Up past bedtime: how to survive stargazing in Tenerife with your kids

Last updated 19th December 2023

Mike MacEacheran, Travel Media Awards 2023 Sustainability Writer of the Year, recently stepped away from typical Tenerife holidays to discover stargazing on Mt Teide was the adventure he never knew his young family needed.


Above the clouds, Mt Teide National Park, Tenerife

It was Monday morning, with school out for February half-term, and the wild Atlantic was opening up in all directions below. The cone of Mt Teide had been left free to poke above the warm Calima wind blowing in sand clouds from the Western Sahara, and its lava flows and strata could be seen from the plane’s porthole windows.

The stratovolcano was formed as little as 170,000 years ago (the same period humans began to wear scant loin cloths and animal skins — infinitely more than exhibitionists get away with on Tenerife’s nudist haven Playa de Las Gaviotas these days), and it stretched out its magmatic bones to the sun, overlooking town, terraced farmland and coast. Then Costa del Silencio, the southern tip of Tenerife, appeared as our plane landed with an exhausted burp.


Reinventing Tenerife pool parties for parents

Did Tenerife grow up, or was it just me?

I was here on holiday in the Canary Islands with my family, the first time back on Tenerife in 25 years. Aged 19, my week in Playa de las Américas was both a bender and a blur. I stayed in an all-inclusive, half-built hotel with three pals, signing ourselves up for late afternoon water skiing and a pirate ship boat party, but mainly scouring the main strip set back from the beach for cheapo sangria, San Miguel and 2-for-1 shots in the scrum of pubs and bars.

The smell: ashtrays and jugs of sickly-sweet Blue Lagoon cocktail. The sights: retina-scarring lights, flirty club promo girls and the sun breaking over the beach each morning before stumbling to bed. The postscript: a vague recollection of a not-very-good holiday.


Swapping beaches for Mt Teide National Park

Tenerife holidays take on a different shape with kids

This time would be oh-so-different though. Not least because of parenthood and having my wife and two kids – ages 5 and 3 – in tow, but because sipped fruity mocktails would replace stupidly slammed cocktails; pool time would overtake pub time; and we weren’t going to settle for a budget guidebook hotel, or backstreet apartment in a rubbish bit of town.

Night time would be much better than at home, too. In our household, arguments in which our kids insist on staying up later than they’re allowed are a torturous evening ritual (to the extent toothbrushes disappear down toilets, pyjamas are cast aside for rogue nude run-arounds and cupboards become impenetrable Fort Knoxes). Could a week in stereotypically late-night Spain, where kids siesta and are expected to stay awake until midnight, offer some kind of travel reprieve?

Emboldened, we decided to do it and take advantage of Tenerife’s warm, balmy winter nights. The icing on the cake? Our local primary school had already begun teaching our son about the planets and solar system, and he was more excited about telescopes, stargazing and the expanse of unfiltered sky to ogle at after twilight than the animatronic T-Rex that had been promised to appear around our hotel pool throughout the week.


The Ritz-Carlton Tenerife, Abama

Beachy days and starry nights at The Ritz-Carlton Tenerife, Abama

On paper, that was one of the chief sells of The Ritz-Carlton Tenerife, Abama, a vast showpiece citadel surrounded by waves of banana plantations and a perimeter of rocky cliffs and barrancos. It was even better once we’d unpacked (read: dumped the suitcases in a corner and thrown on shorts and sandals) and explored its casbah-style stone corridors and open air staircases. The spritzing Moorish fountains, the pastel pink turrets, even the water gardens brimming with carp gave me visions of Grenada’s Alhambra — for the kids, it was the Agrabah of Disney’s Aladdin sprung to life.


Clear night skies at sea level, The Ritz-Carlton Tenerife, Abama

The genie out of the bottle, in fact, was the choice of restaurants for our fussy eaters (glory be: round-the-clock pasta and pizza, plus under-4s eat free from any menu) and the mini adventures on tap for our two pint-sized travellers.

We took the hotel’s child-pleasing funicular down to the breaker-cradled beach, where neighbouring La Gomera, mysterious as a forgotten land, appeared hazy on the horizon. We rode the resort train to the clifftop terrace and El Mirador restaurant for sundowners, helped by blackmailing our two with extra scoops of ice cream. The transport proved such a hit, in fact, we once rode it twice one morning, not because we were going anywhere, but just to feel the salty air on our faces.


Tours by Locals, Mount Teide National Park

Tours by Locals tailors after-dark Teide to your kids

As the Calima began to dissipate over the next few days, plans were forged to exit the hotel (in truth, the resort is set up exactly to prevent this from happening, being a three-mile walk from the nearest beach town, Playa San Juan… try tackling that with a baby buggy in peak summer).

Stargazing topped our to-do list and the classic itinerary sold by most tour operators includes a bus circuit to the cones, obsidian stones and lava tongues of the enormous Las Cañadas caldera, a sunset from the Pico Viejo viewpoint atop Mt Teide’s cable car and star spotting with proper telescopes. But 8-hours of child-wrangling on a stuffy coach isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time and was far too long for us (particularly my wife, who to tell the truth was now in prime holiday mode and more interested in raising a caipirinha than Cassiopeia rising).


Mt Teide National Park, Tenerife

Did we know Tenerife experience up to three earthquakes a day? No we did not!

Fortunately, there are a few companies set up for all-ages tours and our guide, Dario of Tours By Locals, promised to squeeze his usual 5 hour trip into a more compact tour of the galaxy (plus, he brought a full flask of Wonka-style hot chocolate to keep the kids happy so Mum and Dad could relax). And yes, he managed to make the journey from the coast up through the clouds to around 2,000m whizz by with all sorts of trivia.

Did we know that Tenerife experiences up to three earthquakes every day? Or that 100 tons of gas pour out of Mt Teide every day? Of course, we didn’t. The real bombshell was when seeing the juniper and blossoming almond trees slowly morph into an alien landscape of ashen red lava that was quite impossible to cross without imagining we had been transported to Mars. If only I’d ditched the tiki drinks for a Teide Tour years ago.


Astrotourism is on the rise in Tenerife

All Tenerife holidays should include mandatory stargazing

Astrotourism is on the up on the Canary Islands, and rightly so given that Tenerife is home to one of the world’s largest observatories and Europe’s largest solar telescope . Google will also tell you it’s possible to see 83 of the 88 known constellations on a night time jaunt across this light-pollution-free island and there is an increasing number of starlight guides accredited by the local astrophysics boffins. In fact, having the sky’s mysteries unravelled for you is now as common as having your towel unfurled on a sun lounger by a pool attendant.

Now imagine a road so awe-inspiring, so acid trip in its absurdity, that you can almost sense time slowing as the landscape around you poses for pictures, to show off its full regalia of abutting volcanoes, vents, craters and distorted lava flows.

Among the roadside attractions inside Las Cañadas’ 10-mile wide volcanic crater are all kinds of fudge-coloured lava deposits, collapsed ridges and crumbling pumice cones, all of which we were encouraged to gawp at and walk around, and it was far bigger, bolder and more mind-bending than I’d anticipated. A glimpse of another time, the caldera should really be a mandatory checkpoint on all Tenerife holidays.


Sunset over Mt Teide National Park

Late night adventures and low chance of tantrums

By now, the temperature had plummeted from a balmy 20°C at sea level to below 9°C, and as the sun dipped into the sea like a gold coin, it grew colder, increasingly strange and at least a million light-years from the Tenerife of pumping Irish pubs and sports bars. In fact, the only thing remotely traditional beach holiday about it in my mind’s eye was the sunset. Magical colours, from Seville orange to hot pink to violent purple, streaked across the sky, leaving my kids in no doubt that it was indeed very late and they’d been allowed to stay up without the need for a full-blown tantrum. Double points for Mum and Dad this time. Several thousand feet below us, the resort towns of Costa Adeje, Los Cristianos and Las Américas were also sparking to life.


Tenerife is home to one of the world’s largest observatories

Far brighter than the sun, Canopus is Tenerife’s pride and joy

Then, under a mantle of darkness, the stars began to pop. One… two… three… a few thousand… and the sky became weighted with constellations, visible planets, distant galaxies and, I swear, the odd shooting star. Canopus, the second-brightest star of the lot and one more than 10,000 times more luminous than the Sun, was Tenerife’s pride and joy, Dario told our kids with finger raised skywards. It was also easy to spy the Milky Way and Scorpio in summer or Orion in winter, he said, then left to rummage in the back of his minibus for a telescope.

Up until this point the night had worked like a dream, but I really should have known we’d not have much more time to play with. And sure enough, around half past nine, two hours past her usual bedtime, our youngest began to yawn, then cry, then bawl, then meltdown.

Our guide too started to get an inkling it was all over (the clue was when he didn’t bother to unpack his telescope case) and I feared, frankly, that the transfer back to the hotel would see our youngest turn from cuddly mogwai to highly destructive gremlin. The bellowing continued unabated until we hit the travel jackpot and she eventually fell asleep as a result of the cradle rock of the backseat. Jupiter and its four main moons would have to be an excuse for more Tenerife holidays.


Animatronic dinosaurs, The Ritz-Carlton Tenerife, Abama

Leave time for theme parks, beaches and bodega

The next few days, feeling content after our big twilight adventure, we settled into a routine of pool-buffet-beach-pool, reserving any extra energy for some of the more typical highlights of Tenerife holidays. Siam Park, the oddly Thai-inspired water wonderland of slides and rides, was flashier and brasher than we could handle for a full day and we skipped Loro Parque zoo, preferring instead to get a kick out of hand-feeding the hotel carp and the aforementioned dinos by the poolside.

Another afternoon, we ventured east into the foothills of Teide National Park to explore a bodega vineyard buffeted by apricot and peach orchards, returning with a clinking daypack to sneakily drink a £6 bottle of earthy red on our balcony at sunset while our kids watched air-conditioned cartoons, then zonked out on our bed. That hour of soporific bliss was worth more than any meal in either of the hotel’s two Michelin-star restaurants. It was proof too, that our kids weren’t taking to the hallowed late nights they craved as we thought they might.


Private beach, The Ritz-Carlton Tenerife, Abama

There would be some, no doubt, who’d say it was little surprise. Pool jumping, wave chasing, ice cream slurping, water slide racing, sand castle building, French fry gobbling and — of course — volcano walking is enough to tire out even the most determined child (and job-juggling, child-shepherding parents, if truth be told).

As for stargazing, we found it isn’t a one-size-fits-all for any family. It was a fitting opportunity for us to learn together, but also to properly introduce our kids to the weight of the universe. As it turns out, on Tenerife holidays, it’s important to make the most of the daylight, but also of the dark, tantrums and all.

How to plan Tenerife holidays

How to get there

Direct UK flights to Tenerife take from 4 hours, 20 minutes

Jet2.com flies direct to Tenerife from several UK airports, including Edinburgh and Manchester. As well as low fares, Jet2 offers great flight times, and includes a generous 22kg baggage allowance. Flight prices start from £80 one way.

Book online at Jet2.com 

Where to stay

The Ritz-Carlton Tenerife, Abama, Family Room from £458 per night (2 adults, 2 children)

Book The Ritz-Carlton Tenerife, Abama

Good to know

Tours by Locals offers a 5-hour private tour of Tenerife for up to 7-people, including guide and private transport.