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 each year. This year, Ramadan falls largely through the month of April and will end the very start of May. This is usually a high season for travelers visiting Morocco, though this year the country might feel a bit different because of the coronavirus pandemic. The situation, as you know, is fluid and this year does look like things might just be getting back to normal. Fingers crossed!
While some people balk at visiting during Ramadan, anticipating problems or inconveniences, there’s no reason to put aside your plans. In fact, for the culturally curious, Ramadan might just be the best time of year to visit! However, before you begin your trip, it is important to know a few things about Ramadan. Here are a few things that will likely affect your visit, hopefully for the better!
What is Ramadan fasting all about?
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from the break of dawn until sunset. Their fast includes food and water, as well as cigarettes and other forms of tobacco (and even chewing gum). People break their fast with friends and family after sunset and wake up early before sunrise to eat a meal before beginning another day fasting. In general, this means that most Moroccans are fasting from about 3:30am – 8pm (the exact times change every day depending on the exact time of first light — or “crack of dawn” — and the sunset).
People are also meant to avoid ill tempers and gossip during this holy month. 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 tarawih, in the mosques after breaking fast.
What is Morocco like during Ramadan for travelers?
This is a very special, spiritual time for Muslims and if you’re visiting Morocco during Ramadan, it’s hard not to be caught up in the infectious excitement. What an exciting time to see up close for yourself Moroccan and Islamic rituals and traditions! If you’re visiting during Ramadan you will see aspects of the culture that you would not experience at any other time of the year. At the end of the day, when it’s time to break the fast, cannons sound to announce that it’s time to eat. Many mosques have tables spread out to feed the hungry after prayers. You will be able to witness thousands of people coming together in mosques to worship. In the markets and streets, special foods are made and prepared during this time. Foodies should we warned that many of these special foods aren’t found at any other time of the year.
Notably, alcohol can be much more difficult to find outside of more upscale bars and restaurants. For the couple of weeks leading up to Ramadan and throughout the month, the sale of alcohol more-or-less forbidden. Liquor stores are required, by law, to close for the month.
I’m not Muslim, should I fast?
The simple answer is: No. There’s no need for you to fast while visiting Morocco during Ramadan. Restaurants, cafes, and other eating establishments will mostly remain open, particularly in tourist hubs such as Marrakesh and Fez. No one expects tourists to fast. 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 worry. Anyone in the travel industry is used to this and it’s really not a problem. If you are concerned about offending anyone, you may consider eating inside restaurants and refrain from snacking or drinking water in public places, like on the street.
What about work hours during Ramadan?
Just as with special holidays around the world, businesses adjust their hours during Ramadan. Perhaps the biggest time change you should be aware of is daylight savings time. During the month, Morocco changes the time 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 closed, but it is often the case. Monuments, historical sites, and other attractions may adjust to have shorter hours of operation, often closing earlier in the afternoon. Keep this in mind as you plan and try to be as patient as possible.
If you’re visiting Morocco with us at Journey Beyond Travel, we do our best to accommodate you while working around these alterations to schedule. Travelers who have visited Morocco during Ramadan have commented on the late eating schedule. It resembles Spain in this respect quite a bit. 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. However, if you opt to do this, you can 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 a traditional Moroccan ftour before 9pm during Ramadan, particularly outside of major metropolitan areas.
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 even thousands of people worshipping together.
- Enjoy an ftour 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 ftour is truly a wonderful experience.
- Get out on the main square, such as the Jemma el-Fnaa in Marrakesh, at least once to witness the nightly celebration and excitement people truly feel at this time of year.
Anything else I should keep in mind?
In May, some of the country, particularly in the south, begins to warm up. Couple the heat with lack of food, water, and some sleep deprivation and there’s bound to be short tempers. For those visiting please keep in mind that the Moroccan people around you may be a bit on edge. Everyone goes out of their way to maintain a calm, cool demeanor but it’s inevitable for tempers to flare at some point. You might also find people are more apt to sleep in later in the mornings or take a nap in the afternoons. Be as patient as possible, wish them a Ramadan Kareem (Happy Ramadan!) and enjoy experiencing their holiday.
If you’re considering visiting during Ramadan and have concerns we’re happy to answer them – give us a call or send us an email. No matter where your journey takes you in Morocco, we are able to create a custom itinerary tailored especially for you. Take a look at a few of our itineraries to Morocco to get you started.
Photos from: bhrimmni, alainbachellier, alexbip,jc_nyc, Lucas Peters
UPDATED: April 24, 2020