A few weeks before we were due to arrive in Morocco last year we discovered that our trip fell during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Whilst we were aware (vaguely) of what Ramadan was we were a little worried about as to how it may affect our trip! So here’s our experience, a little about what you should expect and a few tips to help you fully enjoy your Moroccan experience (as it is an INCREDIBLE country)!
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 (because we love 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, mostly as Marrakech is a lost more touristy. 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 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 bare witness to & as a guest felt this allowed us the opportunity to further witness and understand the Moroccan culture and Ramadan.
However, we will point out that if you are travelling in smaller towns you may have more difficulty finding 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?
Following the breaking of the fast at sunset, the streets come alive at night!
Are the souks 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). There were however 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.
A word on 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. You’ll find they’ll often call after you anyway and end up making you a deal.
Smoking and Alcohol
One of the biggest bits of advice we were given before travelling to Morocco during Ramadan 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. With neither of us being smokers this didn’t affect us – but is something that smokers should definitely keep in mind.
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. It was actually quite nice (and also good for our health and wallet) not drinking every night while on holidays.
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. I also dressed in maxi dresses, long pants/trousers and t-shirts the majority of the time.
Travelling opens you up to the wonders of other countries and part of that is respecting the local culture. We did see other tourists in short shorts and singlets and I personally just don’t think that is appropriate. It sadly opens you up to unwanted attention and more often than not makes the locals feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t hurt to do your research before you travel to new destinations and pack appropriately.
What are the benefits of travelling during Ramadan?
I loved that we were able to see an insight into Islam and the Moroccan culture that a great deal of people never would.
A lot of blog posts, forum posts and websites advised against travelling during Ramadan and I am so glad that we didn’t allow this to stop us from visiting.
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 have these incredible palaces to ourselves!
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.
- Spend your mornings wandering the souks, shopping & haggling and then your afternoons relaxing in your Riad (the streets are MUCH quieter of an afternoon, with many shops closed).
- Pack water and some snacks in your day bag (just in case you run into any difficulties finding food) but as per the above point, be thoughtful when eating or drinking.
- 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 as they simply mark the start and end of each fasting day.
- Enjoy the experience! It won’t feel like home but 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 than we would have if we had travelled in 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! Also, book a riad with a pool – it is an absolute lifesaver after walking around in the heat!
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.