Essaouira: travelling during Ramadan

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan follows the lunar calendar and starts 12 days earlier each year. In 2014, it will begin around 28 June and finish around 28 July. (The precise dates are determined by holy men and based on the siting of the moon).

So, for a few years now, Ramadan has fallen during peak tourist season and naturally some travellers are concerned about the implications, particularly as practicing Muslims fast from dawn until dusk during Ramadan.

In Essaouira, the tourist cafes will serve food and drink. It would be respectful to avoid eating and drinking in plain view of people, eg in the street. Contrary to what might be expected, the local cafes are full during Ramadan days – of non-consumers reading their newspapers and catching up with friends. It seems that cafe culture is possible sans café!

Visitors should be aware that there are restrictions on the sale of alcohol (bottle shops are closed, as are most nightclubs). However, licensed bars and restaurants will still serve non-Muslims if they choose to stay open at this time.

One of the biggest challenges when traveling during Ramadan is that drivers and other tourism industry professionals are fasting. Muslims are used to this annual observance, but it can can cause short-tempers and a lack of concentration. Plan your journeys accordingly, and anticipate a stop to break the fast if you are travelling at the end of the day. It can be hard to find urban taxis at this moment as everyone dashes home to eat!

Although many foreign residents leave during Ramadan, it can be a nice time to be in Essaouira as there is always a lot of life in the medina in the evenings after ftour (the meal to break the fast) and a festive kind of atmosphere.

A word of caution: Streets are empty for around an hour either side of ftour in most places. Some unscrupulous people use this opportunity to conduct petty crime when they know they won’t be seen. As always when travelling, exercise caution with your bags and pockets, and ensure your accommodation is secure. As the end of Ramadan approaches, people’s thoughts turn to Eid and this is a time when many feel a social and family pressure to be able to finance a big feast. If you are aware and careful, you can ensure that someone else’s festivities are not at your expense.

Please note: the 2015 Gnaoua Festival has been brought forward to avoid a clash with the start of Ramadan. It will take place from 14-17 May 2015. When Ramadan falls in summer (ie in 2015, 2016,…) daylight saving is cancelled (so Morocco has an hour’s difference with the UK for the duration).

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