One of Spain's Best-Kept Secrets: A Review of The Ritz-Carlton Abama, Tenerife
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Spain has plenty of secrets, and the Canary Islands are one of them. Long known as paradise to European travelers, the seven-island archipelago is one of the only European spots where visitors can seek sunny solace during an otherwise long, cold winter.
But Tenerife and the other Canary Islands are much less frequented by US travelers, possibly due to their somewhat out-of-the-way location, much closer to sub-Saharan Africa than continental Europe.
TPG is here to let you in on the secret: The Canary Islands, often compared to Hawaii's volcanic islands without the rain and hefty price tags, are amazing. Tenerife is the largest of the seven Canaries, and the Ritz-Carlton Abama is a little slice of heaven on the island's jagged southwest coast. This is truly a magical spot to enjoy a sunshine-filled vacation, or even a long weekend tacked on to a winter European trip.
Throughout the 11 years I've lived in Madrid, I've been lucky enough to visit the Canary Islands numerous times. (Flights can be as low as $60 round-trip from various European hubs.) I've always wanted to stay at The Ritz-Carlton Abama, spotting the red adobe miniature village in passing. I finally got my chance to go with my husband and really did not want to return home after my two-night stay.
I booked a deluxe guest room directly on Marriott's website and was able to get a rate that included breakfast for two for 309 euros ($350) per night in November. The rate was reasonable for a Ritz-Carlton, even considering it was low season in Tenerife, though you can sometimes find rates as low as 250 euros ($280) or 45,000 Reward points per night if your dates are flexible and you book in advance. Even though it was low season, the islands have near-perfect temperatures and sun year-round, so I knew I could expect gorgeous weather.
Since my SPG Gold status had turned into Marriott Gold elite status thanks to the merger, I hoped for a solid upgrade, especially since I knew the resort wouldn't be full. I was also happy to see that the Ritz didn't charge a resort fee, which was a win. And, during check-in, my upgrade wishes were granted -- we were upgraded to a one-bedroom suite!
I paid for the room and all other charges using my Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, earning 6x points per dollar for my room rate plus incidentals, for a total of 5,346 points. For the stay itself, I earned 13,441 points (8,753 base + 4,688 bonus). In total, I walked away with almost 19,000 Marriott Rewards points -- not too shabby for a quick stay.
The hotel was in the Abama area of Tenerife, about an hour's drive away from Tenerife North Airport (TFN) and 20 minutes from Tenerife South Airport (TFS). Most northern European flights head into South, while flights in Spain tend to fly to the North Airport, nearer to where many of the locals reside in the capital of Santa Cruz. Considering car rental was 28 euros ($32) for two days with Orlando Rent a Car, we went that route instead of a pricier taxi transfer.
After an hour of coastal highway driving, we ended up in the tranquil Abama area, filled with banana farms. Although the location was pretty calm, it wasn't far from the busy tourist beaches of Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos. The small town of San Juan was less than a 10-minute drive away, but there wasn't anything within walking distance from the resort, which was a small village in itself, so plan to rent a car or take taxis if you go.
There was a lot to do on the island, like exploring nearby the Los Gigantes cliffs, strolling the island's black volcanic-sand beaches, hiking Mount Teide volcano or dining at local spots outside the resort.
When we turned into the resort, we had no idea where to go -- it was that enormous. We finally found what we thought was the right entrance, a small gated entry with a security stop. I told the guard our names, and he gave me a paper with our room number and info that we were supposed to hand to the parking valet, which we did when we got to the massive front entrance of the lobby.
Valet parking was free, and we were immediately greeted as I got out of the car, our luggage whisked away by the staff.
The front-desk staff was friendly, offering me a choice of beverage (I chose cava) and told me before I could even ask that I was upgraded to an ocean-view suite. Score!
Although the hotel wasn't full, we didn't hear any American English the whole time we were there, as the guests were mainly European.
We were then accompanied through the luminous, spacious lobby through the massive resort to our suite, No. 693.
After getting a map of the resort, we crossed the koi pond via a bridge and took the elevator up to our suite, accompanied with a staff member who brought our bags along.
I was absolutely thrilled upon entering the suite. It was beautiful.
The sheer size of the suite was gigantic, though considering the resort was basically a small town, I guess I wasn't surprised.
I entered a foyer that opened up to a table for four and an an enormous living room with a couch that could seat several people, plus a large television.
Two sets of balcony doors opened up to my wraparound balcony, which had stunning views of the ocean from all sides.
The balcony also overlooked the main pool.
A fruit bowl and handwritten welcome note with a bottle of Perrier and mineral water were waiting for us on the table.
A long hallway of closets opened up to the foyer on one side with the bedroom on the other and the bathroom in the middle.
The bedroom had a large bed, a small vanity area (there was no desk) with a table, stool and mirror, an armchair, television and a few lamps. If I had needed to work, I could have done so at the table in the living area.
There was a third set of doors accessing my balcony, with gorgeous views overlooking the pool and the sea. The bedroom furniture was a little old-school, but I loved the balcony, views and general vibe of the suite so much that it didn't bother me.
The closets offered plenty of storage space, as well as a safe and a Nespresso machine with free capsules that were replaced daily.
The bathroom, though slightly dated, was large and well-lit, with a big bathtub, separate shower and a small room for the toilet and bidet, as well as a vanity with double sinks, a hair dryer and a magnifying mirror.
The bathroom also came with a variety of Asprey amenities, which had a strong floral smell.
The suite had several bottles of free water that were replaced daily (the tap water in Tenerife is safe to drink but doesn't taste very good) and housekeeping staff was friendly and efficient. Turndown service was offered each evening. A mini-fridge contained the usual: booze, snacks and soft drinks. I appreciated that it was unlocked so I could cool my water.
My favorite part, though, was the balcony. We slept with the balcony doors open both nights for that ocean breeze. Tenerife doesn't really have mosquitoes, so it was very pleasant.
The balcony had a table with four chairs and two comfortable loungers. It was the perfect place to hang out, and we enjoyed sunset drinks there both evenings of our stay.
My only complaint with the suite was a minimal one: The light switches were confusing. There were so many of them, and I never managed to get the hang of which one turned on which lights.
But the suite had plenty of outlets, always something I make a point to look for. The Wi-Fi, though it took a moment to connect and reconnect when I got back to the room and hotel, worked quickly once connected on all my devices.
Food and Beverage
The Ritz-Carlton Abama featured 10 restaurants, including the Mirador, with ocean views; a steakhouse; and a Michelin-starred Japanese spot, Kabuki. There was also M.B., a Basque restaurant with two Michelin stars. But one of the things I like most about the Canary Islands is eating at some of the inexpensive, locally owned seafood eateries around the island, enjoying freshly caught vieja (a fish found in Canary waters) and papas arrugadas, "wrinkled potatoes" covered in a delicious, spicy sauce called "mojo."
We did have lunch one day at the pool, not wanting to leave on a gorgeous day. We were so content in the sun that I asked the Mirador staff if they could bring our food to our pool chairs, and they told me it was no problem. My husband and I ordered a burger, a chicken salad and a grilled-cheese sandwich with two glasses of rose wine. I found the food to be average, and for 72 euros (about $80), I should have followed my gut and eaten elsewhere for a third of the price. The burger was very undercooked, and the sandwich was a little soggy. I did enjoy the heck out of my overpriced salad, though, which came with fresh cucumbers and juicy fried chicken.
We tested out room service one evening -- we ordered the sea bass with vegetables, papas arrugadas and a creme brulee. Everything was fantastic. The staff even offered to split the sea bass and serve it on two plates after I mentioned my husband and I were sharing.
We paired the meal with a bottle of wine from one of the volcanic vineyards on the islands I had picked up at a local grocery store for about 6 euros ($7). Similar wines on the room-service menu were going for much higher.
The breakfast buffet at the Veranda restaurant for two was included in our rate, and it was an excellent spread. Both mornings we enjoyed made-to-order omelets and delicious Iberian ham. The Iberian meats stand itself was addicting, and I found myself making a trip back for more each day!
The buffet also included fresh fruit, plenty of baked goods, salmon, veggies and hot foods like sausages and bacon.
The resort was so large (giant golf course included) that it offered a small train to transport passengers to and from the different pools and beach.
The main area of the resort had a huge pool area, which was actually very relaxing despite the fact there were many children around, mainly because it was so big and the resort wasn't full.
Kids loved the rocks in the pool to climb on, and the bridges were fun too — the resort was very kid-friendly in general, and had a kids club. But if you were traveling as a couple or with friends, you could escape and relax, at least when the resort wasn't too full.
You could walk down the hill or take the train down to the pool for 14-year-olds and up, which was pure bliss — an infinity pool with gorgeous ocean views. At both pools, staff walked around and offered free, healthy snacks, like fruit kebabs and carrot sticks.
The grounds were impeccable, landscaped with vibrant pink and purple flowers.
You could also walk to a small scenic viewpoint and take the funicular down to the beach area, which was sandwiched between two cliffs. The beach was semiprivate and relatively busy with resort guests and locals enjoying the sun.
Because the ocean water was chilly, I preferred to be up at either heated pool, enjoying the warmer water and ocean views from afar, but I was glad I stopped down to the beach to check it out.
The resort also had a spa and a fitness center.
The fitness center had classes at an additional cost, but I still preferred to have the choice to pay for a class rather than being charged a resort fee. We didn't have time to use the center, but the spinning room was outside with ocean views! The rest of the center was equipped with the usual weight and cardio equipment.
We heard live jazz music outdoors on a Friday evening. Many guests were seated, enjoying the drinks and music, but we didn't stay too long, wanting to head up to our suite to relax after a dinner out.
The resort also had shops selling beach clothing and jewelry, and a gift shop for souvenirs and sunblock.
The Ritz-Carlton Abama made for a fantastic, sunshine-filled getaway. The rooms, though slightly dated, were comfortable and, when it comes to decor, I'll take breathtaking ocean views over contemporary design and furniture any day. Plus, the resort was impeccable and the staff was helpful and friendly at every turn. I've always loved visiting the Canary Islands and can't wait to head back and visit this hotel again.
I hope this hotel will consider adding some more affordable dining options, but if not, there are always nearby spots to visit. Just make sure to rent a car, giving you more options when it comes to not only restaurants, but beaches, outdoor activities and more.