankton) and can snorkel among them. I highly recommend investing in a waterproof camera like the GoPro Hero 10 to film these magnificent, gentle giants underwater. You’ll also want to refrain from using sunscreen on the boat ride as it can kill the plankton the whale sharks need to consume some 40 lbs of per day to power their up to 18-foot-long bodies.

How, and how much it costs, to get to St. Somewhere

Panoramic view of the beach Caribbean Sea view in Holbox island Mexico. Low tide creates islands of sand in the middle of the turquoise sea

Photo: m_boldrin/Shutterstock

There are multiple ways to reach Holbox from the Cancun area. It’s about a two hour drive from Cancun’s international airport to Chiquila Port, where you can catch a ferry or book a speed boat to Holbox. The trip takes between 20 and 30 minutes. If you drive yourself, there are plenty of parking options in Chiquila, as you can’t to take your car to the island. Two ferry companies, 9 Hermanos and Holbox Express, make the trip multiple times per day between 6 AM and 9:30 PM. Tickets cost about $5 for an adult and $4 for a child.

If you don’t want to drive, you can book a private transfer (around $235 for up to four people) or take a group minivan (around $27 including ferry ticket). There is also a tiny airport on the island with flights from Cancun costing around $800.

Depending on the season, St. Somewhere Margaritaville rooms start at about $260 per night.