Traveling in Morocco: The Ramadan myth

Many travel blogs and websites will warn against traveling to primarily Muslim countries during Ramadan. I heard these travel tips, but decided to travel to Morocco during Ramadan despite this. While in Morocco, I didn’t run into many hiccups and was able to experience the country’s genuine culture. My dream was to visit the beautiful mosaic, desert land of Morocco and I am so glad I did.

Morocco has a very developed tourism industry. Tourism is the second largest foreign exchange earner for Morocco. Major cities are accommodating to tourists, even at the times of religious observation.

I arrived in Morocco in the middle of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim year. The month typically falls during the summer. The Quran says that Muslims must fast during this time, from sun up to sun down. This includes drinking, and sometimes smoking and having sex. Those who are elderly, ill, or women who are pregnant or menstruating are exempt from Ramadan. When the new moon appears in the tenth month, Ramadan is over. Eid al-Fitr is a celebration after Ramadan that features big feasts. Unfortunately, I was unable to experience this festival in Morocco.

Marrakech during Ramadan
Marrakech during iftar.

I was able to experience the beautiful human noise of the Moroccan cities coming alive to break fast together at sun down. This is called iftar. The community shared between everyone coming together to share a meal after doing something so meaningful for their spirituality is quite incredible. This amazing site would have gone unseen by me if I had not decided to travel during Ramadan. The call to prayer that is amplified over loudspeakers five times a day is more extravagant during Ramadan. Though I am not religious myself, it elicited an uplifting feeling within my being.

I started my journey in Casablanca and ended in Marrakech. In between I was in Fes, Meknes, Ouarzazate, and Volubilis. Finding a place to eat from sun up to sun down is not difficult in big cities. Restaurant workers will gladly serve tourists. While they are fasting, they will serve people with genuine appreciation. It is in Moroccan people’s culture to be warm and open to guests. Often, I felt guilty eating in front of people who were fasting.

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The tanneries in Fes.

On my flight from Barcelona to Casablanca, I was seated next to a Moroccan man who worked in Sweden. We started talking and he eased the little apprehension I had. He offered me a date along with my sad airplane meal. He told me that when Muslims are feeling faint during Ramadan, they eat a date to prevent from passing out. The man told me that he had not felt faint during that day so he had no use for the date. I thanked him profusely and ate the date. It was delicious and definitely the best date I ever had, but still I felt a tang of guilt. He asked me why I wasn’t eating my meal robustly. I told him that it was because I felt guilty to eat in front of someone who was fasting. I apologized. The man stopped and said “don’t apologize, go ahead, eat.” It did not bother him. He shared that he works in a restaurant and fasts when serving patrons. He was fasting with so much love in his heart that he did not need food.

Once I arrived, I did not even touch the snacks I had picked up in Barcelona. The hotel in Casablanca had a wide spread for breakfast. The hotel offered every meal for guests. If a traveler would come back from a journey to find food fruitless, surely the hotel will provide them with a meal.

If a particular Moroccan city’s local restaurants are all closed for Ramadan, you can count on American fast food chains. I’d much prefer a tagine or couscous from a local Moroccan restaurant, but if left with no other options McDonalds or Starbucks looks more appealing. Plus, trying the culturally modified menu items can be exciting.

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Former horse stables of the sultan in Meknes.

I tried my best to not be offensive to the Moroccan culture when traveling. I still felt the guilt in the back of my mind every time I ate around someone who was fasting. Seeing our local tour guide struggle during the extreme heat was difficult. Hiking, and even walking in the 110 degree heat was quite challenging for the rest of us, so I could not even imagine his struggle. Our tour group was always prepared with at least three large bottles of water and maybe one soda. (The sugar in the soda gives life to sluggish tourists not used to the heat). Drinks and snacks are very common in the rest stops prevalent along the roads, even during Ramadan.

Our tour guide had a water bottle he would use to keep his mouth wet. On the hottest days, he would put the water in his mouth, swish it around, and spit it back out. Unfortunately, he could not escort us to camp out in the Sahara desert for the night. The camel ride on the sand dunes was not necessarily hot, but it was very dry. The people who ran the campsite happily made us dinner once we touched down. Then we slept under the glorious stars.

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Camel riding in the Sahara while the sun sets.

My tour ended in Marrakech. There I was able to see a massive amount of people gather in the medina for iftar. The sun set but the lights of the city illuminated everything. The snake charmers packed up their snakes and the fresh orange juice stands were left unmanned to break fast. People rejoiced and I was able to watch Moroccan culture unfold in front of me. There is nothing I would change about my Moroccan travel experience during Ramadan.

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