Are You Willing visit Morocco During Ramadan?
Ramadan is the month-long Islamic holiday celebrated each year. The Islamic calendar follows a lunar pattern so every year Ramadan moves 10 days forward on the Gregorian calendar. This year it falls primarily during the month of July – a high season for Moroccans living abroad to come back for a visit. While many people balk at visiting during this month, wondering what they’ll encounter, there’s no reason to put aside your plans. However, before you begin your trip, it is important to know a few things about Ramadan and how that will affect your visit.
During this month Muslims fast from all food and water from sunrise to sunset. During the evenings people break their fast with friends and family and wake up early before sunrise to eat a meal before beginning another day fasting. People are also meant to abstain from smoking cigarettes and avoid ill tempers and gossip. Ramadan is a time to reflect on the blessings each person has been given and to understand the suffering of those who go without having their basic needs such as food and water. Many Muslims attend special prayers known as tahraweh in the mosques after they break their fast.
I’m not Muslim, should I fast?
The simple answer is no, there’s no need for you to fast. Restaurants, cafes, and other eating establishments will mostly remain open. No one expects tourists to fast and they likely would be concerned for your health and well-being if you did attempt it. Some people worry about eating in front of the Muslim friends or guides. Don’t be. They’re used to this and it’s really not a problem. If you are concerned, you may consider eating inside restaurants or out of plain view on the street.
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 about holiday hours?
Just as with special holidays around the world, businesses do adjust their hours during Ramadan. Perhaps the biggest time change you should be aware of is daylight savings time. During the month, Morocco cancels daylight savings time, so the time changes to -1 GMT. You may find that shops are not open in the early hours of the morning and close up right before sunset. This is done to accommodate eating and prayer times. Of course this doesn’t mean everything will close but it’s generally the case. Monuments, historical sites, and other attractions may adjust their hours and have shorter times when they are open. Keep this in mind as you plan and try to be as patient as possible. If you’re visiting Morocco with us at Exotic Morocco Tours, we do our best to accommodate while working around these alterations to schedule. Travelers who visited Morocco during Ramadan have commented on the late eating schedule that begins to resemble that of Spain – those eating with families or in their riads can use the sunset meal (known as ftour – or breakfast; the breaking of the fast) as their main dinner or should expect to wait until later to eat supper since preparation for it does not commence until at least 30 minutes after ftour. In other words, don’t expect to eat your main dinner before 9pm during Ramadan in the summer months.
Are there any special experiences I should have when visiting during Ramadan?
Be sure to walk by a mosque during the sunset prayer to witness the flood of congregants in prayer, it can be truly awe inspiring to see hundreds, and thousands of people worshiping together. Enjoy an Iftar meal. Many restaurants and hotels offer set meals at the breaking of the fast. These include a variety of Moroccan sweets, spiced Harira soup, and juices. If possible, being invited into someone’s home to experience a traditional Iftar is truly a wonderful experience. You’ll be able to witness the celebration and excitement people truly feel at this time of year.
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.
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.