Last Updated: 2020-04-01
When Ramadan is approaching, people usually ask me if I recommend traveling to Morocco during Ramadan, which is a reasonable question, since it’s completely different from any time, with certain advantages and disadvantages.
But before answering the question, I think it’s better to first explain a little about Ramadan (it will be enjoyable, don’t worry). Let’s get started!
Meaning of Ramadan
Many people often summarize Ramadan in two sentences: starving during the day and binging at night. In my opinion, it’s a simplification that does a disservice to one of the elements that most represents Moroccan religion and, by extension, its culture.
As you know, Morocco is a religious country, and every religion shares a common theme: approach to God through purification of the soul, which has a lot to do with the way we treat others and ourselves. Regardless of your beliefs, I think you’ll agree with me that religion is a way of leading life with certain ethics and conscience.
In that sense, Ramadan, apart from religious issues, proposes self-discipline, i.e. showing yourself that you can live without a series of temptations, that you are able to overcome a series of barriers that your circumstances and your own body puts in front of you. How many times have you been tested yourself, for example, promising not to be so aware of the continuous notifications of your phone? Well, that is similar to Ramadan.
Therefore, we can understand Ramadan as an invitation to a conscious effort to improve behavior and have more self-discipline. And it’s not only restricted to food, but also includes other temptations that may alter the meditation that is practiced throughout the day, such as drinking, sexual intercourse or any type of drug (including tobacco).
But it doesn’t just consist of that; also, depending on the region or the country, there are other peculiarities; For example, in the time of Ramadan in Morocco it’s common to offer alms to the poor (emphasizing that you don’t need so much money and that, in addition, you can give it to those who need it more).
How then should the nightly feasts be understood? Well, as a way to celebrate as a family that we have been able to pass the test for another day.
Does this help you to see Ramadan from a different angle?
Beginning of Ramadan in Morocco
The dates for Muslims religious celebrations are according to the lunar calendar (11 days shorter than ours), so Ramadan (or any other Muslim date) can happen at any season of the year (imagine it happening in the middle of summer). You can find out more about the Moroccan calendar at this link.
It begins on the new moon, on the last day of the eighth month of the Islamic calendar. But until a few days before no one knows exactly what day it will be on the Gregorian calendar because, although astronomy could help us to predict it, tradition dictates that the imam has to observe the first sign of the crescent moon, which indicates the beginning of Ramadan. This can lead to a margin of error of approximately two days.
For example, in 2019 it was from May 5 to June 3. And since there is an 11-day lag with respect to our calendar, it’s most likely that in 2020 Ramadan will take place from April 23 to May 23, or up to two days before or after.
Visiting Morocco during Ramadan: Advantages and Disadvantages
I’ll tell you my personal experience after visiting Morocco on numerous occasions during Ramadan.
What’s most striking is that everything slows down: people walk as if in slow motion and there is hardly any traffic during the day (except one hour before and after the fasting ends). This has a great upside, and is that “amateur guides” (those who kindly offer to help tourists, expecting a tip of course) disappear, so you can enjoy a much calmer experience without the need to say “no, thanks” all the time.
One drawback is that it’s more complicated to eat lunch out. Since most people are fasting most kitchens are closed during the day. So, you’ll need to resort to tourist-oriented restaurants, with food that’s very likely less authentic and surely more expensive.
An alternative is to have a good breakfast and pack some light food (for example, a drink, a snack and a piece of fruit) to have something to snack on throughout the day. Just try to be discreet: keep in mind that they not only can’t eat, but can’t even drink water. So, it’s not nice to eat and drink it front of them, even if they politely pretend not to care.
In addition, as you may have figured out, being subjected to such strict self-discipline for days can cause them to be in a bad mood, and it’s common to see them arguing. So, if by chance you have a problem with someone, my advice is to take a breath deeply for three seconds, then say goodbye politely to avoid conflicts.
Fortunately, as night falls and the sirens sound signaling the end of the fast, the party begins. They usually have a fruit juice with some dates, and then go to the mosque to pray. Later they head home and eat with the family and then go out, celebrating being able to pass the test one more day. The streets and coffee shops fill with people and the children start playing in the street, everyone sharing in the joy.
So, what about daytime during Ramadan? What happens at the shops and places of interest? They follow more or less their usual schedule, but with nuances: if the store is very focused on local customers, it may have a reduced schedule and, on rare occasions, close some days. The places of interest and museums aren’t usually affected or, at most, they might close a couple of hours earlier.
Curiosities and Other Information of Interest
There are those who, for temporary personal reasons, can’t follow Ramadan totally or partially (for example, if they have to make a long journey and must eat and keep hydrated). In those cases, they can make up for those days after Ramadan.
It goes without saying that people with temporary or permanent health problems simply can’t fast (sick people, children, the elderly, women who are pregnant or menstruating). In these cases, they don’t even need to make up the days they couldn’t fast.
Ramadan is also a time that Moroccans use to reflect on all the bad things that have happened throughout the year and turn the page. Of course, it’s not necessary to wait for Ramadan to take advantage of this opportunity; if someone, for whatever reason, wants to fast any day of the year, they can do it.
Beside the religious and spiritual virtues of Ramadan, Moroccans praise its biological benefits: they think it’s good for the body to be subjected to a severe fast for one month a year, and it seems they might be right.
Smokers become particularly irritable during Ramadan. Those of you who were once habitual smokers and who managed to leave it behind (my sincere congratulations) know that most quitters gain some weight, because you compensate by drinking and eating more. Imagine if suddenly you can’t smoke from sunrise to sunset, nor can you eat or drink. So, please, if you run across a smoker, be particularly kind to him during Ramadan, and if you smoke, try not to smoke near anyone.
The question you’ll all ask yourself at this point in the article is obvious I think: is it worth traveling in Ramadan or is it better to avoid it?
I think it’s tremendously difficult and unfair to answer that question categorically because, as you’ll have figured out by now, Morocco is a completely different country in Ramadan. Is it a time to go to regularly to Morocco? It’s a matter of taste: I have friends who only want to go during Ramadan because they appreciate the calmness in the air; others prefer to avoid it. What I would certainly recommend is to live the experience at least once.
And that’s one more post about the amazing culture of Morocco. If you have any questions or want to share your impressions or curiosities about this celebration, feel free to comment! Much love to all.
This article is part of our information for first time travelers to Morocco. If you want to know more, we invite you to read our basic guide to Morocco.