Spending part of the holy month in Marrakech is a trip that I’d recommend to everyone.
After getting a cheap deal because of the time of year, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’m thrilled to say that it was a fantastic experience to visit Marrakech during Ramadan. Speaking to the locals about Ramadan and watching the streets quieten around sunset really enhanced my experience, leaving me feeling like we could get a real flavour of life in Marrakech. There’s a lack of recent information and articles about this online (or at least, I thought so while I was searching) so what better excuse to write the post that would have helped me out?
If you’ve travelled in other parts of the world during Ramadan, it could be a similar or very different experience to Morocco. I spent the start of Ramadan last year in Malaysia but, with a bigger mix of different religions across the country, the celebrations didn’t seem as noticeable compared to Muslim-majority Marrakech. But before we get stuck into the nitty gritty, here’s a quick oveview of what Ramadan is for anyone who isn’t familiar with it.
What is Ramadan and when is it celebrated?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar but, as the moon cycles don’t align exactly with the Western ‘sun’ cycles, the date moves back by 10 or 11 days on the Georgian calendar each year. In 2019, Ramadan is due to begin on the evening of Sunday 5th May and end the evening of Tuesday 4th June.
During Ramadan, practising Muslims (with a few exceptions including children, pregnant women, the sick and elderly) will not eat, drink, smoke or have sex within daylight hours. It’s a holy time that symbolises purification and peace so, from what I’ve read, doing good deeds, donating to charity and generally staying in good spirits is encouraged. At sunset, Iftar – the meal that breaks the fast – is enjoyed before evening prayers.
Can you eat and drink in Marrakech during Ramadan?
While practising Muslims will be fasting during daylight hours, you aren’t expected to follow suit. I wondered if we might struggle with finding places to eat but virtually every restaurant or café that we passed was open as usual, even around sunset. It’s incredible to see the sense of community as the sun sets: stallholders sit down with their neighbours to chat, relax and enjoy their first meal of the day as the skies darken and the lamps come on. One evening, we stopped for a drink in Jemaa el Fna square as the sun set. When the call from the Mosque came signalling the end of the day’s fast, we were surprised that the waiters kept working, taking it in turns to enjoy a short break and meal in the kitchen. Rather than huffing if your service is a tad slower than usual, try to relax, be considerate and enjoy the celebratory atmosphere of this special time of day.
I wrote more about the delicious places we ate and much more in my Budget Guide to a City Break in Marrakech.
My friends and I also don’t smoke so this wasn’t something I had particularly considered while in Marrakech but it’s good manners not to smoke in public during Ramadan. If your riad or a café has a roof terrace, it may be acceptable here or you could even consider nicotine patches if you’ll be out and about for a few hours. Basically, just make things as easy as possible for the people around you even if you aren’t taking part in Ramadan yourself.
If you don’t have a huge amount of experience with visiting Muslim countries, it’s normal to have questions about what you can and can’t do! Here are a few tips based on the questions I had before visiting Marrakech during Ramadan and what I learned while I was there.
I’ll confess that this one caused me a bit of worry beforehand: my summer wardrobe is usually a mix of vests, printed dresses and shorts so I was really keen not to get it wrong and end up offending a ton of people. In all honesty, Marrakech did seem relatively relaxed but while a few tourists were wandering around in skimpy outfits, the vast majority of people were more covered up. As a group of three girls we did attract a few comments (“hey Spice Girls” seemed to be a common one!) so modest clothing will help to keep these to a minimum and personally, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable walking around the medina in a short skirt or revealing top.
Think t-shirts rather than vests, midi or maxi dresses and steer away from anything that exposes too much chest. We went for light, floaty trousers (or harem pants could work too) as they’re great for keeping you cool in the summer heat. You can find a rainbow of stunning scarves in the souks so if you want something extra to throw over your shoulers, you can treat yourself to a spot of retail therapy.
Booze is off the menu
If you want a cocktail-fuelled holiday, Marrakech probably isn’t the place for you. It’s difficult to find anywhere that serves alcohol in the medina and I’m pretty sure this is the case throughout the entire year, not just in Ramadan. If you’re staying in a fancy hotel, there will usually be a bar if you’re desperate for a tipple but for budget travellers, it may prove more difficult. The manager of our riad (the lovely Ryad Amiran FYI) said there are a few supermarkets selling alcohol around Jemaa el Fna (you’ll need to produce ID) but honestly, we were happy to take in the sights with a fruity mocktail instead. You’ll be grateful for it when you’re trying to navigate your way home through the impossibly winding media streets! In fact, on that note…
Take care getting around
One piece of advice I read over and over was that we’d encounter grumpy shopkeepers and waiters during Ramadan. I mean, I’d definitely be a nightmare to be around if I hadn’t eaten in over 14 hours so I could completely understand this logic. But after preparing myself for some potentially unpleasant exchanges, I’m happy to report that we didn’t experience this in the slightest. Almost everyone we came across was super friendly and even in the souks, we didn’t feel particularly harrassed to look in any stalls or buy things that we didn’t want.
Our only more negative encounters happened when we walked home at night. Maybe we looked obviously lost (we were) but we had so many teenagers and kids approach us to say that the roads ahead were ‘closed’ or ‘forbidden’ or trying to lead us back to the main square. As rude as it feels, the best approach is just to tell them politely no and keep walking because they can be quite persistent. One young boy spent a good 10 minutes following us, insisting that he was showing us the way to Riad Star – even though we told him over and over that we weren’t staying there.
On balance, we didn’t encounter any aggression and for the most part walking home at night was a pretty cool experience. After 7pm, the souks were so empty that it felt like the set of an apocalyptic film but then, only yards down the road, we’d join dozens of people flooding out of the mosque after evening prayers. If you’re a solo female, I wouldn’t recommend trying to navigate these streets alone at night – I certainly wouldn’t feel as comfortable as I did in cities across South East Asia – but if you’re in a group with a map or route to follow, just enjoy the stroll.
Book your excursion times carefully
During my research about Marrakech, some guides I read said that it was difficult to visit any attractions during Ramadan but this isn’t the case at all. Some of the opening hours are slightly more limited – places like the Saadian Tombs seemed to close around 3pm rather than 5pm – but if you plan the majority of your sightseeing for the morning, you shouldn’t have any issues.
While many trips and tours will continue running throughout Ramadan, some may have reduced hours or slightly altered timetables to fit around the breaking of the fast. We actually booked a Sunset Camel Ride in the palm groves just outside the city and while they didn’t rush us along at all, we felt pretty guilty when we realised that the guides were probably delaying their Iftar for our benefit. While there’s nothing to stop you booking a tour if it’s running at a specific time, I’d recommend being cautious about this if you can.
I hope this guide has told you all that you need to know about visiting Marrakech during Ramadan! Feel free to leave your own tips in the comments or any questions too.
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