Firstly… what is Ramadan?
For those of you who don't know, Ramadan is the Islamic holy month dedicated to fasting. From sunrise to sunset Muslims abstain from food, drink, tobacco and sex, they also pray more than usual. After the sunsets each day they break the fast.
Fasting is not a easy task at the best of times & even more so thanks to the fact that it can fall smack bang in the middle of summer (which gets extremely hot and dry in North Africa)!
Will I be expected to fast?
No – none of the locals expect you to fast and would probably be a little concerned if we did as we certainly aren't used to their climate, culture and have not learnt the methods they use to cope with the fast.
One of our biggest concerns from our research prior to the trip was that we wouldn't be able to find anywhere to eat.
Okay then, but will there be food available?
A lot of the research we did in the weeks leading up to our trip gave us the impression that most restaurants/cafes/food stalls would be closed down and that food would really only be available in big international hotels (potentially cause for concern for those on a backpacker budget).
We didn't struggle to find food once, always finding restaurants and cafes (even McDonalds) open – and there were plenty of options. Being the middle of summer, the orange juice trucks in the Marrakech medina proved very popular as well!
I’m sure if you travel outside of summer/Ramadan that there would probably be more restaurants open but we really didn’t have any difficulty finding food.
There was a great deal more availability and options in Marrakech as opposed to the quieter Fez. We loved Fez, it is quirky, unique and we felt we got a great deal more of the Moroccan culture from there than we did Marrakech.
We were exploring Fez one evening right on sundown when the streets completely cleared in front of our eyes as everyone went to break their fast. The staff at our beautiful Riad, Palais Amani in Fez had their nightly meal together in the courtyard of the Riad – it was a great thing to experience & as a guest felt this allowed us the opportunity to further witness and understand the Moroccan culture and Ramadan.
If you are travelling in smaller towns you may have more difficulty find places to eat especially around this time of an evening but in the big cities you will have no problem.
What is it like after the fast is broken?
The streets come alive at night during Ramadan following the breaking of the fast at sunset so you will probably find the streets quite empty for an hour or so following this time, but not long afterwards they will come alive.
We went out one night in Fez just on sun down and the streets were completely deserted! Marrakech was a little different as it is much busier & touristy and there were still people out and about at all times.
Are the souks (markets) still open?
We were advised prior to leaving that things slow down during the day and many businesses close down or operate with limited hours and staff – this is true.
We did notice a lot of shops closed up and there were certainly a lot more open of a morning then later in the afternoon (I think mostly due to the heat and fasting), but there were still plenty of shops open and whatever you’ve dreamed of buying in Morocco as a souvenir – I guarantee you’ll be able to find.
Bartering in the souks
I know sometimes I get hangry (anger from hunger) if I miss one meal, I also drink a ridiculous amount of water each day and the heat sometimes makes me grumpy.
So imagine it being 40°+ and you haven’t eaten or drank all day… well just think about that when you are haggling and try be nice whilst bartering with the shop keepers. We didn’t come across anyone who was too grumpy but we heard stories from other people of big tempers boiling over. Just be nice & if you can’t work out a reasonable deal then smile & thank them and just walk away.
With neither of us being smokers this didn’t affect us – but is something that smokers should keep in mind and one of the biggest bits of advice we were given was to not smoke in front of other people. This is due to the fact that Muslims are expected to fast for the entire month from smoking.
Alcohol is also not widely available in Morocco normally but the country is dry during Ramadan. One of our Riads had a bar where I had a glass of wine and Dan a beer one night whilst we relaxed on the terrace watching the sunset but that was it. We didn’t really see any other alcohol throughout our whole trip, it didn’t phase us at all though.
Do I need to cover up?
Morocco is an Islamic country and therefore in respect of the culture you should consider dressing more conservative than normal. Ramadan is a highly religious time and women are expected to cover up more than usual. Marrakech is fairly liberal but outside of there especially – we would recommend to dress more conservatively and respect the culture and customs. I always kept a thin scarf/shawl on me that I could wrap around the shoulders and chest if I was wearing a singlet or t-shirt.
What are the benefits of travelling during Ramadan?
I loved that we got to see an insight into Islam and Moroccan culture that a great deal of people never would.
A huge benefit of travelling during this time is the distinct lack of crowds and tourists. We were free to wander the souks and get lost in the medina without being jammed between a million other westerners trying their hand at bartering. Our stunning Riad’s, Riad Noga, Palais Amani, Riad Star and La Maison Arabe were practically empty due to it being off-season so we felt extremely lucky to basically have these incredible palaces to ourselves!
A few tips for travelling during Ramadan
A few tips for travelling during Ramadan
- Be courteous – whilst no one expects you to fast, I still wouldn’t be scoffing my face with food in the middle of the market or drinking water in front of loads of people.
- Spent your mornings wandering the souks, shopping & haggling and then your afternoons relaxing in your Riad (the streets are MUCH quieter of an afternoon).
- Pack water and some snacks in your day bag (just incase you run into any difficulties finding food).
- Do your research and respect the culture, religion and customs & you’ll have an incredible experience in this amazing country.
- Don’t be concerned if you hear canons! They simply mark the start and end of each fasting day.
- Enjoy the experience! It won't feel like home but that's one of the joys of travelling is getting out of your comfort zone!
Would we recommend travelling in Morocco during Ramadan?
I loved the fact that there were minimal tourists & we weren’t having to battle the crowds!
I feel our Moroccan experience was enriched by travelling during Ramadan and that we learnt a great deal more about the culture and people then we would have if we had have travelled in in a peak season.
Days are hot, you may find yourself getting irritable and frustrated with touts or find yourself on the end of a shopkeepers temper but it is all part of the experience and the nights are fantastic – the whole city comes to life and people are so happy!
Enjoy Morocco & don’t let the fact that it is Ramadan put you off travelling to this wonderful country. As long as you are prepared for what to expect and understand their customs you will have an incredible trip.