I’ve spent five years living in the Middle East (based predominantly out of Cairo but also doing lengthy stints in Turkey and Morocco), and so non-Muslim travellers often ask me if Ramadan is a good time to visit the Islamic world. From my own experience, I can say with some confidence that the answer to that question is… maybe.
As you will see from the stories in the feature below, there are lots of people having some of the most treasured and wonderful travel experiences while travelling during Ramadan — but what is required to make the most of this time is a little bit of compromise.
Ramadan is a time of holy devotion for Muslims, most notably through fasting. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, the obligations of every Muslim according to their faith. From the time the sun creeps into the day through to the last ray of light, nothing should pass their lips. No food, no water, no cigarettes. Nothing. This is a time to make a sacrifice in yourself and a time to contemplate your existence in the world and how you might be able to make that existence more meaningful for your community, your family, and the world.
When the sun goes down, it is a time to be with your family and to celebrate. If you can afford it, you give a little of what you have to those who do not have enough for themselves, to ensure no one is missing out. It is a time when the grand traditions of hospitality shine their brightest in these parts of the world. Many of the experiences you will read below reflect on the incredibleness of this interaction with strangers. This is a wonderful time to make human connections. It was certainly the time when I had some of my best interactions.
To reach that reward, however, there are some things you need to prepare for as a traveller. If having a drink (alcohol) every evening is a mandatory part of your travel experience, then this is not the time or place for you (although like in everything, there are some exceptions to the rule). Respect for your surroundings means you should go out of your way to be discreet when eating or drinking during daylight hours. Most restaurants will be closed and your choices will be limited. When the sun goes down, most places will be booked up. You can’t be in a hurry to get anywhere in the hours leading up to sunset as everyone is trying to get home. Service can be a bit lethargic, people are tired and hungry, and ‘the sites’ close hours earlier than during the rest of the year.
So, should you travel during Ramadan at all? I say the stories below show that this is, absolutely, a magnificent time to travel if you like genuine interactions with locals — so long as you have an open mind, are ready to compromise a bit, and have some empathy for your fellow human beings.
Read on for our tales of devotion and kindness during this holy time of year:
I’ve spent five years living in the Middle East ( based predominantly out of Cairo but also doing lengthy stints in Turkey and Morocco), and so non-Muslim travellers often ask me if Ramadan is a good time to visit the Islamic world.