Perhaps you’ve just learned that your trip to Morocco will coincide with Ramadan and are worried that your experience might be compromised. Or maybe you’re just beginning to make travel plans and are wondering whether or not it’s a good idea to visit Morocco during this time.
While such concerns are understandable, the good news is that tourism in Morocco is alive and well during Ramadan, as is famous Moroccan hospitality. That means you’re likely to have as fantastic an experience as you would when visiting Morocco at another time of the year. Not only that, you’ll be treated to unique cultural experiences and spiritual insights that simply don’t present themselves outside of the month-long window of Ramadan, and you’ll find that hotels, attractions and activities are much less crowded.
Here then is what to expect if traveling to Morocco in Ramadan. In 2019, the month of Ramadan will be approximately May 5th through June 4th.
First Things First – What Exactly Is Ramadan?
Ramadan is a month in the Islamic calendar when adult Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sundown. During that period of time, Muslims abstain from food, drink, chewing gum, smoking, and sexual intimacy. Those who are in poor health, elderly, pregnant or nursing a baby are exempt from the fast, as are those who have mental illness or those who must take medication on a strict schedule. If someone misses some of the fasting days due to sickness or travel, the days must be made up in the coming year before the next Ramadan arrives.
The 12-month Islamic calendar is a lunar one, so its months are not in sync with the 12 months of the Gregorian calendar. Each year, Ramadan begins 10 or 11 days earlier in the Gregorian calendar than it did the preceding year. It takes about 30 years for Ramadan to cycle through the entire Gregorian calendar, which means over the span of an average Muslim’s lifetime, they’ll have experienced long, hot days of fasting Ramadan during summer months as well as short, “easier” days of fasting Ramadan during winter months.
While fasting 30 consecutive days from dawn to dusk may sound incredibly difficult no matter the time of year, the body does adjust after a few days and the real emphasis of the month shifts to a spiritual one. Fasting teaches self-discipline, which can be applied to all aspects of personal, professional and spiritual life. Fasting also helps instill gratitude for daily blessings that might otherwise be taken for granted. During Ramadan, many Muslims try to read more of the Quran, give more charity, and engage in worship above and beyond the required five daily prayers—most notably at nightly congregational prayers called taraweh.
For those living outside of a Muslim country, it’s very possible that Ramadan can come and go without your even being aware of it. But within Muslim countries such as Morocco, the spiritual change in the air is palpable, as is the change to the rhythm of the day. For the curious and open-minded traveler, this can be a wonderful and interesting thing to experience.
What Is Morocco Like in Ramadan?
During Ramadan in Morocco, the days tend to start off on a sleepy note, particularly outside of city centers. When Ramadan falls in summer months, as it did in recent years, non-urban streets might remain free of activity until noon or later. Most Moroccan businesses will adjust Ramadan hours of operation so that employees can be home in time to break the fast. They also might start the business day a bit later because many people are getting less sleep. Small retail shops and neighborhood grocery stores tend to open later, close at sunset for an hour or two, and then reopen in the evening. Government offices and service providers will reduce the length of the working day, while those involved with construction or heavy labor might start quite early in the morning and finish by mid-afternoon to avoid intense afternoon heat. Local eateries won’t be open during the day, sports activities might be relegated to evenings, and schools also start later in the morning and finish earlier in the afternoon.
Despite the fasting that’s going on, food preparation increases. Many Moroccan families follow a tradition of breaking their fast with a variety of sweet and savory finger foods and breakfast foods along with dates, soup, eggs and sweets. Some of the favored foods are time-consuming to prepare, so many women find themselves in the kitchen more than normal. More cooking might be done after breaking the fast, as many families gather over a full dinner late at night or in the early morning hours. Bakery items and traditional cookies and sweets are in high demand at this time, and some families prepare for Ramadan a full month in advance to stock their freezers and pantries with homemade items.
Many Muslims become more religiously-minded during the month of Ramadan. Moroccan men and women may dress more conservatively than usual or in traditional clothing , mosque attendance dramatically increases, and some mosques remain open all night long for those who wish to attend pre-dawn prayers.
Urban areas and highly populated neighborhoods tend to come alive at night. Those who aren’t at the mosque might instead be walking around on bustling streets, browsing shops, socializing outdoors with friends and neighbors, and enjoying street food such as sandwiches, juices and snacks from vendors and shops. Kids can be heard playing and shouting until late into the night, and things may not quiet down until midnight or later. In fact, those who don’t have work or school obligations might completely reverse their days and night during Ramadan.
How Does Ramadan Affect Visitors to Morocco?
Unless your primary reason for visiting Morocco is to explore Moroccan cuisine in-depth, Ramadan should not be disruptive to your travel experience and should be as enjoyable as any other time of the year for your trip. You should find that many, if not most, tourism activities, businesses and local sites and attractions are operational in Ramadan, although perhaps on a modified schedule. As example, in Casablanca you’ll find that tours are running at the Hassan II Mosque and that tour guides and drivers are available for city tours, excursions to popular neighborhoods such as Habbous and the Old Medina, and for day trips to nearby cities. Guides and drivers will assume that you’ll want to eat and drink, so there’s no reason to feel shy about doing so in front of them or in the tour vehicle.
In other parts of Morocco, you’ll have no trouble booking popular activities such as mountain trekking, desert camel rides and 4×4 excursions. Your guides may be fasting, but no one is expecting you to be. That means you can eat and drink as normal, and if daytime meals are typically provided as part of your experience, you’ll still be served and hosted in style.
Travelers to Morocco in Ramadan will find, however, that eateries and restaurants which cater primarily to a local clientele will be closed during daytime hours in Ramadan. In major cities and in popular tourist destinations, this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem as there will still be plenty of options, including international chain restaurants, hotel restaurants, and local eateries that thrive on tourists’ business. If in doubt that you can find an open restaurant, just try to plan your outings so that you’re back in your hotel for lunchtime.
Things will be a little different in small towns and villages, particularly ones that don’t have a lot of travelers pass through even outside of Ramadan. At such destinations, you may need to stick to eating at your hotel during Ramadan days, or visit a local grocery store or convenience shop to select snacks and beverages to pack and take along on your excursions.
About Eating in Public in Morocco in Ramadan
You may have heard that it’s illegal in some Muslim countries to eat in public in Ramadan. Rest assured, tourists to Morocco do not need to worry about such laws. Moroccans would not want visitors to their country to feel like they should go thirsty or hungry out of fear of such a law, or out of concern that eating or drinking in front of a fasting Muslim is tantamount to temptation or torture. Keep in mind that Muslims themselves are exempt from fasting while traveling, and that all around the world fasting Muslims are working with food to serve children or prepare meals to break the fast later in the day.
That said, if you do need to eat or drink while out and about or enjoying the sights, it helps to use a little discretion and courtesy. As example, you might take a swig of water when you need to, but otherwise try to be inconspicuous and keep the bottle tucked away in your purse or backpack. Or, you can try to limit your snacking and drinking to uncrowded places or within the confines of a tour vehicle or restaurant that’s open for business.
Pros and Cons of Traveling to Morocco in Ramadan
While all of the above suggests that there’s no need for the average tourist to avoid a trip to Morocco during Ramadan, in the end it’s a personal decision. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages can help guide your decision or help you make the most of a trip that’s already planned. Here’s a quick overview of those pros and cons.
- Ramadan tends to be off-season for tourists, so most places you visit or stay will be less crowded.
- It’s business as usual for most of those working in the tourism industry; tours will run, adventure activities continue, and most tourist sites will be open.
- You’re likely to gain cultural and religious insights that might be overlooked or impossible to experience other times of the year.
- You’ll still eat well, even during daylight hours. Hotel and chain restaurants will be open, and activity and tour providers will have you covered if meals are part of the package.
- You’ll probably get to try some foods that are uniquely popular during Ramadan.
- If you’re a night owl, you’ll love the opportunity to experience traditional Moroccan food and culture at night, when city streets come alive and stay that way until midnight or later.
- Local, traditional dining options will be limited during the day, particularly in small cities and villages.
- There will be fewer daytime opportunities to participate in culinary activities such as food tours or cooking classes.
- Sampling of street food will need to happen after dark, and maybe at a later time than you normally like to eat.
- There’s a slower start to the day—local shops might not open until mid-morning or even noon; market vendors will probably set up business later as well.
- Nights come alive and stay that way until past midnight. If staying in small or boutique hotels in city neighborhoods, this may keep you up later than you like.
- Fasting can cause a normally pleasant person to be feel cranky, particularly later in the day, so you may encounter a Moroccan or two who displays less than admirable behavior.
- If your visit overlaps with the very end of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, the holiday which concludes the month of fasting, there will be closures, sometimes for three days instead of just one.
Tips for Enjoying Travel to Morocco During Ramadan
If your trip to Morocco does coincide with Ramadan, there are a few things you can do or keep in mind to help make your experience the best possible.
- Be open-minded and flexible when planning your days or itineraries. Check ahead of time to see if there are any closures or special hours due to Ramadan.
- Shrug off any encounters with ill-tempered people. You won’t necessarily be confronted with this, but some crankiness can be expected from anyone who is abstaining from food, drink and possibly cigarettes.
- Do try to avoid eating, drinking or smoking on streets or crowded public spaces whenever possible.
- Carry your own water and food for discreet refreshment and snacking.
- You may want to plan shorter outings and excursions so that you can plan to have lunch at your hotel.
- If possible, avoid driving or being on the road an hour before sunset when tempers might flare, people are in a hurry to get home, and accidents are more likely.
- Avoid needing to hail a taxi close to sunset, when most drivers are heading home to break their fast.
- Do try to be out and about close to sunset at least one evening in Ramadan, to see the streets empty out as people rush home to break their fast.
- Listen for (and don’t be alarmed by) the sound of canons and sirens, which are used to announce the end of the day of fasting. In some neighborhoods, a canon is also used shortly before sunrise to warn the faithful that the day of fasting is about to begin.
- Try to pass by a large mosque about two hours after sunset, when crowds line up in rows both inside and outside the mosque for the optional nighttime taraweh prayers.
- If a Moroccan invites you to their home to join them while they break the fast, leap at the opportunity. It’s a beautiful way to experience culture, food and religion all wrapped up into one. If you will be in Casablanca during Ramadan, you can plan ahead and book an in-home iftar experience with us.
- Modest dress is usually recommended no matter when you travel to Morocco, but it’s especially relevant in Ramadan. Try to avoid revealing clothing, bare shoulders or shorts and skirts which expose the legs above the knee.
- Avoid excessive public displays of affection. This is always a good idea, even outside of Ramadan.
- As always, be smart how you carry and handle personal belongings when out in public, and be courteous and ask permission before taking photos of Moroccans themselves or their wares.
Equipping yourself with a little knowledge about Morocco and the culture can go a long way in helping you to make the most of your trip and feel at ease with the people you meet. This of course rings true whether or not your trip takes place during Ramadan.