On the volcanic desert island of Lanzarote, I guided our rental Jeep off the highway in search of Papagayo, a legendary natural beach with red rocks, golden sand and warm blue-green waters. But when the gravel road became relentlessly herky-jerky, I began to get nervous.
"Are you sure this is safe?" Sabrina asked me.
I didn't want to worry her, but I was wondering that, too. I gingerly turned the Jeep around, and we headed off for an early dinner in town.
Three months earlier, Sabrina and I would have taken on such roads with aplomb while traveling abroad. But now she was 15 weeks pregnant, and we were on our babymoon in the Canary Islands. As anxious first-timers, we didn't want to do anything that might hurt our little avocado. (Sabrina's doctor later assured us that thanks to the shock-absorbing miracle of amniotic fluid, we would have been fine to carefully take the drive.)
Similar to a honeymoon, a babymoon is a last-hurrah vacation for expectant parents that has become a growing travel category, and a popular hashtag. A babymoon can be a grand adventure, or a relaxing escape. Either way, it's a time to reflect on where you've been as a couple, and on the even bigger adventure that lies ahead.
But why the exotic Canary Islands — an Atlantic archipelago belonging to Spain, but only 80 miles off the Moroccan coast — in this summer of inflation and travel stress? Around the same time we confirmed we were pregnant, I noticed that United Airlines had announced a novel new route from Newark to Tenerife in the Canaries. Having explored Atlantic islands together from Iceland to the Azores, Sabrina and I agreed that it could fit the bill for our babymoon.
We checked with the American Pregnancy Association, which says the ideal time for travel is the second trimester, after the risk of morning sickness (and miscarriage) has subsided and before things get too, uh, complicated in the latter months. Most airlines allow expectant women to fly until 36 weeks, or as little as 28 weeks internationally. And so, in honor of the special occasion, we liquidated our hoard of credit card points to book the third-ever Newark-to-Tenerife flight in June.
This gave us a little extra budget for "economy plus" seats, to give Sabrina some extra comfort and the ability to move around during the seven-hour jaunt. For her, wearing compression socks on the plane was also a must. In preparation for our long layover in Newark, I opened a credit card that granted us free one-time access to the airport's spacious new United Club lounge. The airline, eager to promote the new route, was on its best behavior throughout the trip.
Upon landing on Tenerife, the largest and most populous of the Canaries, we promptly shuttled to the island's other airport and stood by for a propeller-plane flight to Lanzarote, the easternmost island of the archipelago.
This convoluted itinerary ensured that we were among the few Americans on Lanzarote — a sort of desert version of Iceland, with endless volcanic landscapes, pregnancy-friendly temperatures in the 70s, and enchanting white-cubic architecture everywhere. But coastal parts of the island, we learned, are a popular resort for Brits, Germans and Spaniards.
For lodging, we veered inland to 5 Suites, a stylish modern guesthouse with a panoramic view of the coast. Miraculously, there were no other guests during our stay, so it felt like house-sitting for a wealthy friend. It was the perfect base for our busy all-day Jeep explorations of the whole of Lanzarote (via mostly paved roads). We strolled through a cactus garden flanked by a Dutch-style windmill. We wandered into roadside volcanic cave systems, explored the crater of an extinct volcano, and peered down at charcones (natural pools) on the rocky western shore.
We did routinely head to the touristy waterfront for dinner, whether it was an all-vegan spread with an all-vinyl soundtrack at Bistro Arbol, or seafood along the boardwalk at Brisa Marina. After researching which regional fish were low in mercury, we each settled on delectable fresh-caught Atlantic sea bass, full of omega-3s for baby's development. On our last night on Lanzarote, we splurged at the over-water La Casa Roja in posh Playa Blanca, with windows in the floor for spotting sea life. It was the perfect spot for the selfie we used to finally announce our pregnancy on social media.
After three whirlwind days, we flew back to Tenerife to spend Saturday evening in its largest city, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, tightly framed by oceanside mountains. We checked into the dreamy Iberostar Heritage Grand Mencey, with a fifth-story balcony view of city and sea, a pool with a mountain view, a breakfast buffet of Vegas proportions, and a formal wedding taking place on the grounds.
Santa Cruz turned out to be the best European city we'd never heard of, featuring immaculate gardens, a Herzog/de Meuron-designed art center, a lively produce market and blocks of pedestrian boulevards with topnotch people-watching and Spanish culture. We were enjoying a traditional ropa vieja (a fibrous stew of meat and tomatoes) at a sidewalk table at Boguedita Canaria when an incense-filled parade for the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi passed us by. Following in its wake, we stumbled onto a raging ABBA tribute concert on the harbor as part of the city's Pride celebration.
The last phase
On Sunday we drove to the west side of Tenerife for the final phase of our babymoon. Again staying away from the big tourist beaches to the south, we checked into a one-bedroom villa at the off-the-grid, solar-powered Finca Stemann, hosted by a cheery pair of German expats. The mountainside villa had a private infinity pool overlooking La Gomera, the next volcanic island over. The closest resort area was Los Gigantes, where black cliffs rise an astonishing half-mile above the ocean and town.
Tenerife is dominated by Mount Teide, a dormant volcano that is Spain's highest mountain — but due to unseasonably overcast skies, we never laid eyes on it. Instead, we drove through the valley of Masca, where a quaint terra cotta village is perched on a high ridge near a towering rock formation above the coast. The next day we viewed the same gorge from the ocean, on a boat tour out of Los Gigantes during which bottlenose dolphins, giant sea turtles and even a hammerhead shark seemed to perform on cue. When the shuttle boat anchored in the bay of Masca to pick up gorge hikers, I took a refreshing plunge in deep azure waters.
For a babymoon that felt luxurious, our expenses were impressively low, with lodging below $200 a night, and $30 a day for rental SUVs and about $30 per person for dinner. The nearly equivalent dollar-to-euro conversion this summer, and forgoing alcohol, were also helpful. On the trip back to Minnesota, we lingered in New York City for a day, nabbing balcony seats for "Plaza Suite" on Broadway, with Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick.
Since we were taking it relatively easy on our babymoon, we did leave a few adventures on the table in the Canary Islands — that canceled drive to Papagayo on Lanzarote comes to mind. But that's perfectly OK with us. Hopefully we'll make it to that beach someday soon — next time with our daughter.