This month marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and just as last year, I find myself in the Middle East during this special time.
Ramadan is an important month and if you find yourself travelling to Muslim countries during this period, I share my experience of travelling to 5 destinations during the month of Ramadan and what to expect.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the holiest. It takes place once a year and follows the moon’s cycle meaning that it moves each year. Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection and during this month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and break the fast at Iftar, the meal which happens after sunset.
This year Ramadan began on 23rd March and ended on 23rd April 2023 and was followed by Eid, a festival that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
I always tell people to avoid travelling in this period if they can but that was before I experienced travelling in Ramadan myself. This year I was in Dubai for Ramadan, which was a completely different experience from last year’s travels when I visited Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Sharjah. A friend who recently travelled to Pakistan during Ramadan also had a similar experience to what I am sharing below.
What Does Ramadan Mean For Tourists?
Although Ramadan is a Muslim tradition, it can affect you if you are travelling to the Middle East or other Muslim countries during this time. Dubai is an exception to the other countries so I’ll share this experience at the end.
Even though non-Muslims are not required to fast during Ramadan, typically, it is expected that you should refrain from drinking, eating and smoking in public during the day. This means that as a visitor you can’t drink or eat in public during daylight hours.
My Experience of Travel During Ramadan
Traveling during Ramadan was not something that I had planned in 2022 and my usual advice to others is to check that they’re not travelling to this region during this holy month. But on a last-minute trip, I found myself spending 5 weeks in the Middle East and 3 of them during Ramadan. It was only during travelling at this time that I realised how special Ramadan was. There’s something so special about the Middle East and its heritage and culture and being in this region during Ramadan made it even more alluring.
If you do travel during this time, the price of accommodation is cheaper meaning that you can book a really good deal. Some hotels also have special promotions for Ramadan with discounts on rooms and dinner packages.
Both the roads and public transport are much quieter as most people are fasting during the day and only come into the city after Iftar (the meal in the evening). So getting around a city in the daytime is much easier and you don’t have to deal with crowds either. Plus, you can take good shots of the tourist attractions with fewer people about too.
Do You Have To Fast While Traveling?
No. Because you can’t eat in public after dawn, you’ll find that most of the restaurants will be closed in the hotels that you stay in. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get food though. Instead, if you order breakfast, it gets delivered to your room in some hotels.
There was also one hotel where I was the only person at breakfast in the large restaurant. It was like having a personal dining experience especially because the waiter wanted to serve me everything from the buffet.
I did stay in an international hotel in Muscat and was surprised to see that the hotel’s restaurant was open for breakfast and the dining room was full.
In Sharjah, the hotel restaurant was open for room service during the day so I could order from the menu and have food delivered to my room. I did worry in case the chef was having to cook whilst fasting though.
In Oman, I had my first ‘Iftar’ experience. It was really special and I recommend reserving a space at a restaurant, especially if you’re staying in a hotel to try the buffet in the evenings. The buffet seems to differ depending on which country the chef is from but you always have traditional Arabic food and desserts and then sometimes Indian or other dishes. It’s a great way to sample the cuisine and is a good deal for a 3-course meal. I have tried 4 different restaurants for Iftar and each one has offered slightly different dishes.
Some restaurants play the Call To Prayer which takes place before you are permitted to eat. If you do this, cover up and dress more conservatively than you may usually out of respect.
But Ramadan is also a great time to start intermittent fasting which not only is good for you but also saves you money on meals. You could try fasting from the time that you wake up to lunchtime if you can’t make it to dinner and see how you feel.
Challenges of Travelling During Ramadan
At The Airport
If you’re flying during Ramadan, although most of the restaurants and cafes will remain closed in the airports, some of the airports that I travelled to had a cafe open serving food and drink to passengers. But be prepared and don’t expect there to be anything open just in case. Take some food or breakfast bars with you if you can.
If you can’t cope without alcohol for your visit, make sure to buy some Duty-Free as you enter the airport just in case hotels aren’t selling it in the evenings.
Activities During Ramadan
Attractions may not be open and even though Google may say they are, the opening hours may not be up to date. I visited a shopping mall in Kuwait that said it was open on Google but when I walked there I realised that it was closed.
Live entertainment and loud music are also not usually permitted so there probably won’t be any events on when you’re visiting.
Another downside to travelling during Ramadan is that it can be hard to organise tours. Tour guides who are fasting may be willing to conduct tours at the beginning but towards the end, after fasting for several days and weeks, they may be lacking in energy and not able to spend a full day hiking or showing you around their country. The communication for organising tours can be frustrating too. In Oman, I found it hard to organise tours and had to contact a few companies to find a guide who was willing to take me on a tour.
If you’re planning to work and travel at the same time, you may have to work from your room as cafes and restaurants aren’t generally open during the day and the cities can look like a ghost town. Plan ahead for meals or get them delivered to your room.
Fasting While Traveling
I personally find it very challenging not to drink water or eat for the whole day but try not to drink or eat in public. It’s disrespectful to the locals. You can take a water bottle or protein bars with you and when you visit the bathroom, have a quick drink or bite.
This does mean that you may find yourself a bit dehydrated so take some dehydration tablets with you and make sure to put one in a bottle of water each day to ensure that you stay hydrated, especially if it’s hot where you’re visiting and you’re suffering from headaches or fatigue. You can buy rehydration tablets at the pharmacies when you’re away too.
Visiting Dubai During Ramadan
If you book a trip and then realise that it falls over the month of Ramadan don’t worry as it is doable to travel during this time, especially if you’re travelling to Dubai. Traveling to Dubai during Ramadan really isn’t that much different to travelling at any other time of the year. This year I was in Dubai for the whole month of Ramadan and it didn’t feel much different from usual.
Many cafes and restaurants are still open during the day (although if you have a favourite one, check to see if it’s still open during Ramadan). Apparently, in the past in Dubai, they used to pull down the blinds of restaurants so that passers-by couldn’t see. This doesn’t seem to happen anymore.
The city relies on tourism and people consuming so cafes are open as usual. You can also drink water in public, especially on the beaches and the airport is just the same as it is the rest of the year.
Out of courtesy if you are taking a taxi, ask the driver if he is fasting before you drink any water. They don’t mind you drinking but I feel it is polite to ask.
Even though live entertainment isn’t allowed during Ramadan, I visited a popular bar which was still playing music just without the DJ that usually frequents there. At another bar, there was a live DJ playing and people were dancing so it really does seem to depend on the establishment.
Cafes are open to work from and if you join the ‘Let’s Work’ app you can choose which cafes or hotel lobbies are still providing food and drink and which ones are more suitable to people fasting who still want to work from a cafe. When I was travelling I was working on the road and still being a digital nomad, it wasn’t possible for me to work from cafes during the day unless I was in Dubai where they are open.
You are also meant to dress more conservatively if you’re taking public transport during this time out of respect for the locals. So take a cardigan with you when you’re out in public.
If you’re wondering ’Can you travel during Ramadan?’ The answer is yes. Ramadan is such a special time and allows you more reflection on the place that you are visiting and to see it through more of a locals’ eyes. With a bit of extra planning, you can make it work.
So if you find yourself travelling during Ramadan, I hope that this post shows you that it is possible.
Have you ever visited a country during Ramadan?
- Solo Travel in The Middle East
- Solo Travel in Dubai
- Solo Travel in Oman
- Things To Do in Bahrain
- Places To Visit in Sharjah
- Tips For Eating Alone at a Restaurant